On the streets in Hong Kong

6 October 2014
Sid Zoichi

Sid Zoichi is currently on the ground in Hong Kong reporting for Red Flag. Follow @RedFlag_news on Twitter for updates.


Almost immediately on landing in Hong Kong, I experienced the impact of the protest movement: the route A11 bus that connects the airport and CBD couldn’t get to the stop near my accommodation because the road was blocked.

Eventually, I reached Wan Chai by subway and headed to the Occupy Central site on foot.

Hennessey Road is supposed to be one of the busiest streets in Hong Kong, but there were fewer pedestrians than Brisbane’s city streets on a Sunday morning. Considering that this was the golden week of Chinese national public holidays, surely tourism has been impacted. It’s hard to believe the official figure, which says the number of mainland travellers has only declined 1.8 percent.

It was nearly midday when I arrived at Admiralty, the centre of the occupy site. The scope of the occupation was much bigger than I expected: the boundaries are roughly Queensway in the south, Rodney Street in the east, Lung Wo Road in the North and Tim Wa Avenue in the west. Most tents are set up in the middle of Harcourt Road. (See map.)

During the day, university-aged young people guard the tents. Many posters say this is a movement without leadership and marshals, but many are using walkie-talkies to communicate. Comrades told me that those people are members of the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS). The first aid stations, rubbish collection and supplies distribution are mostly organised by the HKFS.

The major targets of Occupy Central have been the buildings of the Central Government Offices and the Chief Executive’s Office. Leung Chun Ying, the chief executive, and the public servants had been prevented from entering these buildings. However, the government has reopened old office buildings, so the administration is still operating. Most of the financial institutions are not under siege.

A rumour spread Sunday night that the police would disperse protesters blocking entrance to government buildings – Leung had announced that public servants would go back to work from Monday. The clearance didn’t occur; only food trucks were allowed to pass the blockade to deliver food to the cops inside. And the public servants were not prevented from entering the buildings on Monday anyhow.

At its peak on Sunday night, there were 10,000 to 20,000 people at Central, but people go to work and study during the day and the number is down to about 1,000, if you don’t count the travellers.

Another major occupy site is Mong Kok, which is a shopping district across the harbour. Conflicts between occupy supporters and anti-occupy supporters escalated there on Saturday. Various reports said gangsters were hired to attack the site and that many protesters were injured. When I arrived on Sunday evening, a large number of cops were present, including plainclothes.

Debates among the protesters also erupted over whether to continue occupying the site. Comrades in Hong Kong told me that anti-occupy forces were trying to provoke confrontations in Mong Kok and that if things turn nasty the government would have an excuse to remove the protesters. Public opinion would shift toward law and order sentiment if the protest becomes violent. Therefore, some left wing activists think the movement should concentrate the force at Central.

A different opinion says retreating from Mong Kok would be a symbolic defeat. Speeches were made to encourage people to stay because a withdrawal would negate all the efforts they had made last week. Their slogan is “If we lose Mong Kok, Central will not last long”. There were about 600 who decided to stay in Mong Kok when I was heading back to Central at 9:30pm.

When I came back on Monday afternoon, the number of sit-in protesters had dropped to less than 200. I was told that this is the usual size during the day. The atmosphere was calmer than previous days: no gangsters, plainclothes pulled out and uniform cops were in a relaxed mood also.

I noticed that the first aid station had disappeared and assumed people might be retreating in an orderly manner. Two uni students told me that they thought the Mong Kok protesters should go to Central if more violence occurred here because people’s safety is the most important thing. Two others, recent graduates, disagreed: the fewer protesters stay, the more emboldened anti-occupy groups would be to attack.

The last site, Causeway Bay, is the smallest and the most peaceful. There were less than 100 people guarding the blocked section of the street at noon on Monday. The only disturbance was an old woman, who yelled at the protesters in Cantonese, accusing them of making their families worry.

Anyone trying to initiate a public discussion about how to bring the movement forward is labelled a “bloody lefty” by the anti-mainland currents. The right wing Hong Kong-nationalist group has a considerable influence. Their anti-mainlander propaganda has a market among the youth and they have successfully posed themselves as the most radical and uncompromised force in the movement.

They are probably the fastest growing force in Hong Kong. They don’t have parliamentary wing, and organise through a number of media platforms such as “Passion Times” and “Local Press”, which include a free newspaper, online news channel, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Apart from opposing both the Hong Kong and Beijing governments, they are also ruthlessly attacking mainlanders and the left in the movement. They are the driving force for staying at Mong Kok.

As a result, the left wing forces are trying to keep a low profile. In general, the environment is very unfavourable for the left. The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions called a general strike some days back. Local comrades describe it as “symbolic” because the unions had not made any preparations for industrial action and hardly any of them tried to mobilise their members.

Proposed negotiations between the HKFS and the Hong Kong government have been postponed again because the two sides cannot reach an agreement on the conditions of the negotiation.

The majority of people on the ground have little idea about the future of the movement. A volunteer at the Central site told me that now the only thing they can do and have to do is stay on the streets.

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