“The people have ultimately voted against the incumbent government and in favour of the protests. The message is clear: the vote reflects the core of the issue. After months of demonstrations, the deeply-rooted relationship between the people and the Government of Hong Kong has been shattered.” From Beijing, Francesco Sisci, one of Italy’s leading sinologists, author of the first, historic interview with Pope Francis on China, commented on the results of the Hong Kong district elections in which anti-government candidates won almost 90% of the seats (396 out of 452) – a crushing blow to Governor Carrie Lam and the central government in Beijing. The Hong Kong government has promised to listen “with humility to citizens’ opinions” and to reflect “seriously.” “A very delicate stage lies ahead”, Sisci promptly remarked, “for while these votes don’t change anything in Hong Kong politics, they also send out a very strong signal.
It shows that six months after the protests, despite the violence, despite all the difficulties that the city has endured, despite the impact on the economy, the city has sided with the protestors and against the government.”
To what extent have the protests, the police violence against protesters, influenced the vote?
We have seen a high degree of violence on the part of the protestors too, prepared for violent clashes. Their actions were not a mere accident. They used lethal weapons, such as bows and arrows, they threw Molotov cocktails, and people have been stabbed. Indeed, there was police violence against protestors, but it should be said that it was ultimately contained.
So why did the people side with the protestors?
Because a deeply-rooted understanding between the people and the Hong Kong Government has evidently been disrupted. The people have a deep distrust of the Hong Kong Government. This rift is perhaps the most relevant aspect. Recovering this relationship is bound to be a difficult task.
Seen from Beijing, what is the impact of the Hong Kong protests on the region?
We should start with Taiwan’s presidential election of 11 January. Outgoing president Tsai Ing-wen, disliked by Beijing for having supported pro-independence policies, was already in a difficult situation six months ago. However, the past six months of protests in Hong Kong turned out to be an impressive campaign in her favour, to the point that she is currently leading the presidential polls. Having said that, however, it should be noted that the protests in Hong Kong did not spread to Macao, nor to neighbouring cities, although everyone could see and learn what was happening in Hong Kong in real time. This means that the people of the People’ s Republic of China were happy with how Beijing handled the overall situation.
What does it mean?
That the same events have different repercussions in different constituencies. It means there is a division in sensitivities: Hong Kong on one side and People’s China on the other.
This is the saddest and most serious problem: the sensitivity divide in the heart of China. Repairing a splintered fabric is bound to be a difficult task.
I hope he will. The Pope has the gift, a divine gift, of finding the right, pastoral words even in the most challenging situations. Now more than ever, it is important to find a way to reconcile the sensitivities of the people of the People’ s Republic of China and those of the people of Hong Kong and Taiwan. That’s the problem. It’s not about siding with or against Hong Kong. Since the Pope has this gift of speaking the right words, as he has shown many times and on countless occasions, I believe that even now he will find pastoral and heartfelt words that will help the people of China to reconcile with each other and find a way to live together, protestors and government leaders, rioters and law enforcement authorities alike. We must never forget that there are people – not cars – behind every barricade. Once again, the problem is not to take a stand in support of or against the protests. There are certainly reasons and deeply rooted wounds in Hong Kong that need to be addressed, but
we need to find a way to reconcile. We must not exacerbate the present rift. I firmly believe that the Pope will find the right words that will help both sides to understand each other.