26 May 2019
A democracy campaigner holds up an umbrella on an empty highway in Admiralty as other protesters look on from a bridge. Photo: Bloomberg
A democracy campaigner holds up an umbrella on an empty highway in Admiralty as other protesters look on from a bridge. Photo: Bloomberg

Retreat doesn’t mean Occupy has achieved nothing

The three organizers of the Occupy campaign turned themselves in last week, but this won’t be the end of the movement. Social movements have their purpose. Even in a democratic society, the government needs to be monitored to avoid all sorts of misdeeds such as possible collusion between officials and the business sector.

The trio must be applauded for their bravery. They have ushered in a new era of social movement in Hong Kong after the traditional way of pursuing democracy in the past three decades has led us nowhere. What a new social movement like Occupy can deliver is far more important than its original goal. Even when many call the current stalemate “a defeat” as the SAR government has yet to make any concession, the movement is the source of power and strength for future endeavors. Occupy itself is a remarkable feat.

The movement has already demonstrated the tremendous vibrancy and perseverance of the people, and its impact on the territory’s politics can be more widespread and far-reaching than we can ever imagine.

Occupy, particularly its concept of civil disobedience, is not here to replace other forms of struggle as students cannot be expected to occupy the streets forever. In this sense, we have nothing to lose. When to withdraw from the streets is just a technical question. And we do not need any excuse for the pullback.

As I have said in previous commentaries, when the movement has passed its momentum, police will resort to more violent means. A resolute move to bring the protests to a pause is a prudent decision to conserve strength and avoid further clashes that are bound to be futile.

I believe members of Scholarism and the Hong Kong Federation of Students are aware of this. They insist on staying on to test the bottom line: Under what circumstance will public support and compassion begin to dwindle and to what extent will the police clampdown go? The experience they gain can serve as a guide to future action.

As for public opinion polls – most have shown that people who want a retreat outnumber those who think otherwise – there is one point that some may have overlooked. Those who urge students to leave are not necessarily Occupy opponents. Some may want them to retreat out of genuine concern over the safety and welfare of the students. Others fear that police may use lethal force to end the protests. 

Simply put, many believe that given the recent adverse developments, to retreat is to advance.

The reason why the SAR government (as well as the Chinese authorities behind it) won’t budge an inch is because they know they are untouchable. Unlike people in Taiwan who can punish the ruling Kuomintang via their votes, an authoritarian regime like Beijing can afford to turn a deaf ear to the people’s clamor — until public resentment reaches a boiling point.

Therefore, Occupy is not a failure. Before the fall of the Berlin Wall, had the democrats in East Germany achieved anything?

One consequence of the movement is that cracks in the establishment camp have been exposed. If Beijing wants to find a person to blame, Leung Chun-ying’s job will be at stake.

After charges of foreign meddling failed, the establishment camp is now blaming liberal studies. Executive Councilor and New People’s Party chairwoman Regina Ip did Leung a favor by saying that the liberal studies program, introduced in 2009 as a compulsory subject, has instilled politically incorrect ideologies and incited students to take to the streets.

Her hidden message is that Antony Leung, then chairman of the Education Commission who oversaw reforms that led to the rollout of liberal studies, must be held accountable. Soon Anthony Leung hit back, noting the failure to enact Article 23 of the Basic Law — a prelude to Ip’s resignation as secretary for security in 2003 — is the underlying cause.

The blame game is reminiscent of the battle between CY Leung and his contender Henry Tang who threw mud at each other three years ago when they were fighting for the chief executive post. Anthony Leung is a heavyweight in Tang’s camp, and thus he becomes a convenient target when CY Leung needs a scapegoat.

And, in the war of words between Ip and Anthony Leung, the irony is that even before Hongkongers can have any idea about how the next leader will be elected in 2017, the campaign is already on.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec. 4.

Translation by Frank Chen

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Former full-time member of the Hong Kong Government’s Central Policy Unit, former editor-in-chief of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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