19 January 2019
A pro-democracy protester reacts while watching police remove barricades on Queensway in Hong Kong's Admiralty district. Photo: Bloomberg
A pro-democracy protester reacts while watching police remove barricades on Queensway in Hong Kong's Admiralty district. Photo: Bloomberg

Student protesters: Time to rethink strategy

TVB was the first to bring to light the incident of seven policemen brutally beating up pro-democracy activist Ken Tsang in a dark corner of Tamar Park last Wednesday.

For years the free-to-air Hong Kong broadcaster has often been referred to as CCTVB (in a sarcastic analogy to China Central Television, or CCTV, the Communist Party’s propaganda machine) due to its pro-government stance in news reporting. Now, the reason why the four-minute clip of the police assault on Tsang went without editing initially was because it was aired during a live TV broadcast.

The voice-over by an on-the-scene TVB journalist on that exclusive footage (“the activist is kicked and hit by the police”) was later removed during subsequent broadcasts. It’s apparent that some TVB controllers wanted to gloss over the scandal.

Twenty-seven frontline TVB reporters and anchors issued a joint petition later that day, accusing the management of political censorship. I’m concerned that in the future, content of any live broadcast will also be prescreened by the TVB management, a move that will deal another crippling blow to Hong Kong’s press freedom.

The incident is on top of the police’s excessive use of tear gas and other force on students as well as the widespread allegation that the police colluded with triads in chaotic Mong Kok brawls against protestors. I hope authorities will investigate promptly and impartially and bring the offenders to justice. Otherwise I’m afraid the police’s hard-won reputation will be in peril.

It’s also noteworthy that besides accusing some “evil overseas powers”, Beijing has also lashed out at a number of Taiwanese politicians for their meddling in Hong Kong’s political development. A spokeswoman for the Chinese State Council’s Taiwan Affairs Office accused them of stirring up strife in Hong Kong and pushing Taiwan further from the mainland.

Of course, Beijing is always hostile towards pro-independence organizations and entities like the Democratic Progressive Party and organizers of the Sunflower Movement in Taiwan, many of whom have voiced out their strong support for Hong Kong students.

Yet, there are fresh concerns as Taiwanese President Ma Ying-jeou has also called on China to move toward democracy and reiterated his support for Hong Kong in his speech marking Taiwan’s National Day Celebrations. Ma stressed that Beijing should use Hong Kong as a showcase for the future of cross-strait relations based on democracy and freedom.

Taiwan’s leader has been quoted as saying that “thirty years ago Deng Xiaoping famously proposed letting some people get rich first, so why couldn’t they do the same thing in Hong Kong and let some people go democratic first?” Ma is not pro-independent but when virtually all politicians across Taiwan’s political spectrum have expressed common solidarity with Hong Kong, Beijing is caught in a truly embarrassing position.

Senior Communist officials, including vice premier Wang Yang and Chen Zuoer, former deputy director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, have both labeled the Hong Kong protest as a color revolution. Meanwhile, resentment from residents and shopkeepers in protest-hit districts is about to reach a boiling point. These are unavoidable consequences of a prolonged protest.

I wonder if it’s perhaps time now for the trio of Occupy Central organizers (Benny Tai, Chu Yiu-ming and Chan Kin-man) to call off the movement given the fact that local police have started to use a higher level of force after Beijing made its viewpoint clear on the “color revolution”. The police’s stronger effort was evident in the operation last week that forcibly cleared the Tamar section of Lung Wo Road, a major east-west bound thoroughfare occupied by students. Bringing the movement to a pause may be the only way to cool off surging public wrangles. 

Physical and mental strength of the students, who joined the protests following calls by Scholarism and the Hong Kong Federation of Students to boycott classes and occupy streets, is also wearing out. It’s about the time to turn the street protest into a long quest for democracy with sustained efforts.

It has been reported that a well-respected middleman has been liaising with students on the issue of talks with government officials this week. I urge student groups to seize the chance as the government has showed a gesture of goodwill –- goodwill amid Beijing’s political judgment of a “color revolution” and the stepped-up use of force by the police. Student leaders should ponder the matter and realize that a temporary pullback from protest zones to conserve strength is a rational option.

Many think that in the aftermath of the umbrella movement, some senior officials within the SAR government as well as the Security Bureau will be removed from their posts as a means to quell the public anger. Replacing Leung Chun-ying with someone who can show genuine empathy for the people of Hong Kong is the only solution. Yet sadly, given Beijing’s stubbornness, a new chief executive is still unlikely.

Hongkongers won’t be satisfied with sham universal suffrage as many of them know what real democracy looks like, but Beijing is uneasy with the fear that once Hongkongers are granted a free vote, people in the mainland will also demand the same right, which is completely at odds with Beijing’s bottom line of one-party dictatorship.

An urgent mission for the SAR government is to mend the territory’s relations with the mainland, which have deteriorated over the past year due to a string of incidents.

But I don’t think Leung is qualified for the task. Quite the contrary, the actions he took since taking office have done nothing to foster sound and mutually-respected ties with the mainland.

This is a translation of Mr. Lam Hang-chi’s commentary that appeared in the Oct. 16 issue of the Hong Kong Economic Journal.

Translated by Frank Chen

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Police officers confront demonstrators on Nathan Road in Mong Kok. Photo: Bloomberg

Police officers in riot gear try to beat back demonstrators holding umbrellas. Photo: Bloomberg

A famous Hong Kong writer; founder of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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