Activists Vow to 'Occupy' Hong Kong

2013-03-28
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Ballot officers start the counting process in Hong Kong, Sept. 10, 2012.
AFP

Activists in Hong Kong have vowed to occupy the city's Central business district on the anniversary of its handover from British rule, as a high-ranking Chinese official dashed hopes for fully democratic elections for Hong Kong in 2017.

Qiao Xiaoyang, chairman of the law committee of the National People's Congress (NPC), was quoted this week as telling a closed-door meeting that China will not allow someone who "confronts" Beijing to become Hong Kong's leader.

"First, the nomination committee will decide. Then voters in Hong Kong will decide. Lastly, the central government will decide whether to appoint or not," Qiao was quoted as saying in a transcript of the meeting.

On the same day the comments were made public, Hong Kong activists announced a campaign of civil disobedience culminating in an "Occupy" action, if the territory's government fails to deliver a proposal for universal suffrage that is in line with international democratic standards.

Co-organizer Benny Tai Yiu-ting, an associate professor of law at the University of Hong Kong, said the campaign would "preach" democratic values to different sectors of the community.

"If we sit on a road in Central, and we are detained by police, we won't resist, but we will be carried into a police car and taken to the police station," Tai said.

"It doesn't matter if Central is brought to a standstill; the main thing is that we are detained," he said, likening the movement to a religious message.

"We shall be like preachers communicating enthusiastically with different communities to convey universal values such as democracy, universal and equal suffrage, justice and righteousness," he said.

'Drastic measures'

Organizers are hoping more than 10,000 people will take part in the movement, by performing acts of civil disobedience, risking arrest and agreeing to plead no contest at any subsequent trial.

"The participants should resolve to accept going to jail—for how long, I don't know. Teachers and some professionals might lose their qualifications," Tai said.

"There will be a price to pay, but participants should not be worried about losing their lives," he said.

Chan Kin-man, associate professor of sociology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the campaign would start out with public opinion surveys to gauge popular opinion on universal suffrage.

"We will only occupy Central if Beijing finally refuses to implement universal suffrage," Chan said.

"We have seen that no one is able to do a good job as chief executive if we aren't allowed to manage our own affairs in a democratic way," he said.

"There are a lot of young people in Hong Kong who simply won't wait any longer," he said. "They want even more drastic measures."

Pro-Beijing stance

While pro-democracy politicians hit out at Beijing's plans for "fake universal suffrage" in the wake of Qiao's comments, pro-Beijing politicians said the movement could hurt Hong Kong.

According to commerce sector lawmaker Jeffrey Lam, the campaign could damage the city's reputation as an international financial center.

Starry Lee, Lam's colleague on the city's cabinet, the Executive Council, called for a debate on political reforms rather than direct action.

Anxiety over the city's political future sparked an "Occupy Central" movement in the downtown business district last year, with participants calling for universal suffrage by the next election.

On Jan. 1 of this year, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to demand the resignation of embattled chief executive Leung Chun-ying and universal elections for his replacement.

Leung was narrowly selected for the chief executive job this year by a pro-Beijing committee.

Under the terms of its 1997 handover to China, Hong Kong was guaranteed the continuation of existing freedoms of expression and association for 50 years.

But journalists and political analysts say that the ruling Chinese Communist Party has redoubled its ideological work efforts in the territory following mass demonstrations on July 1, 2003 against proposed anti-subversion legislation, which the government later abandoned.

Last year, proposals for patriotic education in the territory's schools were shelved after thousands of protesters camped outside government headquarters for several weeks, dressed in black and chanting for the withdrawal from the curriculum of what they called "brainwashing" propaganda from the Communist Party.

Reported by Ho Shan for RFA's Cantonese service, and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.