“Whatever Beijing may say in public now, I think it can hardly afford to ignore the voices of 780,000 Hong Kong people”, Anson Chan (陳方安生), former Chief Secretary of both Hong Kong’s colonial and SAR governments and now a leading democratic politician, told CNN earlier this summer. Occupy-Central with Love and Peace (佔領中環) had just held an unofficial referendum, in which 787,767 Hong Kongers voted in support of free elections for the city’s next leader.
But if the Alliance for the Protection of Universal Suffrage and against Occupy Central (保普选反占中大联盟, shorter: Alliance against Occupy) is right, there are also 1.2 million people in Hong Kong who want to be heard with a different message to the central government. The Alliance against Occupy reportedly claims to have collected 1.2 million signatures, exceeding the 800,000 votes Occupy’s democracy poll got in June. The alliance against Occupy Central is backed by much of the Hong Kong’s establishment, including chief executive Leung Chun-ying (梁振英). And Beijing, or People’s Daily for that matter, certainly didn’t ignore the Alliance-against-Occupy demonstrations of Sunday afternoon.
Mainland Chinese media hadn’t ignored Occupy Central, but issued warning articles, sometimes using foreigners as warners against disruption. Reference News (参考消息), a Xinhua newsagency publication, quoted British media as saying that four global accounting firms in Hong Kong had published a statement opposing Hong Kong’s democracy movement (称“反对”香港的民主运动), and warning that extremist elements carried out street protests and disturbed business, their transnational customers could withdraw from Hong Kong.
Indeed, according to a Financial Times online newsarticle on June 27, the Hong Kong entities of EY, KPMG, Deloitte and PwC said the Occupy Central movement, which is calling for electoral reform in the former British colony, posed a threat to the territory’s rule of law.
Ostensibly, the Alliance against Occupy opposes civil disobedience or, more precisely, disruption of public life. On the other hand, universal suffrage (making Hong Kong’s Chief Executive an elected, rather than an appointed official) can mean a lot of different things – including the model that would preselect the candidates who would be allowed to run for office.
Those Hong Kongers who want real elections will rather trust Occupy Central. But those who put the economy (and therefore business interests) first, will rather trust the Alliance against Occupy. It would be easy to suggest that an unknown share of the claimed 1.2 million signatures against Occupy were coerced from employees, or that demonstrators in today’s anti-Occupy demonstrations had been paid. But there are most probably genuine concerns among “ordinary people”, not only among big business. There also seems to be a dividing line between the old and the young – most Alliance protesters seem to be 50-plus. They aren’t necessarily stupid, and they may be quite aware that the CCP and its business cronies, rather than Hong Kongers, may take control of Hong Kong’s political narratives. But to regain (or maintain) influence, Occupy Central will have to listen to what Hong Kongers actually want. To do that without losing their own way defines be the challenge.
Any kind of street protests or blockades may remind the elderly of the 1967 riots, when most Hong Kongers sided with the colonial government. Occupy Central is a very different movement – but they will have to mind their image among the (yet unknown) majority of Hong Kongers. A vision of 10,000 people blocking traffic in the central business district may not charm the public.