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My Take on HK’s Occupy Movement

October 26th, 2014 Leave a comment Go to comments

This is actually a respond to Plutocrats Against Democracy but I got carried away and wrote this article.

What LCY want to say about the pitfall of 1 person 1 vote is that the majority would vote HK into a welfare state as there is a sizable of not too well off people in HK. This is actually the biggest fear of China’s top leadership, in their view this is hurting the so-called western democracies economic recovery. They don’t fear democracy per se but rather what it would do to the social economic structure of China. It is not that they feel welfare is bad but China simply couldn’t afford it. To be honest how many states in the world can really afford the lavish welfare of Switzerland, Norway, Germany etc? The minimum welfare of states like UK, France, Italy, Spain etc is already bankrupting those nations. The US which has even less social welfare protection is also mired in deep debt!

I will go back into history to give an example. In 1949, when the communist gradually took over all of China. In big industrial city like Shanghai, the common workers who have long been paid low wages want a salary increase. It is then that the leadership realized they could not give in to this simple request because the industries are not very profitable and the wages are dictate by market force. Some mid and lower level cadres actually promised the workers when they first got into the city. It is easy in mass rallies shouting “justice and glory to the workers” but when it comes down to reality it is not doable.

Although industrial and food production doubled to tripled in the first 5 years, it was due to increase workforce participation and new factories, farm, better policy etc. Before 1949, unemployment was rife and when the CPC came into power they try to employ everybody. This become one of their biggest domestic head ache. How to give everybody housing, work, food etc. And when the USSR and thus most of the communist bloc cut off all support and trade, China’s economy was in a perilous state. It is under this backdrop that collective farming was tried. We all know how badly that turned out.

Well, what does all that has to do with HK’s protest? It is the economy, stupid. The biggest anxiety, fear of the students are their future employment prospect. This might sound shallow but what kind of lifestyle you have is pretty much dictated by your income level. Nobody likes to work 40-50 hour weeks and spend 20-30 years of income just to get a roof over your head. And this is the reality facing HK’s youth (and youth of the world over, including mainland China!) This is a universal problem, remember the Arab Spring? It was started mainly because of economic dissent but the toppling of the many government didn’t solve any of the problems. The western so-called democracies are also not immune, they are able to contain the problem with welfare given to the less well off but if the debt hit the tipping point welfare would have to be cut back.

The current HK occupy movement definitely have its domestic grievance and it is very real and true. In many ways those university students are easily one of the elite groups of HK. Only about 1 in 10 high school student can get into the local university. They considered themselves above their peer hence their resoluteness, and some would say arrogance when they want to push through “their agenda”. However, is it truly “their agenda” that they are trying to bulldoze through? Who would be the new chief executive of HK if their demand for citizen nomination is met? How is the new chief going to resolve the social economic hardship of the have not in HK? Frankly, nobody has the answer to that.

Neither do the students have the answer but they need to vent their anxiety, frustration and anger at someone, and LCY and Beijing become the easy scapegoats. Also why don’t they simply demand to have better career and economic prospect? Everybody has pride and being elite among their peers it is beneath them to ask for self betterment. It is much easier to hide under a much grander slogan. Unfortunately, their zeal and passion are simply misused by the instigators who have different agenda. This is why I so unkindly called them idiots in my earlier reference towards them. I believe that they are being used to serve the agitators’ interest and foreign interest while their actual (and millions of other HK residents’) grievance is not being answered.

The biggest problem in HK, Taiwan and even mainland China is not political. It is about better employment prospect and thus better life. In the grand scheme of things this is actually the raison d’être of any government, to give the people a better life. The biggest failure in the political arena in Taiwan and HK is that so-called universal suffrage has been touted as a universal solution. The reality in the ground is much more different. If the students have instead chosen the real problems to their woes as subject of protest, there would have been better progress. For example, if they protested about employment and housing prospect and request that the HK and central government do something about it, they would have made themselves the darling of HK residents. For this is an actual problem that hurt everybody. Even if it cannot be solved immediately there would be serious discussion, and thus focus on what is affecting everybody.

If they continuously break the law by blocking public roads and causing businesses to fail they will simply be hurting the livelihood of others. The infamy some of the ring leaders achieved will of course pale compare to those from the Cultural Revolution or TAM 1989, but is this what they actually wanted? Come on be honest with yourself. Those who want to be chief executive should step forward and said so, and give your solution to the problems facing HK and China. Stop pushing the students to do the dirty works like in CR and TAM.

 

 

  1. raffiaflower
    October 28th, 2014 at 00:09 | #1

    It’s not the what, it’s the how, of the protests. They can campaign against the neighbor’s noisy cats or Martians on their roof, whatever. But nothing gives these boneheaded brats the right to commandeer the streets to disrupt other people’s routines and ruin livelihoods for weeks.
    2. Protesting for full employment and affordable housing is just not sexy. This is a global media event, and the atmospherics & soundbites must be carefully stage-managed to grab headlines and eyeballs.
    Fighting for democracy is the right fit: it stands for suitably vague, often variable notions of human rights, labor rights, women’s rights, judicial rights, press freedom, etc.
    Even plutocrats and fat cats can shelter under the Umbrella Revolution for democracy!
    3. These students have higher education and should have better thinking skills than the average person. Even it they can be excused for being `misguided’, there is none for their disrespect towards the society they claim to represent.
    Commonsense alone should tell them their actions are causing visible & measurable distress to others. CR Red Guards can plead ignorance and stupidity for a lack of schooling. What can these Umbrella-wielding half-wits boast of?

  2. October 28th, 2014 at 05:54 | #2

    I disagree somewhat – maybe. It’s not an issue of whether HK can afford democracy – since one might point out: HK is rich – like the U.S. and Switzerland and Japan are… It’s whether anyone can … in the long run.

    First here is an excerpt of Krguman’s article:

    It’s always good when leaders tell the truth, especially if that wasn’t their intention. So we should be grateful to Leung Chun-ying, the Beijing-backed leader of Hong Kong, for blurting out the real reason pro-democracy demonstrators can’t get what they want: With open voting, “You would be talking to half of the people in Hong Kong who earn less than $1,800 a month. Then you would end up with that kind of politics and policies” — policies, presumably, that would make the rich less rich and provide more aid to those with lower incomes.

    So Mr. Leung is worried about the 50 percent of Hong Kong’s population that, he believes, would vote for bad policies because they don’t make enough money. This may sound like the 47 percent of Americans who Mitt Romney said would vote against him because they don’t pay income taxes and, therefore, don’t take responsibility for themselves, or the 60 percent that Representative Paul Ryan argued pose a danger because they are “takers,” getting more from the government than they pay in. Indeed, these are all basically the same thing.

    I believe that most people reading this would have two reactions to reading something like this:

    1. nod in agreement in the sense that the rich don’t care about and constantly oppresses the poor … or
    2. shake in disbelief that this is politicization at the most virulent, taking words out of context.

    And for me, both are right, in context.

    On the one hand, one can certainly say that part of it is true. The wealth gap in Hong Kong is among the highest in the world. My family used to own properties and do business in Hong Kong, and we still have relatives who have lived in Hong Kong since before Hong Kong was a colony. The wealth gap is bad now, but it was always there since Hong Kong went the mercantilism route. Is it time for Hong Kong to reverse that gap now, in 2014 – to have wealth more evenly distributed. If so, then given Hong Kong’s history, and based on Thomas Piketty recent book on Capital, then something drastic needs to change. But on the other hand, is that really what Hong Kong’s people want – for Hong Kong to be not Hong Kong of the last one hundred or so years?

    I don’t have LCY’s entire transcript, but even with NYT’s redacted version, Krugman conveniently leaves out important parts of the interview.

    From this NYT article on LCY’s interview,

    Mr. Leung said that if “you look at the meaning of the words ‘broadly representative,’ it’s not numeric representation.”

    “You have to take care of all the sectors in Hong Kong as much as you can,” he said, “and 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 a month.”

    “Then you would end up with that kind of politics and policies,” he continued.

    By “broadly representative,” LCY is talking about whether Hong Kong want to remain based on mercantilism – which can create great wealth but also a huge gap between wealthy and average – or morph to something different.

    We know that Hong Kong had never been about democracy, yet it – being a port to/from Mainland China – has made it a shining hill of capitalism. That system – however imperfect it may be – has delivered in many ways. Should that system be dismantled now? That is what LCY is referring to here.

    In my view, the time for dismantling that system may be here soon …. especially as Hong Kong looses its luster as China’s / Asia’s pre-eminent financial hub. But would democracy do it? I doubt it.

    Scholars / Critics of democracy have often spoke of voter’s rational ignorance. Democracy really is about power of the special interests. Voters will grab what special entitlement they want. The system has worked for the West because it has been made so wealthy on the backs of its windfall of being first to industrialize and world-wide colonialism. Will it work for Hong Kong? We’ll see. Hong Kong is already democratic. This is a good test case. The issue brought by Krguman of how democarcy should be run within Hong Kong should not be confused with the protester’s demand that Beijing butt out from the politics of Hong Kong, or that Hong Kong somehow have a right to semi-independence, even to be antagonistic of Mainland China.

  3. October 28th, 2014 at 09:56 | #3

    Following up on my previous comment:

    I am not sure if I responded succinctly. In some ways, I was also responding to N.M. Cheung’s previous post http://blog.hiddenharmonies.org/2014/10/12/the-mantra-of-one-man-one-vote/.

    My short answer: Hong Kong is what is today without democracy. Adding “real democracy” into the mix may change HK for good. Of course, voting per se is only a cosmetic fix. HK may evolve into big money politics the way U.S. has … an expensive oligarchy – politics manipulated by power and money – as modern democracies really have always been.

    What LCY said was not “anti-democratic” per se. It is about what type of oligarchy one wants. Is it about merit based governance – or big money reality t.v. manipulate and spin vote gathering by special interests that Krguman and many others mistaken to be “democracies”?

  4. N.M.Cheung
    October 28th, 2014 at 12:18 | #4

    @Allen
    My point in rebutting of Krugman is if we take a survey of protesting students, more than 50% or more likely more than 75% of their families probably have a maid from Philippine or Indonesia earning the minimum wages of more than $500. For low income Hong Kongers earning $1,800 it certainly is not affordable, so the OC and student protesters’ platform do not align with the poor. Given China has raise 500 million poor from poverty, China has more interest align with the poor in Hong Kong than the protestors, once China takes a more active role in Hong Kong, and Krugman is mistaken.

  5. October 28th, 2014 at 12:34 | #5

    @raffiaflower
    I agree, they are breaking the law by occupying public transportation route and has caused severe hardship to those trying to make a living or staying in the area. No country in the world who labeled itself a “democracy” would allow it to happen. The “occupy TAM” protest of 1989 lasted 44 days before the authority decided to send out armed troops and when clearing the square they actually negotiated with the occupiers to allow them to retreat with no harm.

    The TAM protest also started out as remembrance for the deceased Hu Yaobang. The workers and students who gathered then complained about their prospect. However, eventually they realized that by switching their cause to “fighting for democracy” they can attract global media attention. Same as it is happening now in HK where, their movement is mainly for a global audience in selected countries. Have you noticed that the student leaders all wear T-shirt with slogan mainly in English?

    Actually, both the CR and Occupy participants belonged to the same category. They consist of students in high school and universities, although in CR the high school students are a much larger majority. Despite the numbers, it is the university students who are the most prominent leaders. Nevertheless, the poster child (so aptly named) of the Time magazine is a certain Joshua who is born in 1996. However, as I have pointed out they are all pawns in a bigger movement and the instigators are all still pulling the string behind the curtain.

    If the movement is successful they would definitely stepped out front and try to claim the credit. However, as the anti-Occupy movement has gathered strength, they decided to distance themselves from the movement. Benny Tai, the lecturer who is one of the organizer announced today that he is going back to school to teach. The new round of anti-Occupy poll was started on 25th Oct and I predict it will have over 1 million verified signature by weekend.

  6. October 28th, 2014 at 13:59 | #6

    @Allen
    I understand what you mean. “Democracy” doesn’t necessary becomes a welfare state. Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya are burning example of how one person one vote will do to a country when the necessary foundation is not there. I am simply trying to convey what LCY feared but cannot due to public opinion. He doesn’t want to say that universal suffrage will change HK into a welfare state but that is what will happened if that is introduce.

    Mercantilism is the foundation of the economic success of HK. The mercantile policy in HK is actually very simple, free business competition and low tax. Would HK still be rich if it has high taxes and rich social welfare? As we know half of HK residents make less that US$21600 (HK$167,500) a year. HK’s personal income tax rate is 2% for HK$40,000; 7% on the next HK$40,000; 12% on the next HK$40,000; 17% on the remainder. Company is charge a 15% to 16.5% tax. About 1/3 of the people paid less than 10% income tax and the rich pay 16.5%.

    HK also does not have any import, consumption tax or duty except on vehicle, liquor and tobacco. The property tax is also very low. Where will the government get the money for welfare service? The government would have to raise taxes. And this would hurt HK’s competitiveness. There is no easy short cut for HK’s problems. I believe you want to say with universal suffrage HK’s social economic political model will evolve into something similar to major economies in the west that is being controlled by special interest groups.

    The average person in HK also don’t believe universal suffrage will solve all their immediate concerns hence there is so little support for the occupy movement. The problem right now is the majority of the people do not feel their economic prospect (and thus their life) is getting better. They actually feel that the current system mostly benefit the top 1% or 10% the most. To make matter worse no organization has come up with a workable solution. I blame mainly the political structure in HK. The HK government consist of a bureaucracy, a Legislative council, and judiciary which are totally separated. For example, the Legco is merely a supervisory board which has no power in appointment or policy formulation. The executive branch is technically also part of the bureaucracy which supposedly should not have any political party affiliation.

    The Legco currently serve as a circus for political opportunists, the opposition spent most of their time attacking the executive branch, the pro-establishment Legco members, and above all challenging the central government on pretty much every policy. The executive branch and the bureaucracy have no grass root organization so they are unable to rally the public to support their policy through unofficial channel. The pro-establishment parties despite their number have little power and almost no say in anything!

    HK is indeed a “Special” Administrative Region, unfortunately, I believe it is too special and its political structural weakness make it impossible to deal with present challenges. Only the central government can reverse its slide. In my opinion, a serious reform is needed. The chief executive at least must be from a political party. Also why doesn’t the communist party has any presence in HK? The central government must also actively recruit HK people into mainland government bodies. As of now, except for very early pioneers who “defected” up North who joined the central government or military, there is no proper channel for HK’s youth to participate in the PRC’s government.

    To me, that is the main reason of alienation HK people felt from the central government. The central government must be known as HK’s government too and not just mainlanders government. The CPC must be known as HK’s party, not just a distant entity from the mainland.

  7. pug_ster
    November 1st, 2014 at 04:04 | #7
  8. pug_ster
    November 20th, 2014 at 03:20 | #8

    http://www.cnn.com/2014/11/20/world/asia/hong-kong-protests/

    Lol, Even CNN admits that the ‘protesters’ were getting rowdy and attacking at police officers and damaging government buildings. Shows how dysfunctional this ‘movement’ is.

    http://qz.com/296575/the-us-congress-wants-to-get-involved-in-hong-kongs-pro-democracy-protests/

    Did you recall that the US deny any involvement in protests in Hong Kong? Instead of doing overtly, now they want to do it openly.

  9. pug_ster
    January 12th, 2015 at 05:23 | #9

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vdBRe3s3LPM&feature=youtube_gdata_player

    Interesting video about how Deregulation and privatization during the Patten Era has created this kind of inequality.

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