Evicting Hong Kong's Pro-Democracy Protests

The territory's government announced Monday that they were ready to start clearing encampments, but no long-term solution to the political crisis is in reach.

The Hong Kong government has warned protesters gathered in Admiralty that the police may disperse them. (Bobby Yip/Reuters)

For the past month, Hong Kong's protesters have gathered each day in Admiralty, a neighborhood whose government buildings have formed the backdrop of pro-democracy demonstrations that have occurred in the territory for the past seven weeks.

But according to a statement released by the territory's government Monday, the encampment could go the way of Zuccotti Park. Following an injunction against "illegal" demonstrations in the territory, Hong Kong's  government warned that police were prepared to disperse protesters at the Citic Tower, opposite Admiralty's administration buildings.

Participation in Hong Kong's protests has fallen from the movement's peak in September and October. And while support for the demonstrators remains high among the territory's young, they've become less popular among Hong Kongers on the whole. According to the latest poll results, 34 percent of Hong Kong residents support the protests, while 44 percent oppose. Two thirds of the city's residents think that the protests should leave the streets.

For the police, however, there are risks to using force. Heavy-handed attempts to disperse the protesters in Mong Kok, a separate neighborhood, backfired as residents who were appalled at the police's behavior swelled the protest's numbers. Hong Kong's government—whose preferred strategy is waiting for the movement to dwindle naturally—is wary of any counterproductive violence.

Behind the scenes, momentum appears to be shifting toward Hong Kong's government and its backers in China's Communist Party. Hong Kong's  Chief Executive CY Leung traveled to Beijing last week and met with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who lent his public support. Carrie Lam, the territory's second-ranked official, recently said that the government had no more room to negotiate with the protesters. A symbolic attempt by three leaders from the Hong Kong Federation of Students to negotiate directly with the mainland Chinese government also went nowhere when the students—Alex Chow, Nathan Law, and Eason Chung—were prevented from boarding their flight to Beijing.

Even if the protest movement dies down, Hong Kong has gotten no closer to solving its long-term political crisis. The Chinese government is unwilling to grant the territory universal suffrage. They've argued that the system already in place gives Hong Kongers more democracy than they ever enjoyed under British colonial rule. But after 17 years of administration over Hong Kong, Beijing has utterly failed to forge a shared sense of identity between ethnic Chinese populations on both sides of the Bamboo Curtain. A Chinese University poll last week found that only 8.9 percent of Hong Kongers now identify as Chinese—the lowest percentage ever recorded.

The Hong Kong government knows that dispersing the protesters won't solve any problems. But, as a source involved with the decision told The New York Times, time was on their side. "It will be guerrilla warfare—we will clear it, they will regroup, we will clear it again, they will regroup, but eventually, they will dissipate."