At the last minute, Hong Kong’s Occupy Central pro-democracy movement abandons a planned poll of its followers over the ‘way forward’. To those of us too impatient to follow all the details, the saga suggests friction between academic/bureaucratic and spontaneous/anarchic tendencies – perhaps an attempt by OC founder Benny Tai and friends to impose some sense of direction over the various Umbrella sub-cultures scattered among tent cities and barricades in Admiralty, Causeway Bay and the Communard settlement of Mongkok.
The anti-Occupy forces are hardly a model of discipline, either. After doing nothing apart from shaking hands after anti-Occupy thugs assault members of the media, police arrest a herbalist. Officials awkwardly voice their shock. Under pressure from Beijing, the establishment tries to bolster its legitimacy by portraying protestors as a ‘threat to rule of law’; but the real threat to rule of law lies in the government’s response – such as apparently (implicitly, allegedly) looking the other way when the thugs do their thing. Meanwhile, like the lingering after-effect of an illness, ‘Silent Majority’ leader Robert Chow is back with another petition campaign; 652,970 signatures appear out of nowhere in support of the police and law and order.
Even the Mainland officials managing the situation don’t seem to have their act together. An intriguing English-language Xinhua article published over the weekend criticized Hong Kong’s tycoons for largely remaining silent about Occupy Central. It seems to have been pulled from official websites, but is still here. The pro-tycoon Standard’s editorial tries to rationalize it without upsetting anyone, and concludes that either a rogue writer was at work, or the piece was a warning to the plutocrats to step into line. A third explanation – for those of us into wishful thinking – is that Beijing is coming to its senses and preparing to dump Hong Kong’s feudal, cartel-owning billionaires.
Anything could be happening. Chief Executive CY Leung made a major error last week in suggesting that the less-wealthy cannot be trusted with the vote (though the pro-democracy camp has typically failed to do much with this gift). The pro-tycoon Liberal Party’s slimy James Tien has suggested that CY stand down – just as he stabbed then-CE Tung Chee-hwa in the back following mass protests in 2003. Do the tycoons smell blood? More to the point: are they rejoicing that it’s CY’s blood or petrified that it’s their own?
If the Chinese government can’t get its head around the mess it has created in Hong Kong, it’s understandable. For murky reasons, they have heavily favoured tycoons over the local public interest since 1997. Yet (also in murky circumstances following the crash of shoe-in Henry Tang) they appointed a CE the tycoons hated in 2012. That man – CY Leung – then somehow managed to alienate the population even more than the unacceptable Henry would probably have done. Having a government-tycoon alliance at odds with the general population was hardly ideal (though the Communist regime seemed reasonably comfortable with it); now Hong Kong’s government and tycoons could be openly splitting, which would leave Beijing with a sort of three-way civil war to fix.
Despite the inability of the pro-dem camp to capitalize on it, anti-tycoon sentiment is not going away. Common sense suggests that Beijing will take this into consideration when it decides what to do. Right?