Hutchison Whampoa

Protesters should be praised for innovative ParknShop protest

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 10 May, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 10 May, 2011, 12:00am

I am writing in response to the letter from Chong Wing-yan ('Protest did not change anything', May 2), one of many letters scolding those protesting against Li Ka-shing at one of his ubiquitous ParknShop stores.

The history of political struggle has consistently involved heated debates about 'the right way to protest', with all concerned judging the relative urgency and need for resistance up to and including violence. What one group deems excessive, another group realises as absolutely necessary.

The tone of the letters that denounce the ParknShop demonstration register, to my ears, as typical conservative Hong Kong complacency, a status quo that situates Mr Li's wealth within the normal scope of behaviour while his opponents (in this case) have simply caused an 'inconvenience' - their tactics have 'backfired'.

I, for one, welcome these protesters' innovative focus on an aspect of Hong Kong politics (the fundamental practices of its economy) that, as these protesters seek to publicise, is at the heart of Hong Kong's social and environmental ills. As to the protesters causing an 'inconvenience', the fact of the matter is that Hong Kong is littered with ParknShops, Wellcomes and 7-Elevens. In other words, those economic entities that can ride out and exploit the ballooning and exorbitant rents of Hong Kong.

If there is a political action at any particular ParknShop, in most cases, I can simply cross the street, or perhaps decide in favour of the local wet market. In the counter-protest arguments, the way Mr Li generates his wealth will never be considered 'inconvenient', even with respect to the relative wages of ParknShop employees; let alone the minimum wage laws - to pick one example.

And finally, though I mentioned at the beginning that political protest sometimes includes violence, it is clear that these protesters have stopped far short of that possibility, and given the recent tactics of the mainland government (which, after all is said and done, Hong Kong finds itself attached to) the urgency to respond and resist that government's 'legal code' seems paramount - especially since we in Hong Kong are still able to do that.

What does that have to do with Mr Li (a Hongkonger)? The collusion between Hong Kong and Beijing most definitely favours, on both sides of the border, wealth being centralised and controlled by a relative few. We have yet to see a well-known (and well-paid) entertainer or scion of society use their high-profile position to denounce, for example, the ongoing and egregious incarceration of Beijing artist Ai Weiwei .

Under these conditions, while I don't wholeheartedly endorse every single mode of oppositional rhetoric and behaviour, I find myself breathing a sigh of relief that someone, anyone, is pushing for a political alternative - and is demanding significant change in the ways business and politics are conducted in Hong Kong, and attempting to do that by using the various, historically tested strategies of civil disobedience.

Andrew Guthrie, Tai Wai