Occupy Central

Radicals cost Hong Kong key Apec meeting, advisers to Beijing say

Occupy Central cited by Beijing advisers as one reason why regional conference of finance chiefs has been moved from Hong Kong to the capital

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 March, 2014, 12:06am
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 March, 2014, 2:19am

Beijing's growing frustration with radical sentiment in Hong Kong is part of the reason a key regional finance meeting has been moved from the city, several advisers to the mainland leadership say.

The advisers were commenting on the central government's announcement last week that the Apec finance ministers' conference, which was to have been staged in Hong Kong in September, would now be held in Beijing along with the main leaders' summit.

They cited the Occupy Central movement and the row over national education as factors.

Jiang Shigong , deputy director of Peking University's Centre for Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said the move reflected "impatience and frustration with Hong Kong" among mainland officials.

"Many mainland elites have become disillusioned with Hong Kong because of the various incidents over the past two years - such as the opposition to the introduction of national education," Jiang, an adviser to the central government on Hong Kong affairs, said.

"More and more mainlanders are asking why the central government is favouring Hong Kong. These voices will inevitably affect the central government's considerations."

His view was shared by Shi Yinhong , a Renmin University professor and adviser to the State Council.

Shi said Chinese leaders worried that mass protests - such as the Occupy Central movement that calls for people to block the city's main financial district in a democracy protest this summer - would not be "conducive to hosting an international event".

Another mainland expert familiar with Hong Kong affairs, who asked not to be named, said while Beijing was not overly worried by the movement, it needed to consider all possible risks.

"It would be too late to relocate the event to other cities if [we wait until] Hong Kong is paralysed by the movement," the expert said.

The central government cited logistical reasons when it announced last week that the meeting would be moved.

Apec officials told the Post that the whole Apec summit had been delayed because US President Barack Obama wanted to stay at home to deal with domestic politics. Because of the delay, Beijing had decided it was more convenient to hold all the meetings in one place, the Apec officials said.

Beijing's concern over the Occupy Central movement is widely known. But while experts agreed it might have played a part they said it would not have been enough to explain the move.

Academics proposed the Occupy Central movement more than six months before the central government announced last September that the finance ministers' meeting would be held in Hong Kong. There is also a possibility that the rally could be postponed to the end of the year.

The organisers originally planned for it to take place after the release of government proposals for the 2017 chief executive election, which now may not be ready until the last quarter of the year.

Executive councillor Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee believed the switch was due to "a combination of reasons" and the increasing ferocity of political conflicts was a major factor.

"I do not want to speculate if the Occupy Central movement played a role. But this kind of high-level meeting will surely attract protests, which will be more radical [than normal] because of the conflict over the electoral reform [plans]," Ip said.

Ip, a former secretary for security and now a New People's Party lawmaker, said she believed the government had the ability to handle mass protests.

But the row over the visit to Hong Kong by Premier Li Keqiang , then first vice-premier, in 2011 had given China's top leaders "a sour experience".

Students who tried to protest in front of Li at the University of Hong Kong were carried away by police. While the protest itself did not cause major disruption to Li's trip, the university and police force were heavily criticised for the way they handled it.

"Security officials were almost placed under a probe back then for how they handled the student protest," Ip said. "That could be repeated at the Apec event, as there must be some exploitation of high-level meetings to stage protests."

Whatever the true motive for Beijing's decision, moving the conference to the capital would damage Hong Kong's reputation in the eyes of foreign investors, Ip said.

"I received inquiries from foreign businessmen whether Beijing's move meant Hong Kong's importance as a first-rank financial city would be played down," she said.

"There is certainly a negative impact on whether we remain a vibrant international centre."

Asia's richest man, Li Ka-shing, said last week he was "saddened" that the conference had been moved to Beijing.