My Take

Only real reform can calm Hong Kong's political volcano

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 May, 2013, 2:53am

A chubby, mild-mannered legal scholar seems to be disturbing the sleep of the high and mighty from Hong Kong to Beijing.

How else can you explain why four major local business groups denounced Benny Tai Yiu-ting's master plan to Occupy Central next year, including taking out advertisements in major newspapers this week? You have to give it to Tai for distinguishing himself as a pro-democracy protester extraordinaire in a town where a young family's idea of a weekend outing is to join a rally; and he hasn't even launched the mass protest yet.

I am not a supporter; I think his whole plan is more hype than substance. But people would launch mass protests as we approach the 2017 chief executive election whether Tai had thought of the Occupy slogan or not. It will, however, give our ruling elite an idea of the kind of social unrest and disobedience that would happen if we fail to deliver on a form of universal suffrage that could win over the pan-democrats.

The Beijing-loyalist Chinese General Chamber of Commerce and the Chinese Manufacturers' Association took out the adverts this week; and honchos from the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce and Federation of Hong Kong Industries took turns to warn of mayhem and Armageddon if Tai's plan went ahead.

What do they expect Tai to do? Change his mind and announce he wouldn't do it after all? If he did, they should be even more worried. People more radical, unruly and uncompromising would step in. It's instructive to examine their warnings. The protest could damage the economy, they say, and wipe billions from the stock market, billions I tell you! It would undermine the rule of law, affect our image and generally destroy our stable social environment. It would, in other words, do the kind of damage that dropping an atom bomb on Central would do. Let's not exaggerate.

Tai's embryonic movement is a symptom of a seismic shift in our body politic. This wellspring of discontent and anger demands change and involves not only young people but the middle and professional classes. It will not go away even if you shut Tai up. Only the most fundamental revamp of our system of government has any hope of stopping this political volcano from exploding.