17 February 2019
Sunday's protest in Sha Tin was not the first in a shopping mall and may not be the last. Photo: Reuters
Sunday's protest in Sha Tin was not the first in a shopping mall and may not be the last. Photo: Reuters

Leung inaction could trigger an Occupy the Mall movement

Even the most naïve person would not regard the chaos that took place at New Town Plaza in Sha Tin on Sunday as an isolated case.

In fact, it was the continuation of similar chaos that broke out in Tuen Mun the week before, and both of these spontaneous actions, spearheaded by local residents, can be traced back to the “shopping parades” in Mong Kok, the Umbrella movement and even as far back as the protests at the beginning of last year against gray-goods traders and the individual visit scheme for mainlanders.

However, the protests in Sha Tin and Tuen Mun in the past two weeks were unparalleled in terms of their scale and the degree of ferocity.

In fact, they signaled the beginning of a new mode of “direct action” by Hongkongers, and the force they have unleashed is unstoppable.

What happened in Sha Tin was strongly reminiscent of the “shopping parades” that have been underway in Mong Kok for the past two months.

There was a strong police presence at every corner of the shopping mall to prevent chaos, and some shops even had to shut their doors.

Armed with prior intelligence, police took a lot of pre-emptive measures to keep things under control, such as arresting protest leaders beforehand and threatening social activists.

However, all these efforts proved in vain, as the protests in Sha Tin turned out to be well-organized and effective even without any conventional leadership.

It seems our fellow citizens have finally awoken to the fact that they can no longer count on hypocritical politicians.

Instead, they must rely on themselves and their own direct action.

Two relatively new concepts can explain the spontaneous outbursts in the past two weeks: “direct action” and “lone wolf pack action”.

These two new forms of social activism have already proven to be formidable and are poised to become the mainstream in the post-Occupy era.

The protest against parallel traders that took place in Tuen Mun was organized by Civic Passion in accordance with the law.

However, the organization took a back seat and let the “lone wolf pack” take center stage and escalate the action after the protest reached its finishing point outside Tuen Mun’s Trend Plaza.

Since the protest was officially over and what happened afterward was entirely spontaneous, leaders of Civic Passion could not be held legally accountable for the subsequent clashes.

The police could have banned the protest in Sha Tin if an application for permission to stage one had been submitted, but none was, it turned out.

Having learned from the Tuen Mun experience, the “lone wolf pack” was able to act spontaneously on its own in New Town Plaza.

The scene and the effect of the two actions, especially the one in Sha Tin, were stunning.

An online video clip showed that thousands of people who occupied the foyer of the four-storey shopping mall shouted slogans at the police like their counterparts in Mong Kok.

It is obvious that the mass resistance movement in Hong Kong has assumed a new form and hundreds of thousands of local residents are joining in.

From what I observed at New Town Plaza on Sunday, at least a thousand people took part in the protest.

And even though there was a heavy presence of police at the mall, they just couldn’t stop the crowd and had to resort to pepper spray in the end.

It shows that the police, no matter how intimidating they might be, still have their limitations when handling indoor protests, because the protesters are often mobile and elusive and can disperse and regroup within a short period of time.

Such protests will be even more difficult to tackle if they take place simultaneously in different shopping malls, and not even the People’s Liberation Army can handle that kind of situation!

Perhaps Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is the only high-ranking official who is not aware of the looming crisis.

In fact, he is already on vacation, and none of the senior officials in the administration cared to respond to the incident.

Most of our professional bureaucrats are just too lazy to reflect on these incidents and suggest precautionary measures.

It seems all Leung’s administration can do is assume things are back to normal and keep burying its head in the sand until the next outburst.

It doesn’t take an expert to figure out the only way to stem the tide of parallel traders is to stop issuing multiple-entry permits to mainlanders and cap the number of tourists from the mainland.

These measures are long overdue, and the people of Hong Kong are getting increasingly impatient.

Such measures might undermine some vested interests, but that is a necessary price to pay if the social stability of Hong Kong is to be maintained.

– Contact us at [email protected]


HKEJ columnist

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