18 April 2019
Pro-democracy supporters bid farewell to each other next to a banner which reads "We'll be back", outside the government headquarters building in Admiralty district. Hong Kong authorities on Thursday started clearing the main protest site.
Pro-democracy supporters bid farewell to each other next to a banner which reads "We'll be back", outside the government headquarters building in Admiralty district. Hong Kong authorities on Thursday started clearing the main protest site.

Occupy clearance doesn’t mean end of movement

It’s been more than ten weeks since the Occupy protests began, and the public are concerned about the situation in Admiralty as the police launch their street clearance operation. As students retreat, there is speculation that it will mark the end of the movement. But is it really the case?

Taking a new form

Right from the beginning “Occupy Central” turned into a large-scale occupation, with the occupied areas extending beyond Admiralty to include Causeway Bay and Mong Kok, and the nature of the movement shifting from “civil disobedience” to “mass popular resistance”.

The major difference between the two is that the former stresses non-violence, deliberate violation of the law but respect for court orders, and the willingness to be brought to justice, while the latter shows no respect for the law, embraces the act of active resistance like building sporadic barricades across streets against clearance actions and even resorting to physical clashes with the police or dismayed citizens in order to stand their ground, depriving the public of their rights of using the traffic arteries of the city downtown.

In my opinion, even though the police are poised to clean up the occupied areas in Admiralty and bring an end to the occupation like they did in Mong Kok, it doesn’t necessarily mean the movement is over, as it can and it will assume a different form and continue in the days ahead.

For instance, the recent “shopping” parade in Mong Kok organized by pro-democracy protesters is a striking example of how the movement will continue by other means. It is a very mobile tactic as compared to physical occupation of main roads or sit-in protests. However, they all share the same purpose, which is to cause civil disturbance and undermine the efficiency of law enforcement.

War of attrition  

The occupation movement has undermined the efficiency and effectiveness of law enforcement, and that deals a heavy blow to the governance power of the SAR administration. And in the wake of the occupation, a massive action of participants turning themselves in to the police will prove another serious blow to the judiciary system.

On the other hand, 27 pan-democratic lawmakers have already pledged to vote down any political reform package based on the framework rolled out by the National Peoples’ Congress. This move of vowing to veto any fake election proposal, along with the filibuster they are carrying out in Legco to stall government bills, are aimed to paralyze the legislature. By crippling the three branches of power in our society, organizers of the movement hope this will bring the government to its knees and force it to offer terms.

Take the massive “self turning-in” action for example. The people who turn themselves in to the police may look like they want to put an end to the movement, but in fact they don’t. By overloading the court with tens of thousands of cases, it appears that organizers of Occupy Central are trying to open up a second front as an attempt to widen the scope of the resistance movement.

In fact it seems the police was aware of the challenges posed by the scale and proportions of this massive “self-turning in” action, and to cope with that they prepared a written form beforehand and asked people who turned themselves in to fill out, stating exactly which law they had broken.

Given the number of suspects and the difficulties in finding witnesses and evidence, it will certainly entail a huge amount of time, work and resources in order to achieve effective prosecution. It is not difficult to imagine that court cases against Occupy Central organizers and participants will drag on for years, posing enormous challenge to the judiciary which is already struggling with huge caseload.

The next stage

The occupation movement has widely been dubbed the “Umbrella Revolution” or even “Colour Revolution” both on the social media and among participants themselves. During the earlier dialogue between leaders of the Hong Kong Federation of Students and government representatives, someone already publicly referred to the administration as “dictator”, and claimed that participants of the movement were dedicated to fighting for democracy, and were not afraid of bullets.

After turning himself in to the police, Benny Tai Yiu-ting, one of the three initiators of Occupy Central, published an article in the New York Times titled “What Next for Hong Kong”, in which he acknowledged the failure of the occupation movement. However, he also outlined some new plans and tactics on his next step, such as refusal to pay taxes, postponement of rent payment by public housing occupants, filibuster in Legco, and some other non-cooperative actions, all of which aim to cause trouble for the government.

In fact the strategic methods Tai pointed out in his article coincide with the ideas suggested by Gene Sharp in his book “From Dictatorship to Democracy”, in which he detailed 198 “non-violent” ways of civil disobedience. According to Tai, if the movement continues along the course of “Colour Revolution”, the fight will carry on despite the failure of the occupation.

All in all, I believe the end of the occupation only signals the beginning of the next stage of the resistance movement!

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec 10.

Translation by Alan Lee

– Contact us at [email protected]


Former head of Department of Government and Public Administration, the Chinese University of Hong Kong

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