Government report to Beijing fails to impress

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The public sentiment report that was promised to students during the Occupy Movement was finally submitted today without fanfare. For the Occupiers, it appears to be the mere consolation prize it promised to be. Photo: HKSAR Government


The public sentiment report promised by Carrie Lam and Co. was finally published today and submitted to the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO). The “Report on the Recent Community and Political Situation in Hong Kong” is 220 pages long with two appendices that include statements related to constitutional development from various groups and opinion polls conducted on constitutional development.

In the midst of the Occupy Movement in October last year, the Task Force on Constitutional Development, consisting of Chief Secretary Carrie Lam, Secretary of Justice Rimsky Yuen, and Secretary of Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam, held an open dialogue with the Hong Kong Federation of Students (HKFS). During the televised affair, Carrie Lam proposed to submit a report to the HKMAO that would reflect public sentiment since the NPCSC announced a framework for reforms to the election of Hong Kong’s Chief Executive by universal suffrage.

The Report, submitted and made public today, has been criticised heavily from the pan-democratic camp for lacking substance and iterating a mere timeline of events. Even pro-establishment lawmakers made comments suggesting they were pessimistic about this report having any impact on Beijing’s decision.

What’s in it

The main report consists of four chapters, with two annexes and two appendices. The first chapter provides the background that set the stage for recent incidents, including an explanation on the five-step process to amend the selection process for the Chief Executive, and also mentioning the subsequent controversial NPCSC announcement on August 31st last year.

The second chapter of the report provides a summary of main events beginning from the reaction to the announcement of the framework on August 31st last year. Events such as the “Grand Banquet” that Occupy Central with Peace and Love had originally proposed, and the week long class boycott are mentioned in the build up to the Umbrella Movement.

In following paragraphs describing the Occupy Movement, or the Umbrella Movement, the report reiterates that oft repeated mantra that the assemblies were either illegal or unlawful.

“Scuffles”

Some important details that heavily swayed public sentiment are not presented in the main summary body. Rather, they are buried in the more comprehensive Annex section on several instance.

“On the same day, scuffles broke out between a large number of anti-Occupy Central supporters and the protestors in Mong Kok and lasted for several hours, resulting in chaotic scenes.”

The Report, submitted and made public today, has been criticised heavily from the pan-democratic camp for lacking substance and iterating a mere timeline of events.

In describing the initial incident which saw anti-Occupy protesters surround and haul down parts of the Occupy camp in Mong Kok, the main summary section of the report did not state that many believed the alleged anti-Occupy Central supporters in this particular incident were laced with triads or paid thugs. Only the more detailed Annex section included statements from HKFS that called what the reports calls “scuffles”, “organised attacks on supporters of the occupy movement” and “violent actions by the triads and pro-
Government bodies.”

The Scurrilous Seven

“The Police took action in the early hours to disperse demonstrators assembling unlawfully and remove the barriers in the vicinity of Lung Wo Road. A television station took footage showing a number of plainclothes police officers were suspected of assaulting a protestor [sic] who had been arrested. The Police expressed concern over the incident in which several plainclothes police officers were suspected of using excessive force during the operation. The Complaints Against Police Office had received a relevant complaint and set up a designated special investigation team to conduct a thorough investigation into the incident. The seven police officers involved had been removed from their duties on the following day. The Independent Police Complaints Council (IPCC) said in a statement that the complaint would be referred to the Serious Complaints Committee for follow-up.”

The report does mention the incident where footage of seven plain clothed policemen allegedly assaulting a man who had his hands tied behind his back was televised for the broader public to see, but again mostly in the Annex section. In the main summary section in Chapter 2, this is only slightly mentioned in two sentences, saying “During the operation, some police officers were said to be suspected of using excessive force. The Police set up a designated Special Investigation Team to investigate the case.”

“The Government condemned protesters for blocking the access roads to the CGO and for obstructing the Police in delivering food and water. The Civil Service Bureau also issued a statement strongly urging protesters outside the CGO to leave as soon as possible. The Police said that the protesters had been blocking ambulances and preventing vehicles carrying food to enter the CGO, and that such obstructive acts were unacceptable. In the evening, the Government issued a stern warning to protesters surrounding the CGO and CE’s Office.”

The Annex mentions officials condemned protesters for blocking the delivering of supplies and not letting in an ambulance, but the report failed to reveal an earlier incident when the trust of protesters were taken advantage of to allow the police to bring in weapons into the CGO.

The devil’s left out of the details

Summaries of the statements and events during the movement are included in the reported in quite some detail. However, some finer but nonetheless important points are left out. The background fails to mention the significance of the CGO’s east wing forecourt, which had only been fenced off in July. The area, fondly known as “Civic Square” by the public, was a popular protest spot that had saw the rise of Joshua Wong and Scholarism during protests against the Nationalistic curriculum reform. The fencing off of the area was met with outcries that it was an act against citizens’ freedom of assembly.

…important points are left out.

The report also seems to play down the importance of the decision to use tear gas against protesters, which sparked the Umbrella Movement and drew international attention. The number of tear gas canisters used during the initial confrontations is left out of the report, although of tremendous interest to the media and public.

No estimation of how many citizens took part in the movement can be found either, leaving only public statements and opinion polls to be relied on for a reader to gain a sense of the severity of the protests.

Also missing from the report are revelations during the movement that Chief Executive CY Leung had received HK$50 million from the Australian firm UGL. Allegations that the payment were illegal during the movement fueled cries for CY to step down at the time.

“158 pages of crap”

The disclaimer in the report calls itself a “collection of materials in the public domain”, and declares that the Government did not “undertake(n) any independent investigation to verify the accuracy of such materials”. It does beg the question, how effectively representative the report can be of the genuine public sentiment.

A particular point of contention within the report has been brought up by several media outlets and prominent leaders in the movement itself. The conclusion claims that,

“It is the common aspiration of the Central Authorities, the HKSAR Government, and the people of Hong Kong to implement universal suffrage for the CE election in 2017 in Hong Kong as scheduled and strictly in accordance with the Basic Law and the relevant Interpretation and Decisions of the NPCSC.”

Joshua Wong has taken to social media to question whether it is true a CE election “strictly in accordance with the Basic Law and … the Decisions of the NPCSC” is truly a “common aspiration” of the people of Hong Kong. He thought the Report was worse than a secondary student’s liberal studies report. More bluntly, HKFS’ Lester Shum called the Report “158 pages of crap”.

Pro-establishment: ‘not much hope’

Political players across the board have either been critical or pessimistic as to what this report may achieve. Pro-establishment lawmaker Wong Kwok-Kin reportedly said he “did not bear much hope for the report from the beginning”, and that the promise of a report was merely a consolation move at the time to give all parties a chance to back out. Pan-democratic legislator Charles Mok criticised the report and said it did not reflect genuine public sentiment, and pointed out that it left out important events such as pro-establishment legislator James Tien being expelled from a state committee for criticising CY Leung. Claudio Mo condemned the government for merely uploading the report online without a public presentation. Several pan-dem legislators also condemned the aforementioned conclusion for “hijacking” public opinion.

…the promise of a report was merely a consolation move at the time…

The report itself is a detailed compilation of events, public statements from various groups in society, and opinion polls, but it is also just that. No efforts have been made to analyse the deep roots of the movement that shook Hong Kong to its core and divided generations. The report offers no solutions or suggestions to solve the current predicament Hong Kong is in. This reports is likely to please neither pro-establishment or pan-democratic camps. Nor will it change the NPCSC’s decision. Perhaps the official document will help shape the discourse in the future when we look back at the fateful fall of 2014, but before that, the report remains a mere bureaucratic compilation of things we, and probably Beijing, already know.