Occupy Central is almost certain to happen sometime in the next few months. But the government and the security chiefs seem befuddled. They had better be prepared or it will be bad for everyone. So let me give them a few pointers.
It is futile, indeed laughable, for so many of our establishment figures and mainland officials to denounce Occupy Central and its main organisers Benny Tai and the Rev Chu Tiu-ming. By waving a red flag in front of a bull, you just help to make their supporters angrier and more determined, advertise their cause and attract more followers.
To fight a battle, you must first recognise its nature and purpose. Occupy Central set out from the start as a civil disobedience movement, which is, by definition, illegal. But like all such movements, it takes the moral high ground because it argues our political system itself is illegitimate. It is, therefore, useless and counterproductive to denounce it as "breaching the rule of law".
But how should the heads of the disciplined forces and the government fight Occupy Central? My advice is, don't fight it. Just let it happen. What about the potential damage to Hong Kong's economy and reputation, as James Tien of the Liberal Party has warned? If my colleague Tom Holland is right, the damage would be no worse than a severe typhoon. But even if it's worse, well then, you can point fingers at the pan-democrats and protesters as being responsible.
This battle is a fight for legitimacy in the court of public and world opinion. The protesters already have the advantage because they claim to be fighting for our freedom and democracy. Any use of force would further delegitimise an already unpopular government. The police must therefore exercise maximum restraint and patience, except to protect themselves, the protesters and the public. The longer it drags out, the more workers and executives in Central will lose sympathy for the protesters. Sooner or later, the young and hotheaded among the protesters will lose patience and fight the police. You can only make a move when public opinion swings against the protesters, but that can take a while.
The government can't win this battle; the best it can hope for is to avoid making things worse for itself.