This spring, when laborers at Hong Kong International Terminals, a major container port operator, went on strike to demand better pay, a small army of
young volunteers collected donations, many from middle class office workers. These funds enabled the strike to last 40 days, during which neighboring
Shenzhen's ports began to attract cargo that would have normally gone to Hong Kong. The end result was a 9.8 percent raise for dock workers -- short of
their goal, but a moral victory nonetheless -- corporations with operations in Hong Kong certainly took notice of the strike's strong grassroots
organization and effectiveness.
Should Occupy Central disrupt business activity in downtown Hong Kong next summer, it is difficult to predict the economic consequences. But the potential
for the local economy to take its biggest hit since the SARS epidemic of 2003 does exist.
Regina Ip, a former security secretary for Hong Kong who is currently a legislator, member of CY Leung's cabinet, and chairwoman of the pro-Beijing New People's Party, said that Occupy Central, were it to occur, would be "highly destabilizing and damaging to
business confidence" in Hong Kong.
"I've already received quite a lot of expressions of concerns from the business community, whether local or foreign investors," she said. "I do hope the
government will be able to unveil its consultation proposals early next year so it can engage the different stakeholders actively."
Ip said she agreed with recent comments by property tycoon Ronnie Chan, who suggested that regional economic rival Singapore might end up the big winner if
Occupy Central does take place.
"I read a U.S. geopolitical analysis which said that increasing antagonism between Hong Kong and China and the rising wave of nativism is already affecting
Hong Kong's appeal to outside investors," Ip said. "And Singapore has always been targeting our business. They also want to be a premier international
financial center -- so I think Ronnie Chan has a point."
It does seem that if the impasse over universal suffrage is not remedied within the coming year, both Hong Kong and Beijing could end up losers. A
sustained disruptive event in Hong Kong would have significant economic and political ramifications at the very least. A detente in which Beijing and Hong
Kong's chief executive -- which may or may not be Leung, as he looks increasingly unlikely to last another year at the helm -- provide the universal suffrage
that Hong Kongers have been waiting for, could neatly eliminate the problems posed by Occupy Central.
"In a nutshell, the appropriate electoral system for Hong Kong, whether for electing the chief executive or the legislature, cannot be decided by mass
protests," Ip said. "We need consultation and consensus between the different parties in LegCo."