Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Anti-'Occupy Central' a reply to HK dissidents

By Lau Nai-keung (China Daily) Updated: 2014-08-21 06:51

The much-anticipated anti-"Occupy Central" protest was held in Hong Kong on Sunday afternoon. While different parties will continue to debate the actual turnout, the march was a considerable success. Before Sunday, the Alliance for Peace and Democracy, the event organizers, predicted a turnout of over 120,000 people. This target appears to have been comfortably met. Opponents continue to discredit the protest, saying participants were either coerced or bribed into participating, but the true significance of the march was that it signaled a new mindset for the pro-establishment camp.

The anti-"Occupy Central" rally is not the first march organized by the pro-establishment camp, but previous iterations have never seen this level of support. Every time the pro-establishment camp organizes a demonstration, the organizers are inevitably accused of offering free lunches and transport to elderly citizens from the New Territories part of Hong Kong in order to lure them to join. Even if there have always been material incentives, which I doubt, the question still remains as to why this time the pro-establishment attracted so many more participants.

It is easy to predict the success of a protest. All you have to do is look at what people are sharing on Facebook, WhatsApp and increasingly, WeChat. Don't pay too much attention to your friends who have always been political. Look at what your less vocal contacts are saying. If those who have hitherto shown no particular interest in public affairs suddenly feel obliged to express their support, or otherwise, for something, then it is significant.

The last time we observed such a situation was during the HKTV licensing controversy, and before that, the civic education controversy. These were situations in which everyone in society had an opinion, and felt strongly enough to express that opinion. Naturally, the social movements which followed them were huge.

A couple of weeks before the anti-"Occupy Central" protest, I began receiving WhatsApp and WeChat messages from friends. Many of these messages were sent by professionals or managers working in large corporations. In the past, they had refrained from expressing their personal views on public affairs. But this does not mean they did not care. They had presumably remained silent because they thought doing otherwise would not be suitable in the corporate world. As political and economic interests converge because of "Occupy Central", the anti-"Occupy" protest offers more conservative social sectors a legitimate opportunity to express their disapproval of the dissidents.

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