Saturday, 26 April 2014

Voicing Support for Occupy Central

Occupy Central isn't just about universal suffrage but protests against meddling
The Occupy Central movement got a good shot in the arm when some 70 people in the financial field declared their support for the civil disobedience movement this summer.

On Wednesday they published an open letter to Chinese President Xi Jinping in newspapers, saying Hong Kong's economic health and integrity are in peril due to the erosion of press freedom, and the flow of suspicious money and underhanded political manoeuvers that are undermining fairness in banking and financial services.

In part the letter says: "Hong Kong's existing political system has become the stumbling block to the city's long-term social, political and economic growth and is the root cause of social division and disharmony in Hong Kong."

According to the letter, the solution is to ensure the city's elections are open, without Beijing manipulating the outcome by deciding which candidates are allowed to run or who gets to vote.

China's national legislature has said the election of Hong Kong's chief executive in 2017 "may be implemented by universal suffrage", but Beijing says the candidates should "love China and love Hong Kong", and has hinted it would choose who would be on the ballot.

Currently only 1,200 people handpicked by Beijing are allowed to vote for the chief executive. Sound like a fixed race?

It's interesting this small group of finance people are concerned about universal suffrage, as critics to the Occupy Central movement claim the protest will disrupt business in the area and dent the city's image as a financial powerhouse.

"Most people think people who work in banking or finance only focus on work, or people say we are the beneficiary of this system," said Au Lai-chong, a marketing manager at an investment firm.

"But that's not true," she said. "in the long run, if you want to maintain an international banking and financial centre in Hong Kong, you need to have a good system, a good framework, in order to protect it."

Hong Kong Baptist University political scientist Michael DeGolyer, says public levels of discontent are similar to those in 2003 when the Hong Kong government tried to pass Article 23 that prohibits acts of subversion.

A massive July 1 protest that year resulted in the proposal being shelved and Secretary for Security Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee resigning and then Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa stepping down "for health reasons".

"People in Hong Kong have been characterized as politically apathetic, but that's the wrong term," DeGolyer said. "They are extremely alert to things that might threaten them, their families and their fortunes."

With the increasingly widening income gap between the rich and the poor, people like Edward CK Chin, who runs an investment fund, believe the city is being run by 0.01 percent, "what I like to call the ruling class", he said.

He said it is increasingly difficult for those in finance and banking without guanxi or relationships with Chinese Communist Party elite to get lucrative jobs. "They definitely don't compete on the same level playing field," Chin said.

What's interesting is that Chin, Au and others in this Occupy Central support group, is that they are encouraged by mainlanders living in Hong Kong. "They have seen how it works on both sides. They don't want this city to die," Chin adds.

In describing the current state of affairs in the finance and banking industry, Bill Tsang, a recently retired senior manager at the Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing says it best: "Gradually the apple has become rotten," he said.

"The mainlanders, they get big deals, not because of their competence, but maybe for political relationships or guanxi. Corruption culture has now already come to Hong Kong," Tsang says.

Scary thought, but not surprising. Occupy Central is a way for them to fight back, and take back the city, and right now it's gaining momentum.

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