By Nicholas Olczak
Organisers of Hong Kong’s Occupy Central movement are seeking to counter fears following warnings that their planned civil disobedience action could become violent and would be damaging to the city’s businesses.
First proposed by Hong Kong University law professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting, Occupy Central is a plan to campaign for democracy in Hong Kong by holding a large-scale civil disobedience action blocking the roads of the city’s Central district in July 2014. Organisers have suggested that 10,000 protestors might be involved.
On June 9, several hundred Occupy Central supporters including pro-democracy lawmakers held the first of three planned deliberation days at Hong Kong University to discuss the direction the movement would take.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-yin warned that the civil disobedience action would not be tolerated by the government or the courts and said it was not possible that the protest could be conducted peacefully.
“Once the occupy action takes place … there will be no possibility of it being lawful or peaceful,” the South China Morning Post reports him as saying. “The government will not tolerate law-breaking activities.”
Ching Cheong, a veteran political commentator who attended the deliberation meeting, told media he was worried that the action could lead to violence similar to that which ended the demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in 1989. He said the People’s Liberation Army had recently conducted drills in Hong Kong, and so the central government could be ready to suppress protest.
Organisers of the Occupy Central movement responded to the warnings by saying they would make keeping the protests peaceful a priority.
They said they were seeking to develop a mechanism for deciding when the protests would be called to an end. Tai said that the organisers would discuss such a mechanism, along with other means of ensuring the occupation stayed non-violent, in the coming months.
“If there’s a real occupation, we will issue very good guidelines to our participants on how to ensure the action will be non-violent,” Tai told the South China Morning Post. Ensuring “that [each individual] must not only make sure [he or she] remained non-violent, but that they are also responsible for making sure other participants [don’t get too agitated].”
In January 2010, a small number of those gathered outside Hong Kong’s legislative council to protest a proposed high-speed rail project scuffled with riot police wielding plastic shields and pepper spray in a rare example of a local protest turning more violent.
Major Hong Kong business groups have also expressed concern that the proposed civil disobedience action would hurt business. Last month, the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce and the Chinese Manufacturers’ Association of Hong Kong published newspaper statements saying they felt the disobedience would damage the local business environment.
“The damage that Occupy Central would do to our economy is beyond estimation,” one statement said. “The financial sector estimates that if the stock market is hamstrung the loss in transactions could amount to tens of billion dollars in one hour.”
The Heung Yee Kuk, an advisory body representing rural communities in Hong Kong, published an advert calling for the action to be abandoned and saying it threatened the city’s harmony and stability. Henry Cheng Kar-shun, chairman of New World Development chairman also criticised the plans.
“No matter what Occupy Central was aimed at and how would it make use of loopholes in the law, it is illegal,” he said. “And [it] will affect Hong Kong’s economic and financial order”.
Supporters of Occupy Central attending the June 9 deliberation session agreed to better promote the planned protest in order to counter these suggestions that it would hurt business. They said they would shift the protest’s emphasis to that of mass participation.