The Global Occupy Movement Makes Its Last Stand in Hong Kong

The city's protest camp is the final torchbearer for the 99%. But how much longer can the Occupiers hold out?

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Vincent Yu / AP

A protester takes a rest next to a tent outside the HSBC headquarters in Hong Kong on Aug. 27, 2012

When Occupy protests sprung up on Sept. 17 last year in New York City and spread around the world, there was little surprise that they reached Hong Kong. Like the Big Apple and London, the former British colony is a global financial center that thrives on the kind of cutthroat capitalism the Occupy movement decries. The U.S.-based Heritage Foundation has ranked the city the world’s freest economy for 18 consecutive years and — perhaps not coincidentally — its income inequality, by some measures, is the worst in the developed world.

Remarkably, however, Occupy Central — Central is the name of the city’s main business district — remains the last visible holdout of the international movement. Although Hong Kong has its own political and civic freedoms enshrined in a miniconstitution, there is some irony that a “special administrative region” of authoritarian China, no less, finds itself as the final torchbearer for the 99%. The city’s Occupiers might also feel a certain pride that the site of this final resistance is not a public square (like Occupy Wall Street) or a cathedral concourse (as in Occupy London) but the very heart of Hong Kong’s financial system: the plaza that lies beneath the Norman Foster–designed headquarters of global banking giant HSBC.

(PHOTOS: Protests and Camp Shutdowns Continue for Occupy Demonstrators)

How much longer can the Occupiers hold out? Earlier this month, the Hong Kong High Court ordered them to vacate the site, which is both owned by HSBC and a public passageway, by Aug. 27. The 9 p.m. deadline came and went, and the protesters, mostly collegiate types, reportedly marked its passing in true Occupy style — with a drum circle. In stark contrast to the U.S. last Nov. 15 (when the NYPD forcibly cleared Occupy Wall Street) and the U.K. on Feb. 28 (when bailiffs and the Metropolitan Police evicted Occupy London), there were no riot squads itching to move in.

The tacit grace period extended to the protesters may be about to end, however. Armed with a fresh court order, HSBC, in a public statement to staff on Wednesday, said its steps to take back the plaza “are coming closer to fruition.” At the same time, it is careful not to be seen as heavy-handed. “The eviction process itself will be in the hands of the bailiff,” the statement stressed. Officials could be seen marking out the site on Wednesday, and once they serve further notice on Occupy Central, the protesters will have seven days to leave or be forcibly thrown out. “We’re trying to avoid that,” says Gareth Hewett, HSBC’s regional head of media relations.

(MORE: The 2011 Person of the Year — The Protester)

When TIME visited the site this week, a message written on a whiteboard read: “As you may know, Occupy Central has been waging a relentless war against misery, cynicism and boredom since October 15, 2011.” It shows. The camp — around a dozen tents, a table, some chairs, couches and art displays — resembles the student squat that it essentially is: empty food takeout containers and soy-sauce bottles sit among worn books and a small music player emitting a tinny sounding Buena Vista Social Club. A pair of protesters musters the energy to play an apathetic game of badminton. Little else of note seems to be happening. None of the dozen or so young men and women slouched around the table and across the tattered sofas would agree to be interviewed. They claimed the mainstream media has consistently failed to convey their points. “That’s mostly our experience in the past 10 or so months,” said one man in his early 20s. Pressed for specifics on what hadn’t been adequately reported, he directed TIME to their Facebook page.

Workers from nearby offices say they had grown used to the site’s presence and that tents had stood mostly empty until a recent resumption in interest. Bank analyst Ron Ha, 33, showed little sympathy for the Occupiers’ cause — but a similar lack of enthusiasm for any forced removal. “It’s a reality,” he says. “They have a point to protest and Hong Kong’s a free place; they should be free to do what they want.”

(LIST: The Top 10 Everything of 2011 — Occupy)

Plenty of theories are put forward to explain why Hong Kong’s camp has outlasted the others. Some see domestic politics as a factor, arguing that Hong Kong’s embattled leaders are unwilling to be drawn into the fray for fear of being seen as Beijing’s stooges in cracking down on dissent. Meanwhile, the site’s private ownership but designation as a public passageway has added complications over who is responsible for clearing it.

Then again, Occupy Central’s longevity might just come down to the relatively small number of invariably well-behaved protesters who have taken up residence. This point is amply illustrated on Sundays, when domestic helpers — predominantly Filipino and Indonesian — swamp the protesters, the plaza and other public spaces on their only weekly day off. Denied permanent residency even if they’ve been in the city the requisite (for other foreigners) seven years, and remitting most of their hard-earned income back to their families, they have more reason than most to protest the injustices of modern globalization. But these migrant workers seem oblivious to or unconcerned with the protesters in their midst as they spread out on mats to eat, chat and play cards. That’s lucky for the Occupiers. If a brigade of determined domestic helpers had any objection to sharing the space with Occupy Central, the protesters wouldn’t have stood a chance.

Joe Jackson is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @JoeJackson. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

MORE: What Is Occupy? Inside the Global Movement

21 comments
Alex Shapardanis
Alex Shapardanis

The last Occupy movement?  There are Occupy movements going on all over the world. There are Occupy movements just beginning today.  There are Occupy movements being planned for the future.  Is this really the kind of writing and research that is deemed accurate and publishable?  Someone got paid to write this nonsense?

manaen
manaen

What great news! 

Please, please, please -- promise that this actually is the last appearance of these clueless brats.

Goodbye, you puzzled-that-the-real-world-doesn't-conform-to-your-tortured-fantasies egoists! 

If you had any solutions, why didn't you offer them instead of your tantrums? 

Stop
Stop

The banks keep ripping off Americans, getting caught for laundering money for terrorist and drug cartels, stealing a billion, and the Justice department does nothing, or drops the investigations.

Americans deserve being ran by banks. People do nothing but cheer on the idea that America gets to vote for two banker paid shills, in Obama and Romney.

It's quite funny, considering all the years we got to hear, "we're free", "Americans would never stand for that". lol, kk.

Gary McCray
Gary McCray

Opening round.

Next time it will be war!

notlyku
notlyku

May God show no mercy on the 1%, as they begin they murderous campaign against humanity;

and let blame fall on those who enforce the unjust and illegal policies of these murderers.

Brian J Flanagan
Brian J Flanagan

We changed the national dialogue and gave political cover to the reformers and enforcers.

FDIC Sues Goldman, JPMorgan Over Mortgage-Backed Securities

http://buswk.co/UgfoEI

R_Cheves
R_Cheves

The "Occupiers" were not well behaved.  Nor did they respect those small businesses that they blocked.  They trashed the areas that the occupied.  They did not show respect for fellow human beings.  They should have been more civil instead of rapes, drugs, and leaving a trash pile behind them.  It was difficult to take their message seriously...though they did not seem to have a message...

Brian J Flanagan
Brian J Flanagan

Yeah, right. The 1% systematically raped the American public, defrauding millions of their homes, jobs, pensions and health insurance ... but we don't show respect for our fellow human beings.

Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain. ~Schiller

170 Economists Sign Statement In Support Of Occupy Wall Street

http://bit.ly/UggqjP

Anthony McMillan
Anthony McMillan

The movement made  a critical error in not parlaying thier momentum into a political movement. In that respect they should of followed the Tea Parties route and perhaps some of their mantra would of eventually made it to Congress. I believe this was a huge missed oppourtunity and now the movement will just die out with no policy changes to speak of.

Brian J Flanagan
Brian J Flanagan

Even the Tea Party told us not to follow their example, after they were co-opted by the right.

sgreco1970
sgreco1970

the tea party had an influx of billions by the insurance companies bent on winning the midterms, hoping to avoid Obamacare's detsruction of the insurance companies' fraud and abuse.

No one put a dime into the occupy movement.

Lonnie
Lonnie

They never had any coherent policies. They were a bunch of crybabies with no understanding of economics, business, or general reality.

Raymond Chuang
Raymond Chuang

You are absolutely correct. The fact the initial financial support for the  original Occupy Wall Street movement came from hard-Left political organizations didn't endear them to many people, either.

JS7
JS7

They understand general reality a lot better than you do.  Massive economic inequalities always end in starvation and violent revolution.  That's 5000 years of human history - or doesn't that count as "general reality" to you?

vstillwell
vstillwell

Spoken like a true baby boomer. No, they're waiting till you people start dying off. 

dot2dotnews
dot2dotnews

Russia Today gave everyday coverage of the "movement" in Western cities like NY, London and Hamburg. The news network even won an award I believe, yet here it is the last bastion of anti-capitalist protest on the door step of China, and not one peep from RT on the subject.

Ahra Ah
Ahra Ah

do ot expect the mainstream media to show any respect for the viewers , one must read between the lines and get the info necessary otherwise they are all the same and have their own agenda.