‘Occupy Central with Love and Peace’ (unrelated to the ‘Occupy Wall St’) is a proposal by pro-democracy activists to take over Central as a non-violent ‘last resort’ measure to demand one-person-one-vote. The idea was popularised last year after leaders in Beijing stated that any future HK leader must pledge to ‘love both the country and Hong Kong’. By March 2014, China had ruled out full democracy stating that citizens will not be able to choose candidates.
The article below is adapted from a Op-ed by Hong Wrong featured in the Ming Pao over the weekend (original English version here).
Only in Hong Kong could one spend 18 months debating a protest. This is Protest City where there are hundreds each year, on every topic, often with accompanying counter-protests and protests to counter those counter-protests. They are usually formulaic but they come in all sizes. Some are angry, some are solemn; some take the form of hurling hell money or fruit around LegCo whilst others involve of thousands of Hong Kongers surrounding government headquarters forcing leaders to pay attention. One thing, however, that unites post-colonial protest culture is how consistently peaceful such gatherings are. Having witnessed the city’s strong tradition of nonviolent dissent from the frontlines over the past 9 years, it is obvious that Occupy Central should be no different. For people such as C. K. Chow, chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, to suggest otherwise amounts to alarmist hysteria.
There is only one reason the recently postponed occupation for universal suffrage has been discussed, deliberated and disputed to such exasperating degrees – the authorities are terrified. This year alone, the Law Society president stated, somehow, that civil disobedience was “not a legal principle”, a lawmaker asked the government about ‘terrorism’ readiness, one official boasted of ample space in the city’s prisons as another described the plan as “extreme and illegal”. The Basic Law Institute chief even warned of possible PLA involvement and the resurrection of Article 23. With 2003’s successful mass rally and movements like the Arab Spring in mind, the local and national governments know that they’ve little moral high ground, leaving them to scaremonger, threaten and grasp at straws.
There has been a relentless, daily push by Hong Kong’s ever-obliging media to frame the protest movement negatively. Organisers are described as ‘radical’ whilst there has been an unjustified emphasis on a non-existent ‘threat’ of violence by The Standard and the South China Morning Post.
Meanwhile, CY Leung, whose unpopularity remains full democracy’s greatest advertisement, says the protest will damage the city’s reputation. This is the most absurd charge, as demonstrations – big and small – occur daily in lots of other ‘world cities’ without the apocalypse unfolding or banks fleeing overseas. Cracking down on such a protest, however, would damage Hong Kong’s reputation as a free corner of openness within China supposedly governed by the rule of law. A hasty, heavy-handed suppression of the movement, akin to how Beijing deals with uprisings, would certainly see the cause skyrocket in international headlines.
Those is power are scared because they know full well that, despite its rather inorganic over-planning, Benny Tai’s strategy might just work. By examining successful struggles around the world, American author Naomi Wolf concluded that dissent, when it is en-masse and causes inconvenience, always works. Whenever a march stops traffic and disrupts business-as-usual, people take notice and it never fails.
This explains the flustered reaction to ‘Occupy’ and explains why the 2003 protests worked when others failed. It also shows why authorities work so hard to ‘minimise’, divide and ‘kettle’ protesters – a trend that is increasing. These tactics occur in states across the world, amounting to a conscious effort to lessen the impact of civil disobedience. Sadly, Hong Kong is proving to be no exception – protest rights are curtailed because protest works.
Perhaps another reason this particular issue is so contentious is the feeling that Hong Kong’s wider identity crisis is coming to a head – the Civic Party deemed ‘Occupy’ the ‘last resort’. If this plan fails, the city may see its erosion of civil liberties continue until it is quietly absorbed into the Pearl River Delta ‘mega region’ come 2047. Such a decline would not be in the spirit of the handover agreement and – moreover – a refusal to enact true universal suffrage would outright violate the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
Unlike with other treaties, trade deals and documents signed with other nations, Britain is doing nothing to police its 1984 agreement with China. Whilst the silence is deafening, London daren’t upset its lucrative relationship with its trading partner, lest it be accused of ‘interfering’. This was Beijing’s predictable reaction to Martin Lee and Anson Chan’s talks with Joe Biden in Washington last month and it effectively isolates the movement from seeking even verbal declarations of support from abroad.
Hong Kongers have been worn down by the persistent deferment and wild reinterpretations of the very definition of universal suffrage. Our economy, infrastructure, institutions and judiciary are the envy of much of Asia, yet somehow we are deemed too ‘immature’ enough to cope with one-person-one-vote. This constant stalling comes from a party that that took power by force, yet Beijing simply cannot accept the idea of non-violent Hong Kongers exercising their freedom of expression.
The national government has a choice this year – it can squander any remaining good-will and its standing on the world stage by suppressing the meaningful universal suffrage it once promised. Or it can stand aside and agree to let the SAR be a testing ground for democracy. If Hong Kongers are given a genuine choice, the territory will remain prosperous, competitive and may even become a true ‘showcase’ for Taiwan, instead of a warning. Then, it is hoped when 2047 comes along, China will resemble a representative and democratic Hong Kong more than the other way around.