‘We do what we say’: Occupy Central set the record straight after Benny Tai interview
Movement co-founder Chan Kin-man says some may be deterred by Beijing's decision to rule out open elections in Hong Kong - but more are angry and joining Occupy
Occupy Central organisers affirmed their commitment to fighting for genuine universal suffrage by issuing a press release on Tuesday night, after co-founder Benny Tai told Bloomberg TV that the movement had failed to win concessions from Beijing on reform.
In the emailed statement entitled We do what we say. Occupy Central with Love and Peace, Occupy organisers set out to clarify several points regarding their objectives after Tai admitted that support for the planned sit-in was "waning" in the Bloomberg interview.
“The objective of Occupy Central is to fight for genuine universal suffrage in Hong Kong. Our target is a 2017 Chief Executive election that meets international standards,” the statement began.
“Although this target has been brutally strangled by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, the significance of our movement will not end at this point.
In the statement, the organisers of the pro-democracy group re-iterated that they planned to follow through on their programme of planned civil disobedience.
"We Hongkongers won’t accept failure in our road to democracy. We have said that if the government does not keep their promise to allow Hongkongers to have genuine universal suffrage in 2017, we will occupy Central with love and peace,” the statement continued.
"We will do what we said. This is the principle we Hongkongers have to insist and want the Chinese government to understand. One major purpose of Occupy Central is to promote public engagement.”
The statement continued: "We must show our dissatisfaction with the decision and maintain a spirit of resistance in the community. It is not correct to say that we have less support from the community after Beijing has made the decision.
"Although some pragmatic supporters may leave, new supporters are joining us because they are angry about the Chinese government’s decision and are firm to show the dignity and willpower of Hongkongers.
"In these two days, we have received emails from scholars and professionals confirming that they would support us because they found that all the doors of dialogue were closed," it concluded.
Earlier on Tuesday, one of group’s co-founders told the Post that Occupy Central leaders were still determined to blockade streets in the centre of Hong Kong as part of long-term civil disobedience campaign – and more people were joining the pro-democracy movement.
Dr Chan Kin-man was clarifying an interview fellow co-founder Benny Tai Yiu-ting gave to Bloomberg during which Tai said the movement had failed to win concessions from Beijing on reform and that support for the sit-in was waning.
On Sunday the national legislature decided on a restrictive framework for the 2017 chief executive election in Hong Kong, effectively ruling out the possibility of a genuine choice between candidates.
Chan said the pessimistic tone in Tai’s interview was “not an accurate” representation of the mood within the movement.
“Some 5,000 people joined the rally on Sunday to oppose Beijing’s ruling, even on such short notice,” said Chan, an associate professor of sociology at Chinese University. “I am sure the participants [of Occupy Central] would be in the thousands. Whether it’s 9,000 or 10,000 … I don’t know.
“Of course there are some pragmatic citizens who believe that there is no need to carry out Occupy Central as the National People’s Congress Standing Committee has ruled out universal suffrage for Hong Kong,” said Chan.
“But at the same time, I have received many emails from moderate people who are angered by the decision, saying they are now more determined than ever to join the movement.
“So while there are some people leaving there are more angry people joining – I would not expect there’s a big change in the number of our supporters,” Chan said, adding that over 3,000 people had signed a pledge to join the civil disobedience campaign.
Another founding member, the Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, said the movement was ready for a long struggle.
"The battle is only halfway through. It's too early to give up," Chu said, adding that Occupy had already succeeded in making political reform the biggest issue in Hong Kong.
“Without Occupy, the matter might not have become the city’s focus and have been widely debated by Hongkongers in the past year,” he said.
Chu also confirmed that the movement will announce the names of an alternative leadership structure on Thursday. One leader and four or five deputies would step in for Tai, Chan and Chu if they are arrested.
Chan clarified Tai’s hint that the movement would take place on a public holiday to “minimise possible economic damage to society”.
He said they might choose a public holiday to begin the occupation in order to allow supporters reluctant to break the law to take part. Chater Road in Central is closed to traffic on Sundays and public holidays.
“We are talking about days of occupation – it’s not only a one-day action,” he said. The organisers have two or three start dates in mind and a final decision has yet to be made.
Chan said the most important point of the protest was not to cause economic damage but to set a high-profile and non-violent example of self-sacrifice. The public can see how the protesters are treated and if they are arrested, and then decide where their sympathies lie.
While the movement’s leaders agree the sit-in itself will not change the “political reality” in the short term, it could influence the public’s mood in the long term, as part of a wider civil disobedience campaign, Chan said.
He agreed with Tai that the movement had failed to change Beijing’s mind during the negotiation period with the threat of a mass protest. Now the campaign would have to enter a new phase.
“I am of course very disappointed … but I have already accepted the reality,” Chan said. “We wanted to change Beijing’s stance but their decision could not have been any worse. There is no shades of grey between genuine and fake universal suffrage.”
Benny Tai could not be reached for comment on Tuesday evening.
Watch: Occupy Central leaders promise civil disobedience campaign in Hong Kong