The fact that Beijing is allowing demonstrations both for and against Hong Kong's Occupy Central movement shows its intent to let residents first try to sort things out amongst themselves, analyst Rebecca Liao tells DW.
Tens of thousands of people gathered in the semi-autonomous Chinese city of Hong Kong on August 17 to protest against a pro-democracy campaign that has threatened to blockade the city's business district unless Beijing grants acceptable electoral reforms.
The demonstrators, some of whom waved Chinese flags, braved the sweltering summer heat to participate in the rally, which was organized by a pro-Beijing group. The rally came around seven weeks after supporters of the rival "Occupy Central with Love and Peace" pro-democracy movement staged a mass march demanding a greater say over how Hong Kong's next leader is chosen. The demonstration had come came just one day after polls closed in an unofficial referendum which saw nearly 800,000 residents - more than a fifth of the city's electorate - cast ballots to urge Beijing to allow opposition democrats to run in a 2017 citywide election for a new chief executive.
In a DW interview, Rebecca Liao, a corporate attorney and writer specialized in Chinese politics and culture, says that the rise in street protests between pro-Beijing and pro-democracy groups shows that that Beijing is betting the citizens of Hong Kong will come to an accord among themselves on this issue, rather than require direct political action from the mainland.
DW: What does Hong Kong's Alliance for Peace and Democracy stand for and who is behind the movement?
Rebecca Liao: The organization is a pro-Beijing political group that has the backing of prominent Hong Kongers, as well as Hong Kong's political parties who are with Beijing. It was founded early last month in response to the growing strength of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, in particular the pro-democracy protests in Central.
Liao: "Most of the people who participated in the pro-Beijing protests are the elderly and the middle-aged, whereas the pro-democracy protests have been led by students"
Does the rally show Beijing's determination to curtail the pro democracy Occupy Central movement?
Yes, Beijing would like to the pro-democracy movement to go away. But the fact that this sentiment is being expressed in the form of a protest means that Beijing is betting the citizens of Hong Kong will come to an accord among themselves on this issue, rather than require direct political action from the mainland.
Who are the people supporting the pro-Beijing movement?
Most of the people who participated in the pro-Beijing protests are the elderly and the middle-aged, whereas the pro-democracy protests have been led by students.The former want stability and continued economic growth above all else.
Also, the legacy of colonialism is much more relevant to this group, and they have an almost unshakeable suspicion that the West is backing the pro-democracy groups to cause unrest in Hong Kong and greater China. The latter want prosperity too, but universal suffrage and the integrity of the Hong Konger identity are much more important.
Robert Chow, a spokesman for the alliance was quoted as saying: "We want to show that the march doesn't have to be violent and angry. It can be happy." Why is the Occupy movement being portrayed as "violent and angry"?
There is an old, deep undercurrent in Chinese culture, which seeps into politics, that harmony is the ultimate goal of existence. Harmony is considered synonymous with happiness. When Robert Chow accuses the Occupy movement of being "violent and angry," he means that they are causing disorder and are therefore antithetical to common welfare, or, at the very least, do not share the Chinese conception of what constitutes welfare.
The group says the "illegal" Occupy campaign would tarnish Hong Kong's reputation and hurt business. Are these fears justified?
Hong Kong has long been regarded as the place where Asia does business, both within the continent and with the outside world. Any sort of political unrest, justified or not, will give businesspeople pause. The pro-democracy protest last month effectively shut down the Central area of Hong Kong and gave a taste of what could happen should Beijing deny universal suffrage to Hong Kong.
How is the situation in Hong Kong likely to develop over the coming months given that the opposing movements are seemingly gaining momentum?
It will be very interesting to see what the National People's Congress in Beijing puts forth at the end of this month as its plan for establishing universal suffrage in Hong Kong by 2017.
While it is unlikely Beijing would ever give up some sort of control over who runs Hong Kong, the protest is a sign that it understands it has a serious legitimacy issue among Hong Kongers, and that it has to exhaust every avenue of persuasion before putting its foot down.
Rebecca Liao is a corporate attorney and writer based in Silicon Valley, focusing on Chinese politics and culture.