When the police fired tear gas to disperse protesters, the Occupy Central Movement, also known as the Umbrella Revolution, snowballed into a mass demonstration encompassing people from all walks of life. Thousands of protesters blockaded three major thoroughfares in Hong Kong, hoping that the government will change its stance on the 2017 Chief Executive Election reform. As two months passed by, the occupy protests dwindled. Hong Kong citizens wonder when the occupation will end.

The time has come. Police concluded the 75-daylong Admiralty occupation on Thursday, 11 December, two weeks after the smaller occupation in Mong Kok was cleared. Police detained 249 citizens, including the founding Chairman of the Democratic Party Martin Lee, local Cantopop singer Denise Ho, and 15 pan-democratic Legislative Council members. The police cleared all barricades in Admiralty, including a banner with the slogan ‘it’s just the beginning’. The police warned protesters that the clearance of Causeway Bay, the last occupation site, would soon follow.

Can the clearance ease the tension among members in Hong Kong? ‘[I] won’t be so simple-minded’, Mrs Carrie Lam, the Chief Secretary for Administration of the Hong Kong government, told reporters.[1] The thorny political issue remains after clearance. As the next Chief Executive election is fast approaching, the government has little time left to reform the voting system. It needs to initiate the second-round public consultation immediately. Sadly, it is almost impossible to bridge the irreconcilable difference between Beijing and the people in Hong Kong.

On the 31st of August, the Beijing government has firmly established the framework for the Chief Executive election in 2017. Candidates are selected by a nominating committee appointed by Beijing. To run the election, candidates must secure the support of at least 50 per cent of committee members. This mechanism ensures that only those who ‘love China, and love Hong Kong’ will be openly elected by Hong Kong citizens.

Chief Executive Mr Leung Chun-ying reaffirmed Beijing’s decision. In an interview with foreign media, he expressed that Chief Executive candidates must be screened out by a ‘broadly representative’ election committee. If not, populist pressures will tilt Hong Kong into a welfare state. He said, ‘If it’s entirely a numbers game and numeric representation, then obviously you would be talking to half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than $1,800 [HK$13,958; £1,150] a month’.[2]

However, such a proposal disappointed the people again. Beijing originally promised to give Hong Kong universal suffrage by 2007, then it was postponed to 2012, and now to 2017. Frustrated and weary, protesters demand democracy with radical actions. Yet, why protest for universal suffrage now? Under the British rule, all governors were appointed by London. At that time, the people showed no resentment against the lack of democracy. Why do they thirst for democracy now?

Indeed, the months-long protests find a deep root in social grievances among Hong Kong citizens. Even Mr Leung admitted that protesters were frustrated over the lack of social mobility and affordable housing.[3] According to Demographia, a US-based consultancy, Hong Kong ranks as the world’s Number One for the ‘most unaffordable housing’ for four consecutive years. Land supply increase is minimal and the government-subsidised Home Ownership Programme has been suspended for nine years. Yet, demands from local and foreign investors stay strong. The imbalance between demand and supply fuels the soaring property prices. Housing in Hong Kong is therefore rated as ‘severely unaffordable’.[4]

Lamentably, ‘it is impossible for the salary income to catch up’, said Eddie Hui, a real estate professor in the Polytechnic University in Hong Kong. Hong Kong graduates gained little salary increase since the handover in 1997. Fresh graduates from the University of Hong Kong received an average monthly salary increase from 14,083 Hong Kong dollars ($1,816; £1,156) in 1997 to HK$15,900 ($2,050; £1,305) in 2012. Graduates from non-professional degrees earn even less. An Arts graduate is likely to get a monthly income of HK$12,500 ($1,612; £1,026).[5] The plummeting real purchasing power makes it harder to eke out a living. The lack of affordable housing is only the tip of the iceberg. The dictated political structure in Hong Kong leads to more socio-economic problems. The Occupy protests became the ground for people, particularly the youngsters, to vent their frustration.

The clearance successfully removed the occupations, but it cannot silence the dissent. Scholarism and the Hong Kong Federation of Students, the student groups that led to the mass protests, announced that it will not initiate any Occupy protests in the short run. However, Scholarism is planning for the second-wave movement after the New Year. On the other hand, the founders of another protest group, Occupy Central with Peace and Love, have handed themselves in to the police. But Benny Tai, the co-founder of Occupy Central, does not rule out the possibility of another round of sit-in protests.[6]

Clearance is not the end. To quote Winston Churchill, ‘it is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning’. Civil disobedience will continue unless the government addresses the public outcry. Back in Admiralty, traffic resumes and traces of the occupation are cleared away. Banners are gone, but the slogan lingers in the protesters’ hearts, ‘WE WILL BE BACK’.

 

Sources:

[1] The Editorial, ‘Qingchang zhihou ruo quanmian suanzhang zhengzhi fanxiang da buyi mangdong 清場之後若全面算帳 政治反響大不宜盲動 [Retribution after Clearance Will Lead to Political Repercussions, the Government Must Tread Cautiously]’, Ming Pao, December 11, 2014. http://news1.mingpao.com/20141212/mra.htm

[2] Keith Bradsher and Chris Buckley, ‘Hong Kong Leader Reaffirms Unbending Stance on Elections’, New York Times, October 20, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/21/world/asia/leung-chun-ying-hong-kong-china-protests.html?_r=0

[3] Ibid.

[4] ‘Hong Kong Ranks World’s No 1 for ‘Most Unaffordable’ Housing’, South China Morning Post, January 22, 2014. http://www.scmp.com/property/hong-kong-china/article/1410730/hong-kong-ranks-worlds-no-1-most-unaffordable-housing?page=all

[5] Careers and Placement Centre of Development and Resources for Students, ‘Graduate Employment Survey, 2012, Bachelor’s Degrees’, Centre of Development and Resources for Students, December 15, 2014. http://cedars.hku.hk/sections/careersplacement/GraduateEmploymentSurvey/report/FD/FD_report_2012.pdf

[6] ‘Zhanzhong daiyaoting: gangyou fazhi daya you gepu 佔中戴耀廷:港有法治 打壓有個譜 [Occupy Central Benny Tai: the Rule of Law in Hong Kong Limits Political Suppression]’, Ming Pao, December 15, 2014. http://specials.mingpao.com/cfm/News.cfm?SpecialsID=137& Page=1News=8af914df23750540e8de411732d47722acdc4d61b276542c80cc59792af6640d8a82