Is China applying propaganda techniques to capitalist Hong Kong?
Tens of thousands marched against a pro Democracy movement, Occupy Central, on Sunday, Aug 17th in Hong Kong. Amidst separate eyewitness reports of cash exchanging hands, it is dubious if it were an honest representation of public opinion in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
Occupy Central is a civil disobedience movement that is threatening a mass sit-in in the financial district of the city if China does not allow them to choose their Chief Executive in democratically held elections in 2017.
Hong Kong’s autonomy is enshrined in the Sino British joint Declaration signed in 1984, by Margaret Thatcher and Chinese leader Zhao Ziyang, in the lead up to its handover to China. In recent years, China seems to be eroding the very liberties that made Hong Kong unique and turned it into Asia’s financial capital.
Local Police estimated that 110,800 protestors turned up on Sunday to oppose the disruptions that Occupy Central threatens. The Public Opinion Program of the Hong Kong University though put the number at 79,000-88,000, only half its estimate for the Occupy Central march on July 1, of up to 172,000 demonstrators. Aerial photographs taken comparing the two marches at matching times and locations overwhelmingly support the Program’s count.
The New York Times reported on the day that “In separate reports on local television news channels, unidentified people were seen handing out cash to marchers- on a tour bus, on the street and in a park… One of the television stations reported a man telling marchers to keep quiet about the money they received.” A WhatApp message, as seen by Reuters, offered potential participants HK$350 (34 Euros) for attending the rally for five hours. Many of the protestors appeared to have been brought in from mainland China by trade groups affiliated with the Beijing Government such as the Federation of Trade Unions. Mandarin was the dominant dialect heard spoken instead of the local Cantonese.
Robert Chow, A spokesman for the Alliance of Peace and Democracy, who organized the Sunday march, said in an interview, “ Hong Kong people desire peace. They’re not afraid of speaking out, and the silent majority has spoken. Why should they follow Occupy Central and try to hold Hong Kong hostage? If they want universal suffrage, negotiate with Beijing. Negotiate with the government.”
Much of the upheaval follows Beijing’s issue of a white paper in June, which stated, “The high degree of autonomy enjoyed by Hong Kong is subject to the Central Government’s authorization.” It also threatened the rule of law, a major distinguishing factor between Hong Kong and China, by including the territory’s judges amongst the ‘administrative’ and obliged them to be “patriotic”, that is, mindful of China’s interests, directly contradicting Hong Kong’s common law.
On a separate occasion, as The Economist published in its July17th-25th edition, the leader of Hong Kong, C.Y. Leung, “presented a report to Beijing on how to reform the territory’s electoral system and in it suggested that most Hong Kong people were perfectly content with the system under which a rigged committee picks out anyone Beijing does not like and that the people did not wish for greater political freedom.” The Chief Executive has been elected through a committee picked by mainland China, since the handover in 1997. Protestors on July 1 demanded universal suffrage in its place, as promised in the constitution for 2017.
The Global Times, also published by the People’s Daily (which some say acts as a mouthpiece for the Communist party) said “it was the pro Democracy groups that had forced the country and Hong Kong –loving people to take to the streets, because Occupy Central supporters are using large scale protests to show Hong Kong’s ‘universal support’ for trying to legalize an illegal act”. It went on to accuse pro Democracy marchers to create the illusion that they represented the public opinion of Hong Kong. The massive show of force by patriotic marchers, on the other hand, “recovered the true face of HK as a pluralistic society,” “they have no reason to expect the Central Government to accept their opinion on political reform unconditionally.”
Police arrested five members of the group that organized the July 1 march, for obstruction of police duties two days after the protest and after they sharply criticized China’s Government. “We followed all the legal procedure in organizing this rally”, said Icarus Wong from the group and added, “our rally was very peaceful, and I don’t see any legitimate reason to arrest our members except a political suppression.”
Many demonstrators on Sunday were quiet or seemed to have no idea what the protest was about, when approached by reporters. Some though, admitted to being pressured by their mainland companies to take part. 200 tables at Causeway Bay restaurants were also booked out close to where the march took place in Victoria Park, to provide free lunch for those who rallied on the day.
A decision on electoral reform is due at the end of this month.