The Struggle for Universal Suffrage in Hong Kong

by Noah Simon | July 9, 2014

Hong Kong Activists Stage a Sit-in on July 2 (Screenshot from YouTube)

Hong Kong Activists Stage a Sit-in on July 2 (Screenshot from YouTube).

Civic groups and citizens of Hong Kong struggling for universal suffrage have begun to heighten their campaign.

On July 3, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy lawmakers staged a mass walkout from a parliament session against the Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, accusing him of “willful ignorance of the people’s call for real democracy”. Many lawmakers held banners and demanded Leung’s resignation.

One day earlier, police arrested over 500 protesters who staged a sit-in following the city’s annual pro-democracy rally. Police sprayed fire extinguishers at protesters and forcibly removed them from the ground. Demonstrators were arrested for illegal assembly, and for obstructing police officers.

The rally drew one of the largest crowds in the city’s history. An estimated 510,000 participated in the rally, which marks the year Hong Kong’s sovereignty was transferred back to China from Great Britain in 1997.

These events follow a recent unofficial referendum held by the group “Occupy Central”, in which roughly 800,000 citizens expressed their support for the public nomination of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive.

In earlier statements, Occupy Central’s leaders Dr. Benny Tai, Professor Chan Kin-man and Reverend Chu Yiu-ming estimated around 10,000 possible participants would occupy Hong Kong’s central business district. Given the massive turnout for the pro-democracy rally and the unofficial referendum, the number of potential sit-in participants could greatly exceed 10,000.

Anticipating the Shut Down of Hong Kong

Many in Hong Kong and elsewhere in China fear economic and security repercussions in the event of a shut down. The Global Times, a Beijing newspaper, claims that Hong Kong could turn into Ukraine or Thailand if Occupy Central supporters flood the business district.

Benny Tai, the founder of the movement, does not believe Occupy Central poses a catastrophic threat to the economy. In terms of economic repercussions, Tai compares a city shut down to a typhoon. Tai says, “The whole city may have to be closed down. There would be maybe one day people would not go to work. That would not be really substantial. We have many typhoons every year”.

With over 500 arrested during the pro-democracy rally on July 1, more arrests could be imminent if Occupy Central decides to shut down Hong Kong’s business hub. Chan Kin-man, another leader of the Occupy movement, has already made it clear that supporters should not resist arrest. Chan says, “We will line up and march to the police station to surrender. We are not going to challenge [the] rule of law. We will accept the punishment”.

Domestic and International Opposition

Several firms have spoken out against a potential city shut down. The world’s largest four accounting firms ran a newspaper ad publicizing their concern about Occupy Central.

Recently, HSBC told investors to sell stock of Hong Kong companies because of the planned protest. In their quarterly report, HSBC analysts wrote Occupy Central “could sour relations with China and may hurt the economy”.

In June, “Silent Majority”, a pro-Beijing group based in Hong Kong, published a video depicting complete chaos in the event of a Hong Kong shut down.

What Comes Next

Occupy Central has said a possible occupation of the city’s central business district would take place in late August when Beijing will release a framework for the 2017 Chief Executive election.

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More information on Occupy Central’s campaign for universal suffrage in Hong Kong can be read here.