Thousands of protesters opposed to plans by pro-democracy advocates to attempt to close down the center of Hong Kong later this year assembled in the city’s Victoria Park to march to the center of the city to show their support for the government.
The orderly crowd was composed mostly of elderly marchers, many of them carrying umbrellas to guard against the blistering sun. Although organizers numbered the marchers at 120,000, an independent count by Hong Kong University researchers estimated that between 79,000 and 88,000 people took part. By contrast, organizers of the July 1 march said that more than half a million took part.
Sunday’s marchers appeared to be mostly from outlying districts, with a smattering of mainlanders working in Hong Kong who said they had come to offer their support. Although a healthy minority did appear to appear to be office workers, many of the young that did show up sported tattoos that suggested they were patriotic triad members. There were also reports that some marchers had been paid.
Also in the crowd were Indonesian domestic helpers who have traditionally assembled on Sunday in Victoria Park. They said they had been given free tee-shirts supporting the march but wouldn’t say where they got them. There was also a group of Nepalese who said their bosses had told them to march or else.
Others, many of them elderly, said they had come of their own accord to Occupy Central because “If you don’t stand up, the power will be in opponents’ hands.”
At stake between Sunday’s protesters and pro-democracy campaigners from the Occupy Central group is the method of choosing Hong Kong’s leader in 2017 general elections. All citizens are to be allowed to vote for the first time since the city was handed back to China in 1997, but Beijing is insisting that the candidates for chief executive be picked by a pro-Beijing committee and that the candidates must profess “love for China.”
Sunday’s crowd featured relatively few professionals or middle class, an indication of the growing polarization of the city, with growing numbers increasingly disenchanted with what they perceive as Beijing’s heavy hand in trying to force what it considers a positive result for the plans for universal suffrage. At the moment, just 1,700 electors elect the chief executive in a city of 7.5 million.
There are real and growing concerns that Hong Kong doesn’t see itself as part of China, and that the gaps between the two are growing. Hong Kong University’s continuing poll of attitudes of those the territory show that 40.2 percent of the city’s population identify themselves as Hong Kongers exclusively, 27.1 percent identify themselves as Hong Kongers in China and that only 19.5 percent identify themselves as fully Chinese. .
Beijing hs responded to Hong Kong’s rebellious attitude with growing impatience. The city has been the beneficiary of a Closer Economic Partnership Agreement on trade that goes strongly in the city’s favor. In addition, some 42 million tourists from China thronged Hong Kong in 2013, a huge boost to the city’s economy. But the tourists have irritated the locals despite the money they bring and there are calls in the city to cut the numbers by 20 percent.
Some 30,000 mainland women came to Hong Kong in 2013 to have babies in the city’s superior medical facilities and to win right of abode for their children. Hong Kong has responded by calling the mainlanders “locusts,” a word that the government is considering banning as hate speech.
On July 1, hundreds of thousands of pro-democracy campaigners, the mirror image of Sunday’s crowd, took to the streets in a march that took seven hours to go from the park to the Hong Kong government’s headquarters in the Admiralty district 3 km. away, The group had collected 800,000 signatures in a referendum demanding full autonomy in picking candidates for the job of Chief Executive.
That spurred pro-China advocates, led by founder Robert Chow, a former radio show host, to form the Alliance for Peace and Democracy to organize their own petition to represent what Chow called the “silent majority” to protest the Occupy Central group’s tactics. They later claimed to have collected 1.4 million signatures.
But critics say the petition presented a false picture because many company executives issued orders to their employees to sign it, that signature gathers allowed young children to sign and that they used scare tactics to frighten the elderly into signing.
Nonetheless, city officials including current Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and a previous one, Tung Chee-Hwa, signed. “I am opposed to using illegal means including ‘occupying Central’, which is designed to be illegal, to achieve universal suffrage,” Leung told reporters Friday after signing the petition.
The Occupy Central movement has faced widespread disapproval from the business community, including the Big Three accounting firms, which took out an advertisement in the South China Morning Post and other newspapers condemning it.
Thousands wearing red shirts and waving Chinese national flags filled Victoria Park when the march began shortly after 1.30 pm. They carried identical signs that had been made for them, unlike the July 1 marchers, many of whom carried their own signs.
When the marchers arrived at the MTR station at the center of the city, they simply dispersed, throwing down their signs and other paraphernalia, a marked contrast from the July1 march, in which marchers were relatively orderly.
Chen Yajiao and Wu Hanqi are interns for Asia Sentinel.