Civil disobedience in Hong Kong: A lesson for Imran Khan

Published: September 27, 2014

It is not necessary to ‘cross the red-zone’ or gate-crash the Parliament to get the attention. If you have enough numbers on the street, everyone can and will notice you.

Demonstrators march during a pro-democracy rally seeking greater democracy in Hong Kong as frustration grows over the influence of Beijing on the city. PHOTO: AFP It is not necessary to ‘cross the red-zone’ or gate-crash the Parliament to get the attention. If you have enough numbers on the street, everyone can and will notice you.

Hong Kong has recently seen a wave of peaceful protests organised by pro-democracy activists. These protests have been countered by the pro-Beijing rally, which demonstrated how divided the city is over this issue.

In order to understand how this protest came about, one needs to step back and assess Hong Kong’s history with China.

One country, two systems

Hong Kong was a former British colony that was handed over to China in 1997. Since then, China has governed Hong Kong under the principle of ‘one country, two systems’, where Hong Kong – defined as a Special Administrative Region of China – is given a high degree of autonomy, except in foreign and defence affairs.

Hong Kong is governed by a chief executive who is currently vetted by a 1,200 member election committee and is also endorsed by Beijing. Hong Kong has its own legal system and enjoys much liberal freedom of assembly and freedom of speech compared to their mainland counterparts.

Struggle for right to universal suffrage

A pro-democracy group, Occupy Central, is fighting for the right for universal suffrage for the Hong Kong public. They threaten to continue their sit-in at the central district until they are given more voting rights. They also threatened mass civil disobedience if Beijing doesn’t heed to their demands.

To counter these, a Pro-Beijing group has taken out its own ‘march for peace’ to over shadow the pro-democracy movement. Tens of thousands of supporters from both sides have participated in these separate marches.

Protests in our own backyard – what can Imran Khan learn?

There are parallels that can be drawn from this movement and the one led by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). I will deliberately leave out Tahirul Qadri’s march, since his agenda still remains unclear to me.

Both the movements are heavily fuelled by the youth of the country who wish to be harbinger of change and take their fates in their own hands. However, the similarity ends here.

Beijing’s successive governments and political system has led and developed China into a leading economic power. Why has China flourished despite not being a democracy at all? It’s a question for another blog perhaps.

There are some inspirations and lessons which PTI can certainly learn from Hong Kong.

  • PTI followers may argue that attack on state institutions was not instigated by Imran Khan or PTI leaders, but they can’t deny that the mayhem did originate from the dharna. Hong Kong protesters, though much larger in numbers, have remained peaceful at all the times. This, in turn, has given more legitimacy to their protests. Imran needs to understand that if he wants to make his protest credible, it needs to be non-violent.
  • It is not necessary to ‘cross the red-zone’ or gate-crash the Parliament to get the attention. If you have enough numbers on the street, everyone can and will notice you.
  • These pro-democracy movement leaders in Hong Kong are pragmatic in the sense that they know the city itself is very polarised. Some of them are willing to strike a compromise, if they attain some goals. But is Imran willing to compromise at all? Especially since it’s apparent that there is no constitutional way to dismiss the prime minister with such a clear majority in the parliament. And he doesn’t plan to quit either.
  • If PTI believes that the elections were rigged, getting electoral reforms will definitely be an achievement. But have they missed their chance at striking while the iron was hot? It seems that most of the momentum they had gathered after August 14’s Azadi march, and when the government was under pressure as well, is now gone. Perhaps an opportunity missed. The protesters in Hong Kong have still maintained their pressure on the Chinese government. That is something which Imran needs to learn how to maintain.

Peaceful and long-lasting change can’t come overnight; we all have to take baby steps towards the ultimate goal. However, you can effectively fix the system by being inside it, rather than fighting it from the outside. Hong Kong is still a part of the system and their people are managing to get their voice across. Why can’t Imran consider the same?

Faraz Naseem

Faraz Naseem

An expat currently based in Shanghai. He has lived, worked and traveled in different cities within China in last 2 years. He has interest in business, tech, and national and international politics. He tweets @SFarazNaseem (

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