Spies on Hong Kong streets

Spies on Hong Kong streets, by Paul Garvey.

Protesters believe China and police are working to incite violence by planting undercover operatives.

Hong Kongers enjoyed peace on their streets yesterday after the first tear-gas-free weekend in months.

But the remarkably calm march by up to 1.7 million people on Sunday night had less to do with an easing of tension in the city than a new push by protesters and police to win the broad support of the former British colony’s 7.5 million people.

The turnout in the streets on Sunday was extraordinary not just in its scale but also in its restraint.

In torrential rain, Hong Kongers stood side by side for hours in the overwhelmed streets of the Causeway Bay retail district after almost three months of disruption — and amid growing frustrations about the lack of action over what they feel is an existential threat to their city.

And throughout it all, they remained resolutely calm. …

Police cause violence:

The police turnout for Sunday’s giant rally was conspicuous in its absence.

Officers were almost nowhere to be seen, even when thousands of protesters split off to converge outside the Hong Kong police headquarters. …

For supporters of the movement, the lack of violence and the lack of police on Sunday was no coincidence. …

No leaders:

The movement has shown a startling self-awareness despite, or perhaps because of, a lack of central leadership.

In keeping with its pro-democracy ambitions, many decisions by the movement are made via polls over messaging services.

One such survey, the findings of which were released yesterday, found that about 93 per cent of the more than 90,000 respondents described themselves as “peaceful, rational and non-violent” protesters. The respondents also voted overwhelmingly in favour of more passive means of protest, such as strikes and unauthorised marches, and against more extreme methods such as vandalism and arson.

Perhaps surprisingly for many watching from the West, some 75 per cent of the survey respondents agreed that Hong Kong was a part of China and 74 per cent disapproved of defacing the national emblem. …

Agent provocateurs:

Ms Chen, an advertising executive who declines to give her full name, tells The Australian that protesters believe China and the police are working to incite violence by planting undercover operatives among them.

“Everybody has talked to each other about the need to keep a peaceful mind and not do anything stupid. We know there is undercover police who will try to encourage people to do violent things. That’s why we have to calm down,” she says.

“Some of the people are police from China. They know what people do can trick people’s emotions. I believe that’s what the Chinese government want.”