Did the district council elections calm Hong Kong?

Sebastian Veg, a scholar who splits his time between the School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences (EHESS) in Paris and Hong Kong University, has a detailed blog post on the current state of civil unrest in Hong Kong.

Because the protests retain such strong public support, and the district council elections were an effective democratic referendum against the government’s handling of the protests, Veg argues that there appears to be a “path to deescalation” that the city is heading toward. He suggests that the groundswell of local activism from the protests and elections has continued to make civil engagement more sustainable and the government more amenable to it.

But as long as the government remains unwilling to make major reforms in response to the five demands of the protesters, there is unlikely to be lasting calm in the city. As we noted on Monday, even if current protests die down or are successfully suppressed, more unrest may follow when Beijing likely gives Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥 Lín Zhèng Yuè’é) — or whoever is chief executive some months down the line — the task to implement the “Article 23” national security law, EJ Insight reports. Such a security law would likely follow the model implemented in Macau, where using the territory as a “base to subvert China” becomes a harshly punishable crime.

For an alternative, blunter view as to why police tactics in particular have changed, see this December 10 post from the anonymous scholar behind the Being Water newsletter:

I think [the Hong Kong Police Force has] wisely concluded they can’t put this movement down with live ammo without risking being burned alive in police vans.

That scholar adds, “I find it tempting to think that the police de-escalation order might have come from very high up, to give Beijing a month or two of ‘quiet’ to marginally pivot and get on with a long-delayed rolling of heads.”

Obviously, the first head rolled just last weekend, as Wáng Zhìmín 王志民 was replaced by Luò Huìníng 骆惠宁 as head of the Hong Kong Liaison Office. Is Carrie Lam next?

—Lucas Niewenhuis