Hong Kong Democracy Supporters Chafe at Inequality

Chris Buckley and Mike Forsythe at The New York Times report on the “surge of discontent” washing over Hong Kong in the aftermath of the informal 10-day referendum on the election process  which ended today with nearly 800,000 votes in total:

On a recent morning, Agnes Chow, 17, and another teenage activist rode a van through the streets of Hong Kong, urging people through a loudspeaker to vote in an informal referendum for a more democratic way to pick the city’s top leader. But the vote, which has been condemned as illegal by the Chinese government, was about much more than the city’s leadership, she said.

“I think the younger generation feels the future of Hong Kong falls on its shoulders,” said Ms. Chow, who was only 6 months old when Britain returned Hong Kong to China. “The inequality of the society is one of the reasons people have come out to vote. The social issues are tied in because without a democratic system, there is no pressure on the government to change.”

A surge of discontent is washing over this harbor city of 7.2 million people, which has long taken pride in its status as an enclave of free enterprise, free speech and independent courts abutting the Chinese mainland. The immediate conflict is about how to elect Hong Kong’s leader, the chief executive. But the underlying resentment voiced by many here is that the city’s political-business machine is rigged against them.

[...] Polls indicate discontent has been building. A telephone survey by the Hong Kong Transition Project, conducted in December, found dissatisfaction with the way the Chinese government was handling Hong Kong at its highest level in a decade, with 52 percent of Hong Kong residents saying they were dissatisfied. Alienation runs highest among the young, with 82 percent of people ages 21 to 29 saying they were dissatisfied, and 65 percent of people in that age bracket saying they were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with life in the city. [Source]

For their part, the “big four” audit firms – Deloitte, PwC, Ernst & Young and KPMG - issued a joint statement opposing the recent protests, which was published in three of the major Hong Kong newspapers, according to a report by Adam Minter in Bloomberg.

At The South China Morning Post, Stuart Lau, Austin Chiu, and Brian Yap report also on the “record number” of lawyers who marched to protest a recent white paper on Hong Kong published by the Chinese government, because they fear it “jeopardises judicial independence”:

Nine chairmen of the Bar Association, mainland civil-rights lawyer Teng Biao, and a handful of government lawyers joined the march.

Teng said he saw the white paper as in line with Beijing’s increasingly suppressive attitude towards opposition at home.

“What’s happening here is connected to suppression of the mainland’s civic society, underground churches and human rights lawyers,” said Teng, who teaches at Chinese University.

Solicitors also braved the heat and joined the march, from the High Court to the Court of Final Appeal, in apparent defiance of Law Society president Ambrose Lam San-keung, who earlier spoke in favour of the paper. [Source]