21 October 2016
The government considers the 1967 riots (left), in which more than 50 people were killed, as mere disturbances but spouts the harshest condemnation of the Mong Kok clashes. Photos:, Reuters
The government considers the 1967 riots (left), in which more than 50 people were killed, as mere disturbances but spouts the harshest condemnation of the Mong Kok clashes. Photos:, Reuters

Why government rejected independent probe into Mong Kok clashes

Pro-Beijing propaganda continues to play up last week’s clashes in Mong Kok as a threat to Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity.

But the government has refused to accept its own responsibility for indirectly triggering such violence in the streets.

Authorities were quick to describe the Mong Kok clashes as riots, prompting many Hong Kong people to compare them with 1967 riots by radical Communist loyalists opposed to the British rule.

But the Mong Kok clashes simply pale in comparison to the 1967 riots, in which more than 50 people were killed and hundreds injured.

Meanwhile, the pro-establishment camp has pursued its attacks on the Mong Kok protesters, calling them “radical separatists” and “not human beings”, as if their actions have replaced the 1967 riots as the worst form of social disorder in Hong Kong history.

But the government quickly shut the door to the creation of an independent commission to look into the Mong Kok clashes as proposed by a group of scholars and professionals on Sunday.

More than 1,500 people have signed their names to the petition for the creation of an independent probe to be led by a judge.

In its statement, the government said Hong Kong society is open and transparent, with a high degree of democracy, and citizens can express their views in so many ways.

It stressed that no one should express their demands through illegal and violent means.

The government wants the investigation to be limited to a review of the police response during the clashes, as well as the officers’ gear, tactics and communication systems.

But what is most interesting in the government statement is how it seems to have redefined the 1967 riots by radical Beijing loyalists.

The statement says: “It noted that following the disturbances in Hong Kong in the 1960s, a commission of inquiry was set up by the government at the time. But the Government considers it inappropriate to make direct comparisons between the incident and the Mong Kok riot.”

Readers should note that the government used “disturbances” to describe the 1967 riots, while using “riots” to describe the Mong Kok clashes.

That’s a clear indication of the government’s view that the Mong Kok clashes are much worse than the 1967 riots.

It’s true that the 1967 riots cannot be compared with the 2016 Mong Kok clashes.

The old riots were instigated by the Communist Party as part of the Cultural Revolution, while the protesters behind the Mong Kok clashes had no significant political force behind them.

The only political organization being blamed by the government in the recent incidents is Hong Kong Indigenous, a small radical localist group with less than 100 members.

Let’s take a quick look at the facts.

The leftist riots lasted for more than half a year from May to December 1967, in which at least 52 people were killed, including Lam Bun, the outspoken Commercial Radio broadcaster, and nearly 2,000 people, mostly Beijing loyalists, were arrested.

The riots, which started as a minor labor dispute, developed into large-scale demonstrations against the British colonial rule.

The protesters followed the style of Mao Zedong’s Red Guards, carrying Little Red Books and aping their radical tactics. They clashed with Hong Kong police and planted bombs in the streets, killing many.

The riots eventually faded out and Beijing officials finally ordered the leftists to stop.

If the government insists on calling the 1967 riots as mere disturbances, then it has no reason to play up the Mong Kok clashes as riots as these incidents are a far cry from the scale of havoc, violence and destruction committed by the leftists in 1967.

At the same time, the government apparently wants to depict the Mong Kok clashes as a mindless exercise of violence by mostly unemployed youngsters who do not represent the majority of Hong Kong people.

Many people who do not have any clear political stance would naturally side with the authorities in condemning the demonstrators for their illegal actions. They would never think about the reasons behind the protests, why they became disillusioned and resorted to violence.

But it is the government’s responsibility to look deeper into the incident, to find out why these youngsters are angry and unemployed, instead of just blaming them for their illegal actions.

Of course, this is a more difficult and painful way of looking at the issue. It would look into the youth’s grievances which could be traced to the Occupy Movement of 2014.

It would touch on Beijing’s implementation of the “one country, two systems” principle, genuine universal suffrage for the election of the next chief executive in 2017, Hong Kong’s loss of its uniqueness as a city and its deepening integration with the mainland, and a host of other thorny issues that the government would rather set aside.

And so the government has found it more convenient to just file charges against them and send them to court to settle the matter.

And yet the substantial issues behind the youth’s grievances will never go away. They will continue to fester.

During the British colonial rule, the government implemented policies on free education, social welfare and anti-corruption that have contributed to social stability and served society well up to this day. 

Beijing and local authorities should think about what they have done for a better governance of Hong Kong.

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EJ Insight writer

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