22 October 2016
Democrats are making a mistake in not clearly distancing themselves from extremist localists before blaming poor governance by Leung Chun-ying (inset) for the Mong Kok clashes. Photos: Bloomberg, HKEJ
Democrats are making a mistake in not clearly distancing themselves from extremist localists before blaming poor governance by Leung Chun-ying (inset) for the Mong Kok clashes. Photos: Bloomberg, HKEJ

Why do democrats allow anti-democrats to benefit from clashes?

Who benefits from the violent street clashes seen in Mong Kok over the Lunar New Year?

The simple answer is that they were a gift to the otherwise beleaguered Hong Kong government and other opponents of democratic change.

It was most certainly of no benefit to the street vendors, who were the victims of a crackdown undertaken by clipboard-wielding bureaucrats who decided that Chinese New Year was no longer a time to turn a blind eye to vendors making modest sales to people on the streets, even though there has been a tradition of doing just this.

The violence also included attacks on the media, whose job it is to present a clear picture of events, regardless of whether they show those making those events in a good light.

So, this was definitely a bad day for freedom of expression, especially since among the attackers were people who claim to be upholding Hong Kong values.

Thirdly, the violence represents a damaging setback to the cause of the people who are fighting to preserve Hong Kong’s freedoms and striving to bring about representative government.

The dimwits who think that confrontations of this kind are the only way forward and claim to be part of the democratic movement have succeeded in tarring the wider democratic movement with an impression that it lacks respect for the law and embraces violence.

All this is music to the ears of the pro-Beijing forces who are avidly promoting a narrative that portrays democratic government as a recipe for chaos.

They use events like this to claim that those who dare to argue for representative government have a secret violent agenda, allegedly supported by mysterious foreign forces.

The fact that this is nonsense and that more than a year after the end of the Occupy protests the promised “irrefutable evidence” of outside intervention and manipulation has failed to materialize is now overshadowed by the reckless activity of this small number of hyperactive protesters.

The core democratic movement had nothing to do with these protests, but its leaders have failed, and failed miserably, to establish a strong wall separating themselves from these irresponsible people.

Yes, I know they have condemned the violence, but they hedged around their condemnation with qualifications.

This is plain stupid, because what was needed was a clear-cut and vigorous affirmation that these people are not part of the democratic movement and that the movement refuses to associate itself with violence.

The reason this was not made clear lies in the mistaken belief that it is necessary to locate what happened in the context of the deterioration of good governance under the hated Leung Chun-ying.

This is a perfectly valid intellectual point of view, but right after the violent clashes was not the time to make this point.

To the ears of most Hong Kong people, it sounded like a justification for the unjustifiable.

We live in a law-abiding society, a state of affairs much valued by its citizens, who do not take kindly to attacks on the forces of law and order and have a strong folk memory of what happens when violence rules the streets.

This raises the suspicion that some of those responsible for these extremist actions are in fact agents provocateurs — in other words, people knowingly or otherwise in the pay of pro-Beijing elements that savor violent confrontation because they know who will emerge as the winners in this situation.

This is a serious allegation, and it needs to be stressed that there is no concrete evidence to support it.

However, the circumstantial evidence is strong, not least because the agent provocateur tactic has long been used by the Communist Party to great effect.

Only the very naïve will not have noticed that the Leung administration relishes confrontation and is not shy of moves that ensure that confrontation will erupt; therefore it reacts gleefully when its provocation produces the desired result, anywhere from the Legislative Council to the universities to the streets.

The urgent task for the mainstream democratic movement is to wise up and make it crystal clear that it has nothing to do with the irresponsible elements who take protest to unacceptable levels.

As matters stand, the democrats are backed by either a majority or at the very least by a substantial proportion of Hongkongers. 

That level of support can no longer be taken for granted.

But support can be frittered away at great speed.

The real problem is that far too many democrats refuse to understand this danger.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author

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