發起人民的檢討 | Initiating a People’s Review
約翰百德 (John BATTEN)
at 9:43am on 26th July 2019
Legislator Hui Chi-fung acting as intermediary to placate police from advancing on protesters, outside Shun Tak Centre, Sheung Wan, 21 July 2019. Photo: John Batten
(Please scroll down for English version)
Initiating a People’s Review
by John Batten
Over the last two months the police have been the only arm of Hong Kong’s government that is, literally, in contact with the protesters who have marched against the ill-fated, now shelved, extradition legislation that triggered these protests. The protesters’ grievances have now escalated into a myriad of other issues, including against the police, but particularly against the continuing inaction of Carrie Lam and her ministers – the whole government – to actively deal with our current political crisis. The government is following instructions from the Liaison Office not to communicate with protesters or the public. This tactic, as previously seen during the Umbrella protests, is a simple waiting game: waiting for the protesters to tire; waiting for the numbers of people attending marches and rallies to subside; waiting for the public to be angry and angrier of closed roads and other daily disruptions. But, as I write, waiting is no longer an option.
The events of 21 July 2019 have already changed the course of the crisis. In the late afternoon, the defacing of the Chinese national emblem by masked ‘hardcore’ protesters at the Liaison Office recalls the splattering of Mao’s portrait in Tiananmen Square in 1989. There is anger and emotion and then there is smart strategizing. Demonstrating outside the Liaison Office is acceptable to air points of view, but vandalism of the symbols of national sovereignty is mindless provocation. There is no upside and any similar future action would be playing with fire. That ‘fire’ could include the intervention of mainland security forces in Hong Kong. If that were to happen it would be a fundamental, detrimental shift of the ‘one country, two systems’ basis on which Hong Kong justifies its autonomy, and its ability to independently deal with domestic issues. Any mainland security intervention would be a disaster for Hong Kong: the city’s rule of law would immediately be suspended; street demonstrations and many of Hong Kong’s core freedoms, including of assembly and expression, would be suspended. The Hong Kong government would be reduced to puppet status and Hong Kong’s economy would spiral downwards. After such an intervention, how could Hong Kong easily reinstate its institutions, regain its autonomy and rebuild its reputation as a stable international business city and safe place?
Hong Kong’s middle-of-the-road protesters, politicians and the government itself, should ensure in the coming weeks that future protests don’t again demean the Central government’s offices in Hong Kong. If necessary, stand between the hardcore protesters and sensitive mainland targets.
Later that day, in Yuen Long, after 9pm, white-shirted triad thugs indiscriminately and savagely attacked innocent bystanders, but supposedly targeted people thought to be protesters coming from the day’s earlier march in Hong Kong. Yuen Long’s Yoho shopping mall, the Yuen Long MTR station and inside a train saw unprecedented scenes of violence. Triad violence is historically restricted within gang, criminal and triad’s own circles, or towards anyone crossing into their world (e.g. owing money to a loan shark), it never extends into the general population. So, the violence seen in Yuen Long can be interpreted variously: as support for the government; anger that the protests have disrupted lucrative cross-border trade in Yuen Long and Sheung Shui controlled by triads and that rely on mainland visitors. Or, as has been strongly suggested, the thugs were paid (with some coming from across the border) to engender an atmosphere of fear, including intimidating people not to join protest marches against the government.
The police have been at the brunt of the protests. They are the meat in the sandwich – falling between passionate protesters and an inert government. However, now they are also a target of great grievances. Since the start of the protests, their policing strategy and use of tear gas, rubber bullets and pepper spray have, legitimately, been questioned. Their storming of Shatin’s New Town Plaza to chase and confront protesters who had surrounded their police colleagues was more ill-disciplined vengeance than any rational keeping of the peace. Their actions beg the question: is this overly aggressive policing or incompetence? Then, despite 24,000 emergency calls over a three-hour period made by the public requesting assistance, the police were unavailable to confront the Yuen Long thugs – eventually the police did attend, but only after all the thugs had fled. Days later, despite lots of CCTV and smartphone footage to identify the culprits, only a few ‘small potato’ thugs had been detained for “unlawful assembly”. The public then demanded to know what links the police have with these triad thugs. Fair question. Answers could only be forthcoming in an enquiry into police operations during the protests. However, the government is incapable, due to weakness and/or unwillingness, to initiate this. It is not the role of the police to take the brunt of protesters’ political anger – the police, too, need sensitive consideration.
We are in a political crisis. If the city is not careful, circumstances will unravel and take control. If the government can’t or won’t investigate the grievances at the root of the protests, then, at least, let’s begin a self-initiated People’s Review – to discuss democracy, universal suffrage for the Legislative Council elections in 2020; and look at the wrongs of the last weeks: calling witnesses, review videos, look for solutions. Is there a leader in the pro-democracy camp to kick-start such a review - or something, anything, similar? Leaving things to fate – or, government inaction – allows the crisis to continue, until it crashes.
This opinion piece was originally published in Ming Pao Weekly on 2 August 2019. Translated into Chinese from the English by Aulina Chan.