8-17 march – A coalition of the willing…and unwilling

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Great crowds showed up in 8-17 march to oppose Occupy Central and support universal suffrage. Quite a number of them turned out to be non-Hong-Kong residents. Assessing the people’s will is difficult when committed citizens are obscured by visitors, the unwilling and uncommitted on the hoof.

Men in orange

An hour before the scheduled march yesterday at three, a swarm of people in orange polo shirts filled the Tin Hau MTR station and waved Chinese national flags. They were like a tourist group travelling to Hong Kong. Approached by our HT journalist, they refused to comment or answer questions about their participation. There was even a bigger crowd bearing the same colours outside the MTR, assembling to enter Victoria Park.

They were the Federation of Fujian Associations (福建社團聯會) and it seemed many of their members were mainlanders – specifically, non-Hong-Kong-residents. Several members from the group confirmed our speculation, including a gentleman who was a volunteer of the Federation to organise their group.

Speaking to HT, he admitted that he was not a Hong Kong resident nor a settler in Hong Kong, and said there were many like him who came from mainland for the march. Two teenagers who were trying to squeeze into the crowds in the Park frankly said that they were tourists. Others, however, were less outspoken about their identities. Claiming to be local residents here in Hong Kong in their thick accent, they ignored our request to see their IDs.

Voting is enough for some
An elderly lady from the Federation said she was here to support anti-occupy-Central but said she knew nothing about the universal suffrage. “We don’t like people destroying Hong Kong [i.e. the Occupy Central movement]”, she said. Two Hong Kong women from the group who worked in the finance sector told HT it was the first time they participated in a demonstration. They also opposed Occupy Central but supported ‘genuine universal suffrage’. When asked what constituted a ‘genuine universal suffrage’, they replied “one-man-one-vote”. A follow-up question was asked whether a universal suffrage with a screening mechanism would still be ‘genuine’, they insisted on ‘one-man-one-vote’ and asked “what else except for that?”

A group of ten Southeast Asian domestic helpers also dressed in orange polo shirts. “We were asked by our employers to come”, one of them said. Asked if they would still attend the march if it was not an order from their employers, the lady hesitated for a few seconds and repeated: “We were asked by our employers.”

However, none from the group told HT that they have received cash payment or that there would be any planned activities after the march. But as other media reported, some were treated to lunch in several big restaurants near Victoria Park at noon already.

Big China flags and more mainland communities
The Federation of Fujian Associations was of course not the only group that was associated with mainland. Another big crowd in red polo shirts were from the Federation of Hong Kong Shenzhen Associations (香港深圳社團總會) who waved a big 5-star China flag as they marched.

It looked quite similar to the July 1st march if you were observing the crowds from a distance but if one took a closer look, one would see the numerous China flags, hear the Mandarin-speaking crowds and observe the banners from a China province or mainland communities. One would be confused as to whether or not this was a Hong Kong protest. The group organising the march, Alliance for Peace and Democracy (保普選反佔中大聯盟), released a figure of 193,000 joining the march, compared to the police counts at 111,800 and HKU POP calculations suggesting a maximum of 88,000 participants.

The 8-17 march was a good turnout for something organised by pro-establishment groups. However, the composition of the crowd and journalist reports brought into question how many of the participants were native Hong Kong people, truly care about Hong Kong’s future and comprehend the whole political debate. It is hard to gauge how many committed Hong Kong people took part when so many were brought in from outside Hong Kong, pressured to be there or had no idea what was going on or why they were there.

If our political deadlock is to be broken by having an accurate assessment of Hong Kong peoples’ will, it is hard to see how gathering people from outside Hong Kong, the unwilling and the uncommitted will lend to that assessment and real political advancement.