16 October 2019
A protester waves a colonial Hong Kong flag as he joins tens of thousands of others during a pro-democracy march on July 1. Photo: EJ Insight
A protester waves a colonial Hong Kong flag as he joins tens of thousands of others during a pro-democracy march on July 1. Photo: EJ Insight

July 1 rallies in 2003 and 2014: Is the comparison apt?

Hong Kong’s July 1 rally Tuesday has evoked memories of 2003, when there was a similar large-scale demonstration on the city’s streets.

If we analyze the two events closely, one thing becomes clear: there are some commonalities in the factors that drove the huge protest marches, but there are also some differences.

The latest rally is more a pure-play political event, while the one a decade ago was triggered by political as well economic concerns.

As economic worries are easier to dispel than political woes, the city’s current administration led by Leung Chun-ying has a tough task on hand to soothe the frayed nerves in society. 

Organizers claimed that a record 510,000 people took part in the July 1 march this year, surpassing the 500,000 that took to the streets in 2003. Tuesday marked the 17th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule.

A survey conducted by the Public Opinion Programme of Hong Kong University, meanwhile, showed that 22 percent of respondents care most about political issues, representing the highest level since 1993.

While the city’s economy has recovered well and the unemployment rate is staying at a low level, the political climate has however deteriorated in recent years.

Beijing’s recent White Paper on Hong Kong and the Hong Kong government’s push of a controversial development plan for northeastern New Territories have added to the people’s concerns in the past few weeks, the Hong Kong Economic Times said in a commentary piece Wednesday.

mock referendum on electoral reforms organized by the Occupy Central group has only encouraged the public to come out and call for more political freedom. 

In 2003, the motivation for people to join the annual July 1 march was both economical and political, Economic Times noted.

Although the fuse of the rally in 2003 was the government’s proposal for an anti-subversion law, people were also venting their frustration at the sluggish economy following the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) crisis.

The SARS outbreak led to high unemployment rate, significant plunge in property prices, large-scale pay cuts for workers and layoffs in Hong Kong during the early years of the last decade.

It’s easier to reduce public discontent caused by economic issues, but harder to resolve the political conundrums, the Times commentary said, citing the conflict in Thailand as example.

With authorities and democrats both taking hard-line stance over Hong Kong’s political reform issues, there appears to be little room for negotiation and the problem could become a deadlock.

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