Long after the Occupy camps at Zuccotti Park in Manhatttan and St. Paul’s Cathedral and Finsbury Park in London were evicted or disbanded, an encampment in an unlikely location defiantly remains.
For nine months, protesters in Hong Kong have been occupying an open-air plaza beneath the Asian headquarters of HSBC in Central, Hong Kong’s financial district. Many in the city have expressed surprised that the bank allowed the encampment to remain for so long, but the tense truce between HSBC and activists from the Occupy movement is now at an end.
Occupy Hong Kong: October 2011
In an initial court ruling, the New York Times reports three named defendants (Ho Yiu-shing, Wong Chung-hang, and Mui Kai-ming), who have no lawyers and are representing themselves, were asked to submit reasons they should be allowed to stay.
HSBC’s main complaint is that the camp is “now attracting homeless and otherwise vulnerable people”.
Bank spokesman Gareth Hewett said: “I don’t think we’re talking about many people. Less than five stay overnight and during the day it’s six or seven. At weekends it’s a bit more.”
A follow-up hearing is scheduled for August 13, but some of the protesters say they intend to stay regardless of the outcome.
New York Times:
“If there’s an order for us to move out at last, we will try our best to stay,” Mr. Wong said. “Of course, some of us don’t believe in law and may not follow the court order.”
“Our victory or defeat is not determined by the court,” Leung Wing-lai, a participant of Occupy Central, said to Bloomberg News. “We’re not going to leave. We’re still operating. We’re not going to pay any attention to the court’s decision.”
The Times reports on the disenchantment many in Hong Kong feel as the wealth gap widens, property prices soar, and citizens increasingly feel marginalized.
The average home price is around 13 times the median annual household income.
Hong Kong’s Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality in which zero represents perfect equality and 1 means one person holds all the income, rose to 0.537 last year, according to government figures released last month. That is the highest reading for any developed economy in Asia.
In June, Bloomberg News reported Leung Chun-ying, the property surveyor who was a surprise choice to be Hong Kong’s new leader, would face a record high wealth gap as the city’s new leader.
Public discontent in Hong Kong may draw as many as 100,000 protesters at the start of Leung’s term to push the government to address rising living costs and hold China to its promise to allow direct leadership elections in Hong Kong by 2017. Leung will need to address that pressure from below while meeting China’s demand for stability as it goes through its own once-a-decade leadership transition later this year.
While Occupy fades from the headlines in the United States, the movement, or at least the concept of combating the wealth divide, is gaining support in Hong Kong due to a perceived collusion between big business and an undemocratically elected government.
Hundreds of thousands marched in an annual pro-democracy rally on July 1.
Protesters breaking through a police block during July 1 protest:
Hong Kong protesters use the language of the 99 percent, including “us versus them” jargon that can be heard in class uprisings anywhere in the world.
New York Times:
“It was once thought that people like Li Ka-shing were cultural heroes and everybody could become rich if you worked hard enough and a few breaks came your way,” said Gordon Mathews, a professor of anthropology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, referring to the Hong Kong tycoon who is considered the wealthiest man in Asia.
“Today, increasingly, people don’t think that, and they have become much more cynical about the gap between rich and poor,” Professor Mathews said. “This is having a fairly remarkable effect on Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong’s wealth gap now exceeds that of Singapore, the United Kingdom and Australia as well as other major cities notorious for inequality such as Washington and New York City.