What was once extreme here, both in action and in discourse, is becoming the norm.
HONG KONG—During a recent meeting in her party’s headquarters, the Hong Kong cabinet member Regina Ip admitted that weeks of demonstrations here have put the government on the back foot.
“I never expected mass protests to continue for such a long time,” the pro-Beijing stalwart and legislator told me. “Sophisticated” protesters, she added, had “outmaneuvered the government” and were now seizing on a growing list of grievances, wielding them as “a rod to beat the government.”
In the days since, the figurative rod has become literal: Police have swung wildly at groups of peaceful demonstrators, and some protesters have struck back. Hong Kong has a high degree of autonomy, with residents enjoying a number of freedoms, as well as separate financial, legal, and political systems from mainland China. As huge numbers of people have called for their city’s autonomy to be maintained and expanded in the face of steady encroachment by the mainland-Chinese government, lines are being crossed: Protesters have grown bolder and more extreme, even breaking into the city’s most prominent government building, and the authorities more draconian in their response. What was once radical here, both in action and in discourse, is becoming the norm.