Steve Barclay’s Hong Kong Update

Dear friends of Hong Kong,
I have just returned from Hong Kong after attending our annual heads of Economic and Trade Offices meeting and would like to share my observations with you.

I met the Chief Executive, Chief Secretary, Financial Secretary and Secretary for Justice, and had discussions with 12 out of 14 Policy Secretaries in Hong Kong. I also talked to friends, colleagues, business leaders, taxi drivers, small business owners, etc.

I have never seen Hong Kong so politically divided. The present Occupy movement not only splits political groups and players, it has triggered intense arguments and debates between spouses, parents and children, friends, colleagues and in social media outlets.

There are similar levels of support for both sides of the argument. However, there is growing sentiment that the Occupy movement has drifted away from its original notion of “love and peace”.

While many people support or respect the objective of the protesters to make the political system of Hong Kong more democratic, there is a growing sense of frustration and irritation towards the means adopted i.e. the prolonged obstruction and disruption caused to local businesses and ordinary citizens.

With the Occupy movement entering its second month and the voices of the protesters already heard loud and clear locally and internationally, there is increasing public concern that the protests have lost their direction, without any leadership or group(s) that can claim to broadly represent the protestors, or to steer the movement.

The protestors continue to ignore repeated pleas and appeals by community leaders to leave the streets. Many people believe that their tactic to continue blocking choke points in the territory is neither reasonable nor proportionate. There is also growing concern that prolonged disrespect of the law by the protestors in the name of civil disobedience could undermine Hong Kong’s highly cherished core value of the rule of law.

The legal profession is particularly alarmed that the protesters repeatedly ignore courts orders and obstruct the enforcement of the injunctions obtained by aggrieved building owners and taxi and public transport workers that prohibits the road blockages. The Bar Association issued a statement expressing its concern over “violation of laws and court orders not just by ordinary civilians in the course of expressing their views, but by citizens en masse acting in willful defiance of the law and court orders as a political bargaining tool … [M]ass disobedience and calls of disobedience [of a court order] have overstepped the mark which can be reasonably tolerated even by relatively liberal understandings of the concepts of the Rule of Law and civil disobedience.”

I encourage you to read the full statement http://www.isd.gov.hk/occupyresponse/eng/pdf/hkba_pr_20141028.pdf.

There remain three occupied areas. After the violent clashes a couple of weeks ago, Admiralty is relatively calm. Mong Kok remains the highest risk area, with frequent scuffles and confrontations taking place on a daily basis, and includes some radical fringe protesters more prone to violence.

The Hong Kong Police continue to manage the situation with tolerance and patience. There have been complaints and video footage alleging the use of excessive force by police officers. These cases are handled by an independent mechanism and a criminal investigation has been initiated in respect of one case on the use of excessive force against an arrested person.

Hong Kong’s macro-economic fundamentals remain stable and sound but we would have a better idea of the actual impact when relevant data come out later this month. Some small businesses, shops and restaurants near the occupied zones have been badly hit. Traffic gridlock in the vicinity of the occupied areas and people being late for work and appointments are common phenomena. Hong Kong people are versatile and resilient and they find different ways to make do. But the patience of many people is wearing thin.

The HKSAR government started a dialogue with student representatives on 21 October. The atmosphere was calm and cordial, but the two sides are still far apart. The Chief Secretary made four points at the meeting.

  1. First, under the framework set out by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC), there is room to implement a fair, just, transparent and competitive method for electing our next Chief Executive by universal suffrage.
  2. Second, the method for electing the Chief Executive by universal suffrage in 2017 need not be final; it could be further improved upon.
  3. Third, we are willing to explore the possibility of establishing a new platform involving different sectors of our community to discuss our democratic development, particularly the arrangements beyond 2017.
  4. Fourth, we are considering the possibility of compiling and submitting a report to Beijing reflecting views regarding our democratic development from different sectors of our community since the NPCSC decision.

However, in the open letter issued by the student representatives on 28 October, they essentially continue to insist on civil nomination (which is not consistent with the requirement of the Basic Law) and the NPCSC to withdraw its decision. No breakthrough is in sight.

We remain of the view that people should express their views peacefully. Differences should be resolved by discussions rather than pushing others to accept their form of democracy by prolonged illegal occupation of major thoroughfares.

Our priority is to try our best to restore law and order peacefully. We do not wish to put at risk the well-being of innocent citizens. Nor do we wish to damage Hong Kong`s reputation as a stable, orderly and law-abiding city. We are also keen to re-launch our second stage consultation as soon as practicable. This will engage the community to discuss details of the mechanism to select members of the nominating committee (the process for nominating people who aspire to run for Chief Executive as contenders or candidates in 2017), as well as the voting arrangements for 5 million Hong Kong voters to elect their head of government.

Please visit our web site http://www.isd.gov.hk/occupyresponse/eng/index.html for regular updates about the protests and universal suffrage debate.

Yours sincerely,

Steve Barclay
Director
Hong Kong Economic & Trade Office, New York

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