Grattan on Friday: Protests add new element of uncertainty to COVID exit


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

Paradoxically, but perhaps inevitably, as things are getting better in the wake of the COVID crisis tempers – including, it would seem, that of Scott Morrison – are becoming more frayed.

The Black Lives Matter demonstrations of last weekend marked a new stage in this strange and unpredictable journey coronavirus has taken us on.

The fallout from the murder of an unarmed black man, George Floyd, in the United States dramatically changed the COVID conversation in this country.

The protests exposed limits to the ability of leaders and health experts to persuade people to modify their behaviour.

They unleashed a backlash on the grounds of double standards, with critics contrasting how police had chased minor infringements. Those who’d always claimed the restrictions were too strict became louder in their demands they be lifted more quickly and comprehensively.

The tone of Morrison changed and sharpened, as the government struggles with its exit strategy.

Morrison says if protesters are on the streets in coming days, they should be charged. But the picture is confusing and potentially volatile.

In the Northern Territory, the demonstrators have an official OK. In NSW the police have been actively resisting more protests and are threatening fines and arrests. On Thursday night they succeeded in having the NSW Supreme Court ban a proposed rally organised by refugee advocates.




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On another front, Morrison’s frustration with those premiers who are keeping their borders shut has ramped up.

Having managed the crisis very effectively so far, and received extensive praise for his efforts (this week’s Essential poll had 70% rating the federal government’s response as good), Morrison can see the danger of things going awry, either through fresh outbreaks of the virus or the reopening not proceeding fast enough.

On Thursday he was suggesting the protesters were slowing an increase in the numbers allowed at funerals (a highly emotive issue). Asked on 2GB about the NSW situation on funerals he said “the rally last weekend is the only legitimate real block to this at the moment, because we actually don’t know right now whether those rallies on the weekend may have caused outbreaks”.

But the government is sending conflicting messages, on one hand indicating the protests could hold back action while on the other hand saying action must go ahead.

Thus Morrison is insisting premiers nominate a date in July when their borders would be open (a date is important so tourist arrangements can be made).

Although there are multiple states with closed borders, Queensland is primarily in the sights of the federal government and other critics. Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, facing an election in October, knows she has to choose the right moment to scrap the border restriction, before her hard line loses favour with her electors. She is now saying July (previously there was talk of later) and declaring she’s on the same page as the PM.

One man who attended the Melbourne rally has tested positive for COVID-19. But it will be more than another week before it becomes clear whether last weekend’s protests have triggered a health problem. And that timeline will be dragged out by protests to come. On the flip side, if there aren’t more cases, this will be a green light to accelerate progress – an unsanctioned large scale trial.

The protests have put new pressures on the opposition.

Knowing there’d be strong support for them among some in Labor’s ranks and base, Anthony Albanese stepped carefully on boggy ground, advising people to listen to the health advice.

Four federal Labor parliamentarians – Graham Perrett and Anika Wells from Queensland, and Warren Snowdon and Malarndirri McCarthy from the Northern Territory – attended rallies. There was a bit of a flurry when they got to parliament so they went for COVID tests (which didn’t mean much given the incubation period).

Despite parliament sitting this week, the opposition is still having a hard time achieving any positive cut-through. It struggles for traction with its attacks on inadequacies it identifies in government’s programs and decisions relating to COVID.

The political climate might change as the months go on; depending on the result, the July 4 Eden-Monaro byelection could affect the atmospherics of the wider debate. But at the moment people still seem turned off by political conflict, or by politics generally.

This week brought updated numbers, from the OECD, on Australia’s way out of the virus crisis. The OECD produced two scenarios, for a “single hit” and a “double hit” of the virus.

It estimated Australia’s GDP would fall 5% in 2020 in the single-hit scenario, which is hopefully the one we remain in.


OECD

But the report said: “Should widespread contagion resume, with a return of lockdowns, confidence would suffer and cash-flow would be strained. In that double-hit scenario, GDP could fall by 6.3% in 2020”.

The single hit would see recovery at 4.1% in 2021, but if there were a double hit the growth would be only an estimated 1%.

The OECD also says further policy measures would help the recovery, and notes there is plenty of fiscal room to provide them.

It’s interesting to compare New Zealand, which had a goal of “eliminating” COVID and a draconian lockdown.

The OECD predicts New Zealand GDP will shrink by 8.9% in 2020 under the single-hit scenario – but grow by 6.6% in 2021. If there were a double hit, this year’s GDP fall would be 10% and next year’s growth would be an estimated 3.6%.

New Zealand this week announced it was now COVID-free (while accepting, realistically, there’ll almost certainly be some future cases). Restrictions are now fully lifted, apart from the still-closed border.

The Morrison government from the start rejected “elimination” in favour of suppression (although in some areas elimination has effectively been the result of successful suppression).




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So with the shutdown more limited in Australia than in New Zealand but the reopening more gradual, on the OECD figures the economy’s dive is forecast to be shallower here but the bounce back weaker than across the Tasman.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said she “did a little dance” when her country became COVID-free.

Morrison isn’t dancing just yet. While compared with many countries Australia’s record has been enviable, the way forward carries a new, and unexpected, element of uncertainty, together with those we knew about already.

FRIDAY UPDATE: More COVID restrictions to be eased; Queensland border set to open July 10

The Queensland government has indicated it will open its border from July 10, while South Australia on Friday said its borders will be fully open on July 20, and Tasmania is looking to a late July opening. Western Australia is still not setting a date for an open border.

Friday’s national cabinet, ahead of a new round of demonstrations, reiterated the health advice “that protests are very high risk due to the large numbers of people closely gathering and challenges in identifying all contacts.”

Scott Morrison again strongly urged people to stay away from rallies, and Anthony Albanese endorsed the health advice.

National cabinet agreed to the easing of more restrictions. The 100-person limit on non-essential indoor gatherings will be replaced by one person per four square metres rule.

For outdoor events including stadiums up to 40,000 capacity, ticketed and seated events will be able to be held with a crowd of no more than 25% of the venue’s capacity.

States and territories will decide when to implement these changes.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Protest has helped define the first two decades of the 21st century – here’s what’s next


Feyzi Ismail, SOAS, University of London

The first two decades of the 21st century saw the return of mass movements to streets around the world. Partly a product of sinking confidence in mainstream politics, mass mobilisation has had a huge impact on both official politics and wider society, and protest has become the form of political expression to which millions of people turn.

2019 has ended with protests on a global scale, most notably in Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa, Hong Kong and across India, which has recently flared up against Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Citizenship Amendment Act. In some cases protests are explicitly against neoliberal reforms, or against legal changes that threaten civil liberties. In others they are against inaction over the climate crisis, now driven by a generation of young people new to politics in dozens of countries.

As we end a turbulent two decades of protest – the subject of much of my own teaching and ongoing research – what will be the shape of protest in the 2020s?




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What’s changed in the 21st century

Following moments of open class warfare in the late 1960s and early 1970s, battles against the political and economic order became fragmented, trade unions were attacked, the legacy of the anti-colonial struggles was eroded and the history of the period was recast by the establishment to undermine its potency. In the post-Cold War era, a new phase of protest finally began to overcome these defeats.

This revival of protest exploded onto the political scene most visibly in Seattle outside the World Trade Organization summit in 1999. If 1968 was one of the high points of radical struggle in the 20th century, protest in the early 2000s once again began to reflect a general critique of the capitalist system, with solidarity forged across different sections of society.

Protests against the WTO shook Seattle in 1999.
Seattle Municipal Archives, CC BY-SA

The birth of the anti-globalisation movement in Seattle was followed by extraordinary mobilisations outside gatherings of the global economic elite. Alternative spaces were also created for the global justice movement to connect, most notably the World Social Forums (WSFs), starting with Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2001. It was here that questions over what position the anti-globalisation movement should take over the Iraq War, for example, were discussed and debated. Though the WSFs provided an important rallying point for a time, they ultimately evaded politics.

The global anti-war movement led to the biggest co-ordinated demonstrations in the history of protest on February 15 2003, in which millions of people demonstrated in over 800 cities, creating a crisis of democracy around the US and UK-led intervention in Iraq.

In the years leading up to and following the banking crisis of 2008, food riots and anti-austerity protests escalated around the world. In parts of the Middle East and North Africa, protests achieved insurrectionary proportions, with the overthrow of one dictator after another. After the Arab Spring was thwarted by counter-revolution, the Occupy movement and then Black Lives Matter gained global attention. While the public, urban square became a central focus for protest, social media became an important – but by no means exclusive – organising tool.

To varying degrees, these movements sharply raised the question of political transformation but didn’t find new ways of institutionalising popular power. The result was that in a number of situations, protest movements fell back on widely distrusted parliamentary processes to try and pursue their political aims. The results of this parliamentary turn have not been impressive.

Crisis of representation

On the one hand, the first two decades of the 21st century have seen soaring inequality, accompanied by debt and the neglect of working people. On the other, there have been poor results from purely parliamentary attempts to challenge it. There is, in other words, a deep crisis of representation.

The inability of modern capitalism to deliver more than survival for many has combined with a general critique of neoliberal capitalism to create a situation in which wider and wider sections of society are being drawn into protest. More than a million people have poured onto the streets of Lebanon since mid-October and protests continue despite a violent crackdown by security forces.

At the same time, people are less and less willing to accept unrepresentative politicians – and this is likely to continue in the future. From Lebanon and Iraq to Chile and Hong Kong, mass mobilisations continue despite resignations and concessions.

In Britain, the Labour Party’s defeat in the recent general election is attributed largely to its failure to accept the 2016 referendum result over EU membership. Decades of loyalty to the Labour Party for many and a socialist leader in Jeremy Corbyn calling for an end to austerity couldn’t cut through to enough of the millions who voted for Brexit.

In France, a general strike in December 2019 over President Emmanuel Macron’s proposed pension reforms has revealed the extent of opposition that people feel towards his government. This comes barely a year after the start of the Yellow Vest movement, in which people have protested against fuel price hikes and the precariousness of their lives.

The tendency towards street protest will be encouraged too by the climate crisis, whose effects mean that the most heavily exploited, including along race and gender lines, have the most to lose. When the protests in Lebanon broke out, they were taking place alongside rampant wildfires.

Thinking strategically

As protesters gain experience, they consciously bring to the fore questions of leadership and organisation. In Lebanon and Iraq there has already been a conscious effort to overcome traditional sectarian divides. Debates are also raging in protest movements from Algeria to Chile about how to fuse economic and political demands in a more strategic manner. The goal is to make political and economic demands inseparable, such that it’s impossible for a government to make political concessions without making economic ones too.




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As the 2020s begin, it’s clear we’re living in an unprecedented moment: a climate emergency and ecological breakdown, a brewing global financial crisis, deepening inequality, trade wars, and growing threats of more imperialist wars and militarisation.

There has also been a resurgence of the far right in many countries, emboldened most visibly by parties and politicians in the US, Brazil, India and many parts of Europe. This resurgence, however, has not gone unchallenged.

The convergence of crisis on these multiple fronts will reach breaking point, creating conditions that will become intolerable for most people. This will galvanise more protest and more polarisation. As governments respond with reforms, such measures on their own will be unlikely to meet the combination of political and economic demands. The question of how to create new vehicles of representation to assert popular control over the economy will keep emerging. The fortunes of popular protest may well depend on whether the collective leadership of the movements can provide answers to it.The Conversation

Feyzi Ismail, Senior Teaching Fellow, SOAS, University of London

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

We live in a world of upheaval. So why aren’t today’s protests leading to revolutions?



Today’s protests are driven more by anger over social and economic inequity than deep-seated grievances against a regime.
Orlando Barria/EPA

Peter McPhee, University of Melbourne

We live in a world of violent challenges to the status quo, from Chile and Iraq to Hong Kong, Catalonia and the Extinction Rebellion. These protests are usually presented in the media simply as expressions of rage at “the system” and are eminently suitable for TV news coverage, where they flash across our screens in 15-second splashes of colour, smoke and sometimes blood.

These are huge rebellions. In Chile, for example, an estimated one million people demonstrated last month. By the next day, 19 people had died, nearly 2,500 had been injured and more than 2,800 arrested.

How might we make sense of these upheavals? Are they revolutionary or just a series of spectacular eruptions of anger? And are they doomed to fail?

Iraq’s protests have been the bloodiest of anywhere in the world in recent months, with more than 300 confirmed dead.
Ahmed Jalil/EPA

Key characteristics of a revolution

As an historian of the French Revolution of 1789-99, I often ponder the similarities between the five great revolutions of the modern world – the English Revolution (1649), American Revolution (1776), French Revolution (1789), Russian Revolution (1917) and Chinese Revolution (1949).

A key question today is whether the rebellions we are currently witnessing are also revolutionary.

A model of revolution drawn from the five great revolutions can tell us much about why they occur and take particular trajectories. The key characteristics are:

  • long-term causes and the popularity of a socio-political ideology at odds with the regime in power

  • short-term triggers of widespread protest

  • moments of violent confrontation the power-holders are unable to contain as sections of the armed forces defect to rebels

  • the consolidation of a broad and victorious alliance against the existing regime

  • a subsequent fracturing of the revolutionary alliance as competing factions vie for power

  • the re-establishment of a new order when a revolutionary leader succeeds in consolidating power.

Hong Kongers have been protesting for six months, seeking universal suffrage and an inquiry into alleged police brutality, among other demands.
Fazry Ismail/EPA

Why today’s protests are not revolutionary

This model indicates the upheavals in our contemporary world are not revolutionary – or not yet.

The most likely to become revolutionary is in Iraq, where the regime has shown a willingness to kill its own citizens (more than 300 in October alone). This indicates that any concessions to demonstrators will inevitably be regarded as inadequate.

We do not know how the extraordinary rebellion in Hong Kong will end, but it may be very telling there does not seem to have been significant defection from the police or army to the protest movement.




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People grow angry far more often than they rebel. And rebellions rarely become revolutions.

So, we need to distinguish between major revolutions that transform social and political structures, coups by armed elites and common forms of protest over particular issues. An example of this is the massive, violent and ultimately successful protests in Ecuador last month that forced the government to cancel an austerity package.

Ecuadoreans began protesting in October when an executive decree came into effect that eliminated the subsidy on the price of gasoline.
Paolo Aguilar/EPA

The protests in Hong Kong and Catalonia fall into yet another category: they have limited aims for political sovereignty rather than more general objectives.

All successful revolutions are characterised by broad alliances at the outset as the deep-seated grievances of a range of social groups coalesce around opposition to the existing regime.

They begin with mass support. For that reason, the Extinction Rebellion will likely only succeed with modest goals of pushing reluctant governments to do more about climate change, rather than its far more ambitious aspirations of

a national Citizen Assembly, populated by ordinary people chosen at random, to come up with a programme for change.

Mass protests also fail when they are unable to create unity around core objectives. The Arab Spring, for instance, held so much promise after blossoming in 2010, but with the possible exception of Tunisia, failed to lead to meaningful change.

Revolutionary alliances collapsed rapidly into civil war (as in Libya) or failed to neutralise the armed forces (as in Egypt and Syria).

Why is there so much anger?

Fundamental to an understanding of the rage so evident today is the “democratic deficit”. This refers to public anger at the way the high-water mark of democratic reform around the globe in the 1990s – accompanied by the siren song of economic globalisation – has had such uneven social outcomes.

One expression of this anger has been the rise of fearful xenophobia expertly captured by populist politicians, most famously in the case of Donald Trump, but including many others from Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil to Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines and Victor Orbán in Hungary.




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Indeed, there are some who claim that western liberalism has now failed).

Elsewhere, the anger is popular rather than populist. In upheavals from Lebanon and Iraq to Zimbabwe and Chile, resentment is particularly focused on the evidence of widespread corruption as elites flout the basic norms of transparency and equity in siphoning government money into their pockets and those of their cronies.

Protesters in Lebanon were initially angry over the crumbling economy and corruption, but have since called for an entirely new political system.
Wael Hamzeh/EPA

The broader context of today’s upheavals also includes the uneven withdrawal of the US from international engagement, providing new opportunities for two authoritarian superpowers (Russia and China) driven by dreams of new empires.

The United Nations, meanwhile, is floundering in its attempt to provide alternative leadership through a rules-based international system.

The state of the world economy also plays a role. In places where economic growth is stagnant, minor price increases are more than just irritants. They explode into rebellions, such as the recent tax on WhatsApp in Lebanon and the metro fare rise in Chile.

There was already deep-seated anger in both places. Chile, for example, is one of Latin America’s wealthiest countries, but has one of the worst levels of income equality among the 36 nations in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Rebellions with new characteristics

Of course, we do not know how these protest movements will end. While it is unlikely any of the rebellions will result in revolutionary change, we are witnessing distinctly 21st century upheavals with new characteristics.

One of the most influential approaches to understanding the long-term history and nature of protest and insurrection has come from the American sociologist Charles Tilly.




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Tilly’s studies of European history have identified two key characteristics.

First, forms of protest change across time as a function of wider changes in economic and political structures. The food riots of pre-industrial society, for instance, gave way to the strikes and political demonstrations of the modern world.

And today, the transnational reach of Extinction Rebellion is symptomatic of a new global age. There are also new protest tactics emerging, such as the flashmobs and Lennon walls in Hong Kong.

The Extinction Rebellion movement has organised climate change protests in scores of cities, including across Australia.
Bianca de Marchi/AAP

Tilly’s second theory was that collective protest, both peaceful and violent, is endemic rather than confined to years of spectacular revolutionary upheaval, such as 1789 or 1917. It is a continuing expression of conflict between “contenders” for power, including the state. It is part of the historical fabric of all societies.

Even in a stable and prosperous country like Australia in 2019, there is a deep cynicism around a commitment to the common good. This has been created by a lack of clear leadership on climate change and energy policy, self-serving corporate governance and fortress politics.

All this suggests that Prime Minister Scott Morrison is not only whistling in the wind if he thinks that he can dictate the nature of and even reduce protest in contemporary Australia – he is also ignorant of its history.The Conversation

Peter McPhee, Emeritus professor, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

New research shows vast majority of Hong Kong protesters support more radical tactics



The biggest difference between the current protest movement and the 2014 Umbrella Movement is the striking solidarity among the various groups of demonstrators. Everyone feels they are ‘in the same boat’ together, new research shows.
Roman Pilipey/EPA

Samson Yuen, Lingnan University

Three months on, there’s still no end in sight for the Hong Kong protest movement. What started as a demonstration against a bill to amend the city’s extradition laws has now morphed into a broader movement challenging the legitimacy of the government and seeking fundamental political reforms.

Every weekend, hundreds of thousands of protesters – sometimes more than a million – are still taking to the streets. The protests draw Hong Kongers from all walks of life: students, doctors, lawyers, journalists, teachers, civil servants, and, most recently, family members of police officers. The discussions on internet forums and encrypted messaging apps remain vibrant, with innovative ideas for new protest actions emerging frequently.

To better understand who the protesters are, as well as why and how they are protesting, I’ve conducted a series of large onsite surveys at 19 demonstrations since June 9, with the help of researchers from other universities. We have so far surveyed more than 8,000 protesters with a response rate of over 85%.

What the protesters are angry about

Our data show protesters tend to be young and highly educated. On average, half of our respondents are aged between 20 and 30. Around 77% said they had a tertiary (higher) education.

Few said they were unemployed, unlike protesters in other mass demonstrations around the world, like the Arab Spring uprisings and Spain’s Indignados movement.




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Most respondents identified themselves as either democrats or localists. However, in the early stages of the protests, it is also notable that nearly 30% of respondents said that they were centrists or had no political affiliations. This dropped to around 15% by early August.

When asked why they were protesting, the vast majority of respondents (more than 90%) cited two main motivations: the complete withdrawal of the controversial extradition bill and an independent inquiry into excessive use of force by police against the protesters.

Interestingly, from July onwards, police violence has become a more pressing concern for respondents, with those who see it as “very important” rising from 85% to over 95%. Protesters have also increasingly said they are fighting for Hong Kong’s democracy, with those who see it as “very important” rising from 83% to 88%.

The resignation of Chief Executive Carrie Lam and other major officials was considered the least important reason for protesting. This suggests that a change in leadership is not viewed as a solution to the political crisis – unlike in 2003, when half a million people marched against changes to Hong Kong’s national security laws and demanded the resignation of then-leader C.H. Tung.

Instead, the protesters are seeking a fundamental reform of the entire political system.

For many of them, the extradition bill is just the surface of a rotting system. It merely exposes the underlying problems that have been swept under the carpet for many years: the lack of democratic representation in the policy-making and legislative process, the declining accountability of the government, the blatant domination by a small clique of business and pro-Beijing elites, the increasing unimportance of public opinion, and the steady encroachment on people’s political rights and civil liberties.

Most of the Hong Kong protesters are young, well-educated and employed.
Roman Pilipey/EPA

Strong solidarity and acceptance of radical tactics

These same long-standing problems are what prompted the Umbrella Movement in 2014. But unlike the Umbrella protesters, who were intensely split over protest tactics, the current protest movement is exhibiting much stronger solidarity and resolution in achieving their demands.

The majority of respondents see themselves as “in the same boat” (that is, sharing the same fate) with one another. More 80% believe the protests should go on if the government refuses to offer anything other than the suspension of the bill. Among them, more than half support escalating the protests.

This extraordinary level of solidarity is striking. Part of this is because people have learned from the mistakes of the Umbrella Movement. Instead of pointing fingers at each another, protesters are this time using the phrase “do not split, do not sever our ties” to deal with conflicts. Misdeeds and transgressions are not condemned, but are now dealt with through collective reflection and friendly reminders.




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Fuelling protesters’ solidarity is their strong feeling of desperation. Our survey results show the majority of respondents do not expect any concessions from the government. This has remained steady from early on in the protests, and explains the emergence of slogans like “I want to perish together”.

We also found a high tolerance for the more radical and militant tactics of some of the younger protesters, even among those who consider themselves moderates.

Consistently, over 80% agree that peaceful assembly should combine with confrontational actions to maximize the impact of protests. In June, slightly less than 70% agreed that radical tactics were understandable when the government refuses to listen. That percentage rose to over 90% in the August 4 protests.

Where the protests are heading

No one knows what the “endgame” of the Hong Kong protests will be. The government is now hoping that mass arrests, coupled with the new start of the school year and the possible introduction of emergency regulations, may clear out the streets in the next few weeks, ideally before China’s National Day celebrations on October 1.

The strategy may work, but likely only in the short run. If the Hong Kong government continues to refuse to heed what people are legitimately asking for, the people will undoubtedly return to the streets.




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As research from other social movement studies has taught us, protests take place in cycles. The current protest movement in Hong Kong may eventually quiet down after a while, but another one may be brewing on the horizon.


The other researchers in the team include Francis Lee from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, Gary Tang from Hang Seng University of Hong Kong, and Edmund Cheng from the City University of Hong Kong.The Conversation

Samson Yuen, Assistant Professor of Political Science, Lingnan University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Riots in West Papua: why Indonesia needs to answer for its broken promises



Political arrests have been on the rise in recent years in restive West Papua, and the local population is pushing for a new referendum on independence.
Frans/EPA

Camellia Webb-Gannon, University of Wollongong

Last weekend, the Indonesian police took 43 West Papuan students into custody for allegedly disrespecting the Indonesian flag during an independence day celebration (an allegation the students deny).

Police stormed the students’ dorm and used teargas to force them out, while bystanders and officers called them “monkeys”, a derogatory term for ethnically Melanesian Papuans.

West Papuans have long been cast by Indonesians as primitive people from the Stone Age, and this racist treatment continues to this day. West Papuan author Filep Karma described the extent of racism against West Papuans in his 2014 book, As If We Are Half-Animal: Indonesia’s Racism in Papua Land, saying he often heard Indonesians call West Papuans monkeys.

This latest episode of discrimination builds on more than five decades of racism, torture, summary executions, land dispossession and cultural denigration of West Papuans by Indonesian security forces.




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After the students were detained last weekend, riots erupted in the cities of Manokwari and Jayapura. Thousands of people turned out to protest against the mistreatment of the students and, more broadly, the mistreatment of West Papuans by the Indonesian authorities. Many protesters waved the nationalist Morning Star flag, an act punishable by a 15-year jail sentence (Indonesia is not just sensitive about how West Papuans treat the Indonesian flag – the state prohibits them from flying their own.)

In response to the deteriorating security situation, Indonesia has deployed more troops to the region.

Protesters set fire to the local parliament building and cars in West Papua earlier this week.
Sofwan Azhari/EPA

Widodo’s promises haven’t changed much

When the politically moderate Indonesian President Joko Widodo came to power in 2014, West Papua observers had high hopes he might broker peace in the region, much the same way the government of his predecessor, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was able to quell a long-running separatist conflict in Aceh.

However, Widodo has not been capable of controlling the Indonesian military in West Papua. He also doesn’t seem to realise that economic development is not the solution to ending the armed resistance in the region – West Papuan leaders want a political resolution, not an economic one.

Part of Widodo’s development agenda in West Papua has been to commence building a Trans-Papua Highway to facilitate movement of goods and people across the astoundingly rugged terrain in the region.




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But in December, West Papuan guerrilla forces attacked Indonesian workers constructing the highway, killing several dozen. There’s deep resentment among West Papuans toward Indonesian migrant workers, who they believe are taking their jobs and land and disrupting Papuan life in the region.

Violence by the Indonesian military and police against West Papuans has also increased during Widodo’s presidency. According to the International Coalition for Papua, a human rights organisation, more than 6,400 people were arrested for political activism in 2015 and 2016. The group has also documented more than 300 victims of torture or maltreatment and 20 victims of extra-judicial killings for those years.

In addition, local journalists continue to face harassment from security forces, while foreign journalists are still denied entry to West Papua. Preventable diseases and malnutrition have also had devastating effects throughout the region.

In 2017, Widodo finally reached out to West Papuans offering dialogue – a process West Papuans had been requesting since at least 2008. However, the leaders of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua (ULMWP) decided it was too little, too late.

A new independence referendum

West Papuans are now calling for a UN-supervised referendum on independence from Indonesia.

In 1969, seven years after Indonesia invaded West Papua, the United Nations oversaw a referendum in which West Papuans were to decide on independence or official integration with Indonesia. Indonesia handpicked less than 1% of the Papuan population to vote and threatened them with violence should they make the “wrong” decision.

The result has been a lengthy, often brutal colonial occupation of Papuans and their land.

Independence advocates have the support of at least seven Pacific island nations – as well as a number of MPs in New Zealand – as they pursue the possibility of a new referendum on decolonisation through the United Nations.

Through revived links with global Black Power and Indigenous movements in the Pacific and beyond, as well as the mass connectivity afforded by social media, Papuans are enjoying levels of solidarity from around the world they have never before experienced.

While independence is still unlikely for West Papua, it would be foolish to rule it out. Timor Leste, South Sudan and Kosovo have shown us that right to self-determination is one that is still honoured, even if infrequently.




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Why does West Papua matter?

Why should the world care about this little-known decolonisation movement?

The answer is simple: In the post-Rwandan genocide world, the international community has committed to a moral and political “responsibility to protect” people whose states are unable or unwilling to ensure them safety, or are perpetrating crimes against them.

The United Nations “responsibility to protect” mandate means that UN members are required, under international law, to protect anybody at risk of

genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

It is time the world lives up to its responsibility to demand that state-sanctioned violence against West Papuans stop, no matter how bad relations with Jakarta become. Ultimately, lives are worth more than politics.The Conversation

Camellia Webb-Gannon, Lecturer, University of Wollongong

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Beijing is moving to stamp out the Hong Kong protests – but it may have already lost the city for good



Beijing has a long-term Hong Kong challenge on its hands, one that in many ways is of its own making.
Miguel Candela/EPA

Adam Ni, Macquarie University

Since the start of mass demonstrations in Hong Kong in early June, there has been a significant escalation of Beijing’s rhetoric and tactics. Instead of addressing the root causes of the public anger, Beijing has demonised the protesters and threatened to suppress them with its military.

Beijing’s shrill rhetoric, misinformation campaigns, and blatant threats have galvanised resistance in what has fast become a volatile situation. The crisis doesn’t appear to be dissipating. And things are going to come to a head very soon.

The mass protests started in response to a controversial extradition bill that was widely seen as another step in the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy. The demonstrations quickly escalated due to public anger over police violence and an unresponsive Hong Kong government.

But deeper down at the heart of this crisis is a conflict over the longer-term vision for the city – over its soul.




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The Hong Kong protesters have turned militant and more strategic – and this unnerves Beijing


Beijing’s goal is to gradually tighten its grip on Hong Kong. It aims to assimilate the city into China’s authoritarian political system, and rule over its people in the same way it does in rest of the country. Many Hong Kongers, meanwhile, are desperate to resist any further encroachment by Beijing on their freedoms and way of life. These goals are fundamentally incompatible.

In many ways, this is a problem of Beijing’s own making. It created the conditions for the current crisis by systematically undermining the “one country, two systems” framework.

A show of force: military trucks parked near the Hong Kong border.
Alex Plavevski/EPA

Beijing has effectively torn up its promises, made before the British handover, to keep Hong Kong’s political system intact until 2047. In recent years, it has undermined the “one country, two systems” framework through political interference, the changing of electoral and other laws, and the penetration of Hong Kong’s social institutions.

In doing so, it has provoked local resentment, a stronger Hong Kong identity, and a culture of resistance. According to a recent poll, the percentage of Hong Kongers identifying as Chinese is now at its lowest point since the handover in 1997.

For the ruling Chinese Communist Party, this is worrisome. And the longer the protests continue, the more it sees its authority challenged. Such resistance, in Beijing’s view, cannot be tolerated.

Beijing’s multi-pronged strategy

In the early days of the protests, Beijing adopted a low-profile approach that focused on censoring news of the demonstrations from filtering into mainland China. This approach, however, changed quickly when the Chinese government realised the protests would likely continue and it needed to mobilise public opinion.

What is Beijing’s aim now? In the short-term, it wants to end the unrest by shutting down the protests completely. It has repeatedly signalled its willingness to use force if necessary.




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Hong Kong fears losing its rule of law; the rest of the world should worry too


Beyond that, given what has transpired over the last ten weeks of demonstrations, Beijing will seek to tighten its political control over Hong Kong even further to check continued resistance.

In order to achieve its immediate and long-term goals in Hong Kong, Beijing has put in place a multi-pronged strategy. A full picture of this strategy has emerged in recent weeks:

1) First, Beijing is firmly backing the embattled Hong Kong authorities. Chinese officials have repeatedly urged the Hong Kong police to adopt tougher tactics against protesters who they see as criminals.

And in the last week, we have seen an alarming escalation in police violence, with tear gas and rubber bullets being used with increasing frequency.

2) Beijing is also ramping up its influence operations in Hong Kong to solidify support among pro-establishment elites, businesses, and other “patriotic forces”.

Last week, the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong held a consultation forum with about 500 pro-establishment figures in Shenzhen, just across the border.

The key message was that the Chinese government was fully behind them and that their fate was tied to Beijing. This has had an immediate impact on the ground in Hong Kong, with the city’s billionaires “breaking their silence” this week and calling for the protesters to stand down.

Not with a small degree of irony, Beijing and its proxies in Hong Kong have a close relationship with the city’s organised crime groups. On several occasions in the last two months, these groups have assaulted protesters on Beijing’s behalf in an attempt to instill fear in the local population.

3) Beijing has stepped up its propaganda and misinformation efforts against the protesters in an attempt to cast them as villains in the unfolding drama. Criminal elements are also working with nefarious foreign agents to foment turmoil and undermine China, the official line goes.

Within mainland China, such blatant twists of truth are widely believed. And because Beijing has successfully mobilised public opinion there, that makes it harder for the government to back down and make compromises (not that we are seeing signs of that).

In any case, Beijing’s relentless war for hearts and minds continues.

4) Beijing is using punitive measures to cut off support for the protesters. For instance, the Chinese government ordered the Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific to block staffers who took part in the protests from working on flights to the mainland.

It did this to deliver an unequivocal message: support the protesters and we will hit your bottom line. Beijing will likely continue to target Hong Kong and international companies that it sees as being on the wrong side of the political crisis.

5) Beijing is trying to deter escalating protests by signalling its strong determination to intervene with force if necessary.

The Chinese government has repeatedly threatened the use of armed forces as a backstop measure if the unrest spins out of control. Indeed, it may at some point make the judgement the situation warrants military intervention, regardless of the high cost involved.

Beijing’s posturing is intended to send a deterrent message and is part of a wider psychological campaign against the protesters. But we are not at the point of imminent military intervention yet.

6) Despite the unrest, Beijing will likely accelerate its efforts to integrate Hong Kong into the mainland economically and through infrastructure projects. High-speed trains, new bridges, and economic cooperation are all part of this long-term effort. We are also likely to see a further tightening of control over the city’s political institutions, judicial system, and media.

A festering long-term problem

For Chinese leaders, the protest movement has reinforced an important lesson: insufficient government power, civil liberties, and perceived weakness leads to the loss of control, resistance, and social instability.

This will only serve to strengthen Beijing’s resolve to assert its control over Hong Kong more forcefully, which will, in turn, provoke further resentment and resistance from locals.




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Hong Kong: how a more assertive British government can uphold the ‘one country, two systems’ formula


To be sure, Beijing has a long-term Hong Kong challenge on its hands. If it wants to resolve the current impasse, hardline tactics are not sufficient. As unpalatable as it is to both sides, Beijing and the protesters must compromise. But there is little prospect of that in the current environment of escalating violence, inflamed passions, frayed nerves, and hardening attitudes on both sides.

But Beijing must recognise that its actions are sowing the seeds of future conflict, just as its past broken promises led directly to what we are witnessing today. As Hong Kong gallops towards tragedy, it is both mesmerising and heartbreaking to watch.The Conversation

Adam Ni, China researcher, Department of Security Studies and Criminology, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Hong Kong fears losing its rule of law; the rest of the world should worry too



A Hong Kong pro-democracy protester on 11 August 2019.
Miguel Candela/EPA

John Garrick, Charles Darwin University

What’s happening in Hong Kong right now has direct bearings on Australia. It goes to an issue crucial to our position in a world economic order that is likely to be shaped less by the United States, still our most important ally, and more by China, our ever more valuable trading partner.

At the heart of the Hong Kong protests is the same issue that causes concern about China’s ambitions from the South China Sea to the South Pacific. It’s about the Chinese government’s commitment to an idiosyncratic idea of the rule of law.

Hong Kong has something like a constitution or bill of rights, called the Hong Kong Basic Law. It’s a legacy of British colonial rule, which the Chinese government agreed to preserve because there was value in keeping Hong Kong the prosperous city it had become.

China has a very different approach to law. Its constitution can and has been changed at the whim of the ruling party. There is no separation of powers, and no such thing as an independent judiciary.

Removing the judicial firewall

The trigger for the Hong Kong protests was a proposed law enabling China to extradite Hong Kong residents and visitors. Protesters foresaw democrats and dissidents disappearing into China’s prison system. The judicial “firewall” giving meaning to the notion of “one country, two systems” would be fatally undermined. Hong Kong’s distinctive culture and economy would be destroyed with it.




Read more:
The Hong Kong protesters have turned militant and more strategic – and this unnerves Beijing


The idea of law as an instrument of the Chinese Communist Party shapes the Chinese government’s domestic policies, and also its approach to international law. It respects international conventions when it has to, and when it is in the national interest. But there’s a point where it is quite willing to thumb its nose at the whole idea.

This willingness has stiffened under the leadership of Xi Jinping, who has reaffirmed in word and deed that the Chinese Communist Party “is the highest force for political leadership”.

Law of the sea

An example is China’s view of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in its dispute with the Philippines over island territory in the South China Sea.

In 2016 a UN tribunal unanimously found in favour of the Philippines. China refused to accept the verdict. It declared it “would continue to abide by international law and basic norms governing international relations”, but also added:

The Chinese government reiterates that, regarding territorial issues and maritime delimitation disputes, China does not accept any means of third party dispute settlement or any solution imposed on China.

It therefore continues to claim the South China Sea as an “inalienable” part of its territory. In direct defiance of the ruling, it has also built artificial islands within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, and built military bases on those islands.

Wider implications

China’s official narrative is that it doesn’t reject international law per se, but simply wants law that accommodates “Chinese characteristics”, including China’s preference for resolving disputes one on one.




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Given that the point of establishing the United Nations and other multilateral institutions such as the World Trade Organisation was to replace “might makes right” with something like an international rule of law, this is likely to prove cold comfort for smaller nations.

As Xi told the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in 2017:

  • the overall goal of “comprehensively advancing law-based governance” is to “establish a system of socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics and build a country of socialist rule of law”

  • “major country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics aims to foster a new type of international relations and build a community with a shared future for mankind”

  • the defining feature of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” is “the leadership of the Communist Party of China”.




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Beijing’s view of the rule of law is thus very different to what most of the rest of the world understands. The potential consequences are not lost on the citizens of Hong Kong, and they should not be lost on China’s neighbours and trading partners.The Conversation

John Garrick, University Fellow in Law, Charles Darwin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Hong Kong protesters have turned militant and more strategic – and this unnerves Beijing



A new branch of younger protesters has taken a more militant approach, which has proved effective in rattling the government.
Ritchie B. Tongo/EPA

Amanda Tattersall, University of Sydney

The past few weeks has seen a drastic escalation in violence on the streets of Hong Kong. On Tuesday night, a police officer aimed a shotgun at protesters who had gathered outside a police station, while a car launched fireworks into the crowd.

Days earlier, the police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters trying to reach the Chinese government’s office.

And the week before, following a protest of 430,000 people, vigilante thugs, dressed in white and carrying bamboo sticks, beat up democracy protesters at a train station.

This long summer of protests began in response to a proposed extradition bill just days after the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. But now, over eight weeks on, the protesters continue to take to the streets with a broader set of demands – and the confrontations with police are threatening to spiral out of control.

With reports of a build-up of Chinese forces on the Hong Kong border, and no end in sight to the demonstrations, many are now asking – how will this end?

Conflict arising from the Umbrella movement

Protest is a familiar tactic in Hong Kong, but this movement has adopted a series of new approaches from the lessons of other protests over the last 30 years – in particular the failures of the 2014 Umbrella Movement.

In doing so, they are building something that is – at least until now – showing resilience to Beijing’s authoritarianism.

The current protest movement isn’t a single movement. It has two dominant wings – one is passive, the other more militant. These wings accept and recognise each other’s role.




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Extremist mobs? How China’s propaganda machine tried to control the message in the Hong Kong protests


This is new. In 2014, Hong Kong democracy leaders staged a 79-day occupation to fight for universal suffrage. Called the Umbrella Movement, the occupation had two sets of leaders – older democracy leaders (known as the Occupy Trio) and younger student leaders (notably Joshua Wong and Nathan Law).

Originally, the Occupy Trio had planned a multi-year campaign to build public and political pressure for universal suffrage, but the students were more confrontational. They staged a sit-in at Civic Square on Hong Kong Island and the occupation was off and running.

During the occupation, these different views led to irreconcilable conflict, making it impossible to talk about overall strategy. When the occupation finally ended – without achieving universal suffrage – there was great acrimony between the groups that lasted for years.

A new set of principles

Realising how counter-productive this split was, the protesters were keen not to let strategic differences get in the way this time around.

As organisers made plans for the June 9 rally against the extradition bill, several new principles emerged to define how the different groups could work together and avoid falling into the deep conflict of the past.

They included such maxims as “respect the role of the different groups”, “we all lead”, “no one is left behind” and “be water” (as in, to flow from place to place, building continuous pressure). More than the power of any individual leader, these principles came to define how the movement would function and grow.




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The Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong: a second Tiananmen?


The principles reinforced one another. The decision not to have a single leader was born from the experience of the Umbrella movement. Every visible leader of that movement was jailed or threatened with jail following the occupation. (Two of the Occupy Trio received 16-month jail sentences this year).

The Extradition movement learned it was too dangerous to have figurehead leaders. If everyone led, what could Beijing do? They couldn’t jail everyone.

And when it came to respecting the role of different groups, this principle allowed those who wanted to pursue a more militant strategy to do so without fear of rebuke. Everyone was encouraged to do what they thought was needed.

On June 9, two movements launched: a peaceful protest of more than one million people, as well as a more militant movement of young people.

The confrontational wing was battle-ready. They had re-purposed everyday items like medical masks, plastic wrap, helmets, goggles, umbrellas and towels into tools of protest. The Umbrella occupation had taught them the police would likely use excessive force – so they dressed accordingly.

The younger protesters come prepared for battle.
Jerome Favre/EPA

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam was unmoved by a million-person march, but did shift her position and suspend the extradition bill when faced with a street confrontation. This sent a loud message to the protesters about what it will take to win under her authoritarian government – militancy was more potent than passive protest.

Protesters got the message. Every mass protest since then has seen these two protest wings in operation. As an elected member of Hong Kong’s government explained to me, they are “codependent” – they need each other to exist.

The two wings initially unsettled Beijing. Every time there was militancy – most dramatically when the Legislative Council Building was vandalised on July 1 – Beijing thought it could be used to their advantage.

The government aired the violence on television, hoping it would turn public opinion against the protesters and split the movement. Yet, older democracy leaders did not criticise the students, instead reiterating that “everyone in the movement has their place.”

Popular opinion is still with the protesters, and the protests are still enormous.

Flowing from protest to protest

Another form of protest also emerged to supplement the two-wing approach – the movement turned “to water”.

The protests now have a flow they didn’t have during the Umbrella occupation. Protesters don’t simply show up for weekly mass marches and then go home; they have begun organising smaller protests in their districts on a daily basis.

Lennon walls” featuring thousands of protest messages have emerged, for instance, in every one of Hong Kong’s districts. Random Airdrop notifications share details about impromptu protests, such as last week’s sit-in at the airport. With everyone leading and the action constantly flowing from one place to the next, this protest is hard to stop.

The Umbrella movement, in contrast, was physically fixed in three locations and maintained with tents and nightly sleep-outs. The rigidity of the occupation was exhausting and took a toll on the participants.

A government can wait out an occupation, but how do you capture something that is constantly moving?

Lennon protest walls have sprouted up on walls and pedestrian bridges across the city.
How Hwee Young/EPA

Where will it end?

Its hard to predict where the current protest movement goes next. At the moment, there are no negotiations between the government and protest leaders. The protest movement has five key demands that continue to sit on the table, ranging from withdrawing the extradition bill completely to an independent investigation into police brutality to Lam’s resignation.

But it is unclear whether the protests would end even if the demands are agreed to. All the while, Beijing makes infrequent statements in support of Lam, but it also has thousands of troops already stationed in Hong Kong – and a build-up of more across the border.




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What is certain is that a long-standing democracy movement has powerfully connected to the next generation. Young students are terrified about their future and feel they have to do everything they can to fight for their rights.

But the stakes are extremely high. Is it possible for water to move so quickly that it escapes the barrel of the gun?The Conversation

Amanda Tattersall, Postdoc in urban geography and Research Lead at Sydney Policy Lab. Host of ChangeMakers Podcast., University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How Hong Kong protesters have been winning the battle for public space


Peter Walters, The University of Queensland and Naomi Smith, Federation University Australia

The battle for domination of the physical and digital public realms has been crucial to the fortunes of the Hong Kong protesters. Their overwhelming numbers in the tense stand-off with the might of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has captured our attention over the past eight weeks.

However, there are less obvious dynamics at work as protesters use public space – both physical and digital – to maintain their advantage. An understanding of these public realms is critical to understanding why freedom of expression either flourishes or dies in particular urban contexts.

Hong Kong protesters have drawn the world’s attention to the fragile state of democratic rights in this Special Administrative Region of China. As many as 2 million people, out of a population of 7.5 million, have poured into the streets, protesting the erosion of their special status.




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Hong Kong: why the ‘one country, two systems’ model is on its last legs


As many as 2 million people have joined the Hong Kong protests.

These protests have been remarkably effective in the face of a PRC-aligned Hong Kong leadership, which has for now backed down on a contentious proposal to make it easier to extradite Hong Kong residents to mainland China.

In physical terms the public realm means places to gather freely with diverse others with high visibility. This makes them a focus for expressions of democratic conviction. Many great cities of the world contain iconic public places, such as Taksim Square in Istanbul, the National Monument in Jakarta, Trafalgar Square in London and, of course, Tiananmen Square in Beijing. But with varying levels of surveillance and restriction, not all of these places qualify as functioning public realms.




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How city squares can be public places of protest or centres of state control


Taking to the streets …

Hong Kong, one of the most densely built and populated cities in the world, has few recognisable public places. None is capable of holding even a fraction of the numbers of protesters that have mobilised.

For that reason, crowds have taken to the streets. These are usually a degraded form of public space, but protesters have turned them from thoroughfares for vehicles to a vibrant public realm, allowing an impressive show of willpower.

The protests have been well organised and until last week were free from violence. The involvement of alleged China-backed triad criminals escalated the risk for ongoing demonstrations and the fragile public realm in Hong Kong is now threatened.

… and digital space

The success of the protests is not entirely dependent on the use of physical space. The speed and coordination of the protests would not have been possible without access to a public realm in the abstract. We see it in an active and independent press and media, and in the ability of protesters to communicate with each other quickly and freely through the digital public realm provided by social media and encrypted messaging apps.

The sheer volume of people on the streets implied spontaneous anarchy. However, the use of social media, even in the presence of covert and overt surveillance by security forces and China-friendly media, enabled organisers and protesters to retain a tactical advantage.

They have been using anonymous calls in encrypted chat applications like Telegram and Signal to coordinate efforts. These apps allow users to create public and anonymous channels to share information, as well as smaller, more private, group chats.




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How a cyber attack hampered Hong Kong protesters


LIHKG is often referred to as the ‘Hong Kong version of Reddit’.
LIHKG

The protest was coordinated visibly on LIHKG, an online forum that ranks posts by popularity in a similar manner to Reddit. These forums allow protests to move fluidly and quickly, responding to changing conditions on the ground.

Protesters used social media to rapidly distribute photos to counter security authorities’ attempts to deliberately and drastically underestimate crowd numbers to downplay the strength and size of the opposition.

There was also a need to avoid particular technologies. China employs sophisticated surveillance of its citizens.




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However, protesters have taken effective evasive measures. These included simple physical acts such as standing in huge queues at the Metro for paper tickets to avoid being tracked on transit smart cards. Protesters also used umbrellas, face and eye masks to prevent facial recognition and to shield themselves from teargas attacks and drone surveillance.

The digital public realm has been used successfully in other contexts as a potent intensification of physical protest. Digital spaces can amplify, broadcast and coordinate physical action.

For example, social media catalysed the Black Lives Matter protests in the US. In 2016 Philando Castile’s death was live-streamed on Facebook by his girlfriend after police shot him through the open window of his vehicle. Twitter was used extensively to publicise and coordinate the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests.




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Co-opting spaces as public

Urban protests in many cities, like Hong Kong, are defined by their limited access to sanctioned public space. The co-opting of other public commons like highways and inner-city roads becomes necessary. This has been particularly successful in the American context where public space is degraded or privatised, and roads are “neutral” space.

Public space does not always look the way we imagine it. When access to public space is untenable, protesters with sufficient will can turn privatised or commercial space into a new public realm.

The Hong Kong protests have turned the international airport terminal into a temporary public realm for this purpose. The “yellow shirt” protesters did the same in Bangkok in 2008. The continued visibility of these public sites and the desire by security forces to close down protest create an uneasy stand-off, testing authorities’ resolve to respond under international scrutiny.

There is now more to the public realm than just a place to gather. Protesters need to combine their determination with a sophisticated appreciation of the digital environment and the nature and limits of public and private space.




Read more:
Surprise! Digital space isn’t replacing public space, and might even help make it better


The Conversation


Peter Walters, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, The University of Queensland and Naomi Smith, Lecturer in Sociology, Federation University Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.