HONG KONG—China celebrates “National Day” on October 1 to mark the anniversary of the creation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. The holiday is usually punctuated with pomp, fireworks and ridiculously large flower arrangements on the mainland, as well as in Hong Kong and Macau.
But this morning’s National Day flag-raising ceremony in Hong Kong highlighted the growing tensions between the Asian financial hub and Beijing. As Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters demanding universal suffrage—specifically the right to nominate candidates for the city’s top elected position—expand in size and scope, everyone is waiting to see how and when Beijing will respond.
Chinese and Hong Kong flags are raised every morning at Golden Bauhinia Square, outside Hong Kong’s massive convention center, in a short ceremony that is usually just attended by mainland and foreign tourists. (A bauhinia is the flower that adorns the Hong Kong flag.) This morning, because it is National Day, Occupy Central organizer Joshua Wong and a group of about 20 Hong Kong protesters staged a silent protest in the square during the ceremony, turning their backs to the flags as they were raised, forming crosses with their hands.
Outside the official flag-raising ceremony area, things were much less sedate. Several hundred black-clad, yellow-ribboned protesters ranged across pedestrian walkways and thronged streets outside the square, carrying signs and volleying back and forth shouts of “universal suffrage” and occasional cries for Hong Kong to become independent.
The growth of the protests in recent days has been both a blessing and a curse, some participants said. “We appreciate all the people who have come out,” said Daniel Chan, a 21-year old student who has been participating in the Occupy Central protests for the past three days. But, he said, some of the newer recruits “don’t understand the meaning of the movement.” Chanting slogans of independence “is not our purpose,” he said, the movement only wants Hong Kongers to be able to vote freely.
As the Chinese national anthem played as the China and Hong Kong flags were raised, protesters outside the square unfurled umbrellas, which have become a symbol of the demonstrations, and held them silently aloft. But they didn’t stay silent for long: When two helicopters flew past the crowd over Victoria Harbor, one carrying a giant Chinese flag and the second a smaller Hong Kong flag, the protesters burst into spontaneous jeers.
After the flag raising, Bloomberg reported, Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying and other officials ”drank champagne on a red stage in a reception hall festooned with Chinese and Hong Kong flags as a white-coated band played patriotic tunes.”
Minutes later, protesters quietly dispersed into the streets of Wan Chai, one of Hong Kong’s main business districts. Chan said he didn’t expect any reaction from Beijing to the Occupy Central protests. “I don’t think they will respond at this moment,” he said. “We’re all protesting in a peaceful way.”