'Occupy Central'is a major strategic mistake
Updated: 2014-10-06 09:35
By Wang Shengwei(HK Edition)
When two years ago Benny Tai first proposed the idea of "Occupy Central", he probably focused on the geographic location to draw interest. However, Central is the business nerve center of Hong Kong. If Central is paralyzed the SAR's banking and financial services will be severely affected. A prolonged "takeover" of Central by "Occupy" campaigners will also seriously hurt the city's international reputation. Earlier this year, the 2014 APEC Finance Ministers' Meeting relocated to Beijing due to concerns of disturbance by "Occupy".
Unsurprisingly "Occupy" has provoked strong opposition from the powerful business community. Hong Kong has the world's freest economy and a low unemployment rate at around 3.3 percent. Except for 2009, the GDP of the SAR has grown steadily from 2004 to 2014, and in 2013 the GDP per capita was a healthy $37,900. All these facts have shaped Hongkongers' pragmatism and appreciation of what they have achieved under "One Country, Two Systems".
In these circumstances, Tai created a conundrum for his activist alliance. If they were to achieve their unrealistic political goals, they would destroy the stability required for maintaining our prosperous system of capitalism. This is a cornerstone of "Two Systems". Hence, they have had to rely mainly on manipulating young students, who have not been part of the workforce, to tackle police lines. This has limited their ability to broaden their support base. To most Hongkongers, the brand of universal suffrage offered to the SAR may not be perfect, but there is still room for improvement and it is less risky than having a "pan-democrat" Chief Executive who may jeopardize the close relationship with Beijing and hence the future of the SAR.
Consider what is at risk: Hong Kong is one of the world's leading international centers, Asia's second-largest private equity center, second-largest stock market, third-largest foreign exchange market and second-largest recipient of foreign direct investment after the mainland.
As of June 2013, there were 3,835 regional headquarters and regional representative offices, the parent companies of which 21 percent are located in the US, 19 percent in Japan and 9 percent in the United Kingdom. Of these companies, some 80 percent were responsible for business on the mainland, confirming Hong Kong's role as a major conduit for mainland-focused business. This underlines the rationale behind maintaining a good relationship with Beijing as a top priority for the SAR's economic well-being.
By the end of 2013 there were 201 institutions and 62 representative offices in Hong Kong, most of them concentrated in Central. Moreover, Central is the location of the Central Government Offices, Legislative Council (LegCo) Chambers, eight other government buildings, 15 historical buildings, nine major hotels, six schools and colleges, and five parks.
At present, the LegCo Complex is closed to the public because of the riotous behavior of students who occupied its approaches last weekend. They eventually forced riot police to bring the situation under control.
Early on Sunday morning Tai's hand was apparently forced by the students' on-going occupation of the area. Several two-way lanes in front of the Government Headquarters are closed - part of the lane from Lung Wo Road running toward Sheung Wan is also temporarily closed. Police have sealed off the site of protests.
On the morning of Sept 29, protests extended to Mong Kok and several students wrote to their professors asking for an extension of class boycotts.
Police took action because of protesters' confrontational violence made the assembly unlawful. Is this "Occupy Central with peace and love" as proclaimed by Tai?
The "Defend Central" campaign working group, comprising six industries, estimates that if Central is forced to shut down, its 1,000-plus restaurants will suffer a daily loss of HK$30 million. Serious traffic congestion will affect not only Causeway Bay and the cross-harbor tunnels but also Kowloon and the New Territories. A significant part of Hong Kong would be paralyzed, and incalculable financial losses. The group's counter-message is clear - "Not occupying Central will ensure jobs and prevent worker shut-outs". In total contrast, the "Occupy" campaign will harm the economy and threaten social stability in Hong Kong.
Internationally, outsiders seem determined to interfere in local affairs. British lawmakers are planning special debates in their parliament on the SAR's political development. Turning to the US, Facebook reveals that the Hong Kong-America Center at the Chinese University of Hong Kong held a two-day-one-night "workshop" on March 15-16 to train university students as key members of the "Occupy" campaign. If correct, given America's deep involvement in our economy, it would be a classic case of an interloping country "shooting itself in the foot" because the economic turmoil "Occupy" generates will be devastating for everyone.
Beijing's stance has been "not to back down, no bloodshed", while most Hongkongers also don't want chaos. So the proposed on-going protests will have difficulty in sustaining long-term momentum.
Isn't it time for "pan-democrat" leaders to rein in the student violence, halt the protests and call an immediate move to the negotiating table?
The author is an independent scholar and freelance writer.
(HK Edition 10/06/2014 page5)