17 August 2013

Preoccupy Central 佔中前瞻

Earlier this month, I got a lunch invitation from my friend Sharon who is an English law firm partner based in Hong Kong. She said she wanted to try Amber, a restaurant in the Landmark that looks out to Queens Road Central. I was happy with her choice – Amber is one of the best French fusion restaurants in the city. And it’s only a short walk away from both of our offices.

During lunch the two of us covered the usual topics: the market, the weather, new restaurants and travel plans. The food came, we ate, we ordered coffee and we complained about the summer heat. Outside the window, the blazing sun beat down on the lunch crowd. Traffic lights changed and car horns blared.

Good old Central, the engine room of our economy.

Hong Kong's nerve center

I tuned out just long enough for Sharon to take notice. She reeled me back in with a topic she knew I would be interested in. “What do you think of this whole Occupy Central business?” she asked. “I can’t imagine Hong Kong shutting down.”

“The city won’t shut down,” I said. “Its meant to be a threat, nothing more.”

The purpose of Occupy Central is to cower Beijing into delivering what we were promised: universal suffrage. We got the nod to democratically elect our chief executive in 2017 and the entire legislature in 2020. There are not supposed to be any strings attached or funny business about pre-screening candidates. But now, as 2017 looms, Beijing tries to back track from their promises and suggests that only a “selection committee” will decide who can run for chief executive. It reminds us of the famous line by Henry Ford when he introduced the Model T in 1909: “Our customers can have any color they want as long as it is black.”

But we won’t take it lying down. Universal suffrage is a right we consider so fundamental that we are willing to hold the city hostage to get it. And hence the Occupy Central movement. Between now and summer next year, different proposals of political reform will be drafted and debated in public forums. A final proposal will be voted on in a citywide referendum, which, if not accepted by Beijing by July 2014, will trigger mass sit-ins in Central involving 10,000 volunteers.

It's been a long time waiting

The tactic is similar to a strike. 

But as any union leader will tell you, if the workers have to actually go on a strike, that means negotiations have broken down and the movement has failed. A walk-out is a lose-lose situation for both sides, and the workers often wind up losing more than the employer.

By the same token, Occupy Central is intended to be only a threat. No one wants to see Central shut down, not even the organizers themselves. To make the threat as credible and high-profile as possible, the “consultation period” is stretched out over many months and the chief architect of the movement, Dr. Benny Tai of Hong Kong University, is staging one press event after another. Think of Dr. Tai as a frill-necked lizard. The reptile will gape its mouth and spread its frill until it scares the predator away. It doesn’t actually want to fight.

A few good men: Dr. Tai and his fellow Occupy Central organizers

Sharon was relieved after she heard my lizard analogy. I suspected that she had lost some sleep over how much a week of work stoppage would cost her firm.

“Do you think the organizers are ‘villains’ for flouting the law?” she asked. My friend was referring to a recent statement by a group of pro-Beijing professionals who call themselves “The Silent Majority for Hong Kong.”

“Villains? Not at all,” I rushed to the organizers’ defense. “Occupy Central is a noble cause.”

Opponents argue that the movement is against the law and that it will send the wrong message to society. The criticism is preposterous because civil disobedience is all about breaking the law. Were Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. villains too? Did Nelson Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi set bad examples for our children?

Villain? The Nobel Prize Committee begs to differ

“But why does it have to be in Central? It’s going to affect so many people.” Sharon was thinking about herself, her lawyers and the assistant who fetches her the coffee from Starbucks every morning.

“We have to squeeze where it hurts most,” I said with some satisfaction. “Or else what’s the point?”

That’s why airline pilots choose to strike just before Christmas and protesters in Thailand seize the international airport. You don’t tell your children to behave or else they don’t get to eat a delicious bowl of steamed broccoli.

Central will look something like this

“Alright, I’ll give you that,” Sharon conceded. She took another sip from her now tepid coffee and asked, “But will the movement actually achieve anything?”

“It’s working so far. Beijing has taken notice and is scrambling to come up with a solution,” I said, but then I wavered: “But whether we will eventually get what we want is much harder to say. I am pessimistic because I don’t see how the two sides can find common ground.”

There is no common ground when it comes to universal suffrage. It is a binary option: either we have the right to choose our own chief executive or we don’t. Any form of pre-screening, however cleverly disguised, goes against the basic tenets of democracy. It will be met with the same citywide resistance we witnessed during the Article 23 and National Education showdowns.

At the same time, Beijing has dug its heels in. The Politburo simply doesn’t believe Hong Kong people are capable of picking the right candidate.

“You mean Beijing is worried about someone like Long Hair getting elected?” Sharon asked.

“Haha, no,” I chuckled.

We are pragmatic enough not to put a left-wing “radical” in the Government House. And Beijing knows that. Political activists like Long Hair make great opposition lawmakers, but they are not CEO material. Nor are they interested.

Long Hair: a good lawmaker, but a not-so-good policymaker

“Who is Beijing so worried about then?” Sharon pressed.

“Another catastrophe like C.Y. Leung!” I shrieked. The tai-tai at the next table gave me a look.

C.Y. Leung was not supposed to become chief executive. China had hand-picked Henry Tang years before the 2012 election – he was groomed for the post and everything was supposed to be fine. But then the scandals broke: the extramarital affairs and the illegal structures at his home. Poll after poll had showed Tang trailing Leung in public approval by leaps and bounds. Beijing eventually caved in to the public opinion in Hong Kong and put Leung on the job. But he turned out to be a complete disaster. Beijing got burned even more badly than they did by his predecessors Tung and Tsang. 

As far as the Politburo is concerned, Hong Kong people can’t be trusted.

Tang: scandal-prone and unelectable

“What do you think? Will Hong Kong people pick the right candidate?” Sharon asked, before she signaled the waiter for the bill.

“I think we will. We know what’s best for us.” 

During the last election, the public favored C.Y. Leung because the only other serious candidate was Henry Tang. We simply picked the lesser of two evils. In 2017, we will be more sensible and choose someone who can both look out for our interest and work with Beijing. If the new Chinese leadership want to prove themselves true reformists, then they should take a leap of faith and let us decide who should lead our city.

“You are thinking about Audrey Eu and Anson Chan, aren’t you?” Sharon ventured a guess.

I nodded tentatively. My friend is right: both names are pragmatic and sensible choices. But unfortunately for us, Beijing is leery of even moderates like them, for all it takes is one candid interview with the international press to upset the apple cart. 

Imagine if Eu were elected chief executive, she would most certainly be asked to take a stance on sensitive issues like Tiananmen Square and Liu Xiaobo. And if she spoke her mind (which she is likely to), that would be the end of her relationship with Beijing. China doesn’t like being dressed down in front of the West, not least by one of their own. Whoever we choose, it will be have to someone even more pragmatic.

“Its a real quandary,” I heaved a sigh.

Eu: pragmatic, but not pragmatic enough

Sharon signed the credit card chit and I thanked her for the meal.

“Good restaurant choice,” I complimented her. “I always like this place.”

“Not much of a choice,” she grinned. “You told me you wanted European food at the Landmark. It’s either here or Robuchon, and you know that place is always booked up for weeks.”

I gave her a wink and said, Exactly how we feel!

“Oh, how clever!” She rolled her eyes. And with that, we walked out of the restaurant into the summer heat.


This article also appears on SCMP.com under Jason Y. Ng's column "As I See It."

As posted on SCMP.com


  1. I believe all heroes have an evil side to them. You need the same amount - if not more - of aggression to be a hero.


  2. I enjoy reading that.


  3. I agree with you totally, Jason. The mistake made in 2012 will not be repeated for 2017. Leaders of PRC and HK governments are nervous about Occupy Central. The strategy they should take is not to shut down and defend, but to face it and deal with it. Otherwise, we don't have to wait till next summer to see Central being shut down. Good article. Thanks again! MM

  4. Mr Chow Yung probably saw too many cops/action movies...


  5. Fascinating to watch how HK is fighting for their right to choose their leader, Beijing's reasoning. you've explained it so well in this layout. Great quote by Henry Ford, and good pt about workers losing more than the employers. You'd think it's something far away, and I feel for HK, but it's a universal struggle that we can all relate to no matter where you live. Thanks for including pic of ASSG. and "Long Hair" - we have characters like him at our Occupy, and it gets nasty here, those lazy takers! Excellent excellent post.


  6. Again, you give a concise account on a really important topic that has been mentioned about so often lately but ain't really understood by many!


  7. Thanks Jason. I agree with Kaheng. If the issue is difficult for Hong Kongers, what's more for people like me. Keep writing and educating us.


  8. An optimist sees the rose , whereas ,a pessimist sees the thorn. From my point of view, under the “one country, two system” policy, fortunately , Hong Kong is a free society right now but we also endeavour to "Real Democracy"----not only small circle of people ,but referendum as well, we must follow international standard . Therefore ,"Occupy Central" mean is used as bargaining counters in political deals ,so I do not think that Benny Tai Yiu Ting wants to scare the predator away, he longs for negotiating with central government for universal suffrage(constitutional reform ).
    I will be a voter in 2017,I have a responsibility to air my opinion ,I could not agree more this movement because it is a hope for propelling the process of democracy. Rumor has it that sit-in will be a sanguinary conflict in the long run. I think they clearly underestimated the quality of the participants because we have already conducted many pacific demonstration like Article 23 and National Education showdowns. Furthermore, this time ,the protestors will be pre-screened and sign up a guarantee.
    Benny Tai Yiu Ting 、Mandela、Martin Luther King advocated ahimsa. I trust them.
    We must accept finite disappointment, but we must never lose infinite hope.
    William Wong

  9. I think this is one of the last battles you can fight for before Hong Kong totally turned into a typical China City

  10. Good piece there. What worries me is that Beijing's tactic towards the Occupy Central Movement is to establish rival pro-Beijing movements to counter it. Should the Occupy Central Movement really proceed to occupy Central, will Beijing order these "patriotic, love HK" movements to proceed to Central and confront OCM and turn the peaceful occupation into a turmoil? If so, chaos will follow and Beijing then could then have an excuse to order the PLA forces in HK to "retake Central" and "restore order". That's my fear and it could be on Beijing's cards.


  11. Sounds somewhat intelligent. But between you and Sharon, it's the blind leading the blind. Have you ever tried to cast this into a rigorous argument with game theory? Suppose you know what I am talking about, in the absence of dominant strategies by Beijing and the Occupy Central crowd, there may be no equilibrium. What makes the whole thing unpredictable is Tai and his followers are doctrinaire, self-righteous folks too easily carried away by their own hate-China rhetoric. Their actions are most likely irrational and event driven.

    Without better arguments than hand waving and your favoritism for two airheads, platitudinous Anson Chan (Chris Patten's girl) and intellectually constipated Audrey Eu, I consider rear end discharges from an intelligent man like you no less malodorous than a moron's.


  12. Admittedly I am not a Hong Konger, but I've been following the politics in Hong Kong for a bit and my impression has always been that it's not who Beijing wants to sit as Chief Executive, it's more who the various tycoons (Li Ka-Shing, etc) have decided to be CE. Universal suffrage or not will not change that.

  13. whymak,

    Perhaps Jason only looks like a rear end discharge to you because you have your head so far up the communist colon that your excrement smeared face appears when Jiang Zemin coughs.


  14. Layleng:

    Sorry to remind you the world as is.

    While Jason and his companion were sipping Cheval Blanc or Chateau Margaux and munching on fois gras, you're probably watering down your Big Mac with a syrupy Coke. Strange bedfellows are united by hate passions and sentiments - in this case it's demonizing China and mainlanders.

    An imbecile is capable of handling only one unit of information at a time. The technical term is a bit. He generalizes his 1-bit conjecture to everything under the sun: He who is not with my derangement and Democracy Cult could only be China Satan.

    Look at yourself and Jason, as well as Anson Chan, Audrey Eu or even Benny Tai. Tai pontificates from a well compensated tenured job - never mind his lack of intellectual merits - to his foot soldiers, who are fodders for his God of Abraham faith and Western ideology. Anson and Audrey aspire to power in controlling HK's destiny, yours and mine.

    While the privileged like Anson could get a fabulous flat for a song through her colonial cronyism, you could only fantasize about her luxury accommodations not available in your dig.

    My friend, you've been led down the primrose path by the nose because your comrades in subversion are exploiting your self-destructive self-hate passion.

    BTW, your ignorance in biology disappoints me. Jiang Zeman's cough does only one thing: an epileptic fit due to waste overflow in your cerebral cesspool.


  15. A webful of us are still laughing derisively at your attempt to appear erudite. You've completely undermined yourself by using your own dogma to accuse me of being dogmatic. So easy to press the buttons of a mainland choge. "The Senkaku Islands belong to Japan". "The United States is less corrupt than China". Go for it. Please supply me with more comedy for dissemination.


  16. Layleng:

    Glad you're angry after realizing for having been taken by clever folks like Anson, Audrey and Tai. Remember what George Bush said about being fooled once. You're not as dumb as he is, I hope.

    BTW, I guessed wrong about Jason. In haste, I mentioned about him having Bordelais with foie gras. He must feel insulted that I accidentally insinuate he has vulgar tastes like Chinese nouveau riche. By his own description, he must be every bit an upper class Anglo snob. Naturally, I thought he shares an Englishman's love for clarets. On second thought, I think he and Sharon would probably insist on Chateau d'Yquem with foie gras. They probably had a 7-course de gustation lunch with a couple of glasses of Bordeaux too. I hate to look at that bill picked up by Sharon.

    You see, I am just an average HK bloke. My limited lunch budget could buy me only two bowls of 水餃 in a hole in the wall place in Wanchai. I don't like to go to Landmark. Even ogling at those expensive Armani outfits is a crime. If I ever wore one, HKers would mock me for 穿起龍袍唔似太子.

    I don't know how a working stiff like me with such modest means could pretend to be like one of your leaders -- "erudite" lawyer or top bureaucrat. Incidentally, you're pushing the envelope of my vocabulary with this word, which suggests you're neither illiterate nor incorrigible.

    Thanks for a wonderful conversation. After HK's successful armed rebellion against hated China, maybe you and I could enjoy good life like Jason.


    1. What a vocabulary you have, Whymak.

      I wonder where you learned to write like that; I'm sure you didn't learn it in HK. I have no idea of all the food and drinks you mentioned in your posts. I have never heard of them before, let alone eating or drinking them. Your quote, "穿起龍袍唔似太子", is impressive but I doubt it very much that you're an "average HK bloke" or "working stiff" as you claimed yourself to be.

      I'm not a fan of the Chinese communist party, but I'm not totally disagreed with you on your characterisation of Jason and his lawyer friend.

      They wear their fancy clothes, eat their fancy food, and talk their fancy talks; colonialism or Western culture and economic dominations have been good to people like them. They have foreign passports and the means. If things get uncomfortable to them, they can well afford to pack their bags and leave.


  17. How much longer can Central truly be the engine room of our economy? Do we really have a economy that can run freely in Central anymore?

    I don’t believe the whole of Central will shut down, but to what extent it’ll be deterred or slowed is still a matter to be seen. Part of the populace will probably do something to slow it, but that depends on the effect that mob can cause and the sheep mentality of the people as well. And even if Central or the whole economy is to shut down like the Stock Exchange in the face of a typhoon number 8, the effect won’t be felt long afterwards, meaning that universal suffrage is unlikely to be a thing condoned by the PRC government irrespective of what we do. We only have to look at the political situation in recent years to seen how many innocent lives could be lost while ludicrous court cases are still being put up in the PRC judiciary everyday.

    Your frill lizard analogy is an apt one, but someone I got the gut feeling that a bit more damage will be done to our daily lives / economy than a mere façade, if only they are the inconveniences to the people going about their daily work. I can truly empathise with Sharon, a week’s close down of the office can cost heaps, depending on how many projects are charging at full speed.

    I don’t see how the movement is against the law unless it brings with it actual damage to others’ lives or property, like if a stampede occurs and injures people or there are “criminal” damages. Love your analogy about the steamed broccoli, hahaha.

    I tend to be on Sharon’s side as to whether it will achieve any REAL thing. Beijing may be “scrambling” to come up with something or pretending to “scramble” to come up with something, but what they are willing to concede still needs to be seen. If something like this could make them back down Chinese history down the ages would not have been rife with riots and innocent killings. Especially that the older generation of the Chinese people are prone to stick to their own views and are never open to ideas that challenge theirs. As you said, any type of façade or pre-screening is the PRC government’s instrument, but I think all of us have learnt enough to see through the camouflage. If they are to select the candidates out of which we can vote for in 2017, I ABSOLUTELY don’t see any difference between that and now. I tend to think the look the tai tai gave you is one of concurrence rather than disapproval though, at least that would have been my reaction, and I would have nodded from across the table definitely.

    As for whether we will elect the right candidate, I have some reservations about that as well. I think Hong Kong people try to decide what is right but then again, we can all be blinded or deceived, and most of the time, it’s self-deception. I don’t know out of how many can we pick the lesser of X evils anymore, you know I am cynical about most politicians. It is just a process of elimination, sad.

    And I agree with the comments of Daniel and Adrian too.



  18. To Christine:

    Thinking and writing like the way you do, you must had been a darling of the British establishment before 1997.

    I'm not surprised you "tend to" agree with Sharon, Daniel and Adrian. If the Brits were still in power, you and people of your like-mind wouldn't have the same frustrations you have now.

    Since you used the word, "we", as embittered as your writing showed, I'm sure self-hatred is not good for one's inner peace.