20 January 2019
Police officers try to control the crowds during a protest against mainland parallel traders in Yuen Long on Sunday. Photo: Reuters
Police officers try to control the crowds during a protest against mainland parallel traders in Yuen Long on Sunday. Photo: Reuters

An uprising is within sight

A couple of weeks ago, in my article Occupation of Shopping Malls Will Come Soon, I pointed out that it will only be a matter of time before the government abolishes multiple-entry permits and caps the number of mainland visitors under the Individual Visit Scheme.

Dictators are never willing to listen to public opinion and won’t tolerate any challenge to their absolute authority. History shows that the only thing that can make them feel scared is the people’s uprising.

The anti-parallel trade protest that took place in Yuen Long on Sunday showed some signs of an uprising. In fact, it may not be an exaggeration to say that the uprising has already begun.

As we saw on television, a supposedly small-scale protest turned into an eight-hour-long riot, during which protestors showed no signs of fear even when confronting hundreds of police officers and the notoriously fierce indigenous people and gangsters of Yuen Long.

Even though protesters were brutally suppressed and 38 people were arrested, it is obvious that even a strong police presence could not deter citizens from taking part in the protests. Another mass action is expected this Sunday.

I describe Sunday’s protest in Yuen Long as an uprising because the participants didn’t stick to any “screenplay” as most protesters did in similar mass actions in the past.

It’s common practice for organizers to coordinate with the police before launching their protest to make sure no untoward incidents happen.

However, what happened in Yuen Long a few days ago was that protesters just acted spontaneously according to circumstances; there was no established chain of command.

The two leading organizations, the Civic Passion and the HK Indigenous, hastily wrapped up the protest around 5:00 p.m, allowing individual protesters to take center stage.

For the next six hours, protesters rampaged through the streets of Yuen Long and the police simply lost their grip; many shops had to shut down temporarily for fear of being ransacked. It was no longer a protest in the traditional sense. That’s why I call it an uprising.

As I have mentioned before, future social movements are likely to be dominated by “direct actions” and “lone wolf actions”. There are already a lot of foreign studies on this subject, and even counter-terrorism experts in the United States appear to be quite helpless in dealing with these “lone wolves”, let alone the Hong Kong police, which has no experience in counter-terrorism at all.

In fact, police, in order to intimidate and discourage the protesters, merely resorted to arrests, particularly of the leaders.

However, such measures proved ineffective in preventing “lone wolves” from acting on their own.

Hong Kong is a society that embraces the rule of law, and both China and Hong Kong are signatories to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Most of those arrested were released unconditionally afterwards because police simply didn’t have enough evidence to press charges.

For seasoned protestors who have been arrested and released several times, arrests can no longer serve as a deterrent.

From my observation, I can tell that “lone wolves” have picked up effective techniques in dealing with the police.

It seems that “lone wolves” have come of age and are escalating their actions. A full-scale uprising is already in the making.

On the other hand, the unprogressive, hypocritical and complacent old-school social movement leaders and commentators have become outdated. They have lost touch with the public sentiment, and they are going to pay the price for their insensitivity and indifference.

The “lone wolves” have no connection with the traditional pan-democrats, who not only have tried to distance themselves from them, but also often label them as “discriminatory” or even “uncivilized”.

As the anti-parallel trade movement is quickly gathering momentum and is beginning to have far-reaching implications on our society, the pan-democrats, who have given up the opportunity to lead the protesters, will find themselves losing many of their supporters.

And if the pan-democrats continue to shrug off these “lone wolves”, they are likely to face the consequences of being abandoned by voters in the next election.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 3.

Translation by Alan Lee

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HKEJ columnist

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