20 January 2020
People gather outside the Legco complex while it was being stormed by some radical protesters on Monday night. The July 1 incident may prompt Beijing to further seek a tighter grip on Hong Kong. Photo: Reuters
People gather outside the Legco complex while it was being stormed by some radical protesters on Monday night. The July 1 incident may prompt Beijing to further seek a tighter grip on Hong Kong. Photo: Reuters

Why the Legco break-in changes the game

The government’s ill-advised plan to amend the extradition law triggered three large-scale protest marches in the city in the past month. While all the three rallies were peaceful and orderly, and won praise from the international community, the storming of the Legislative Council complex by some radical protesters on July 1, and the subsequent vandalizing acts, have now put things out of gear.

Since the start of the anti-extradition bill campaign, pro-democracy lawmakers and the clergy would often stand between protesters and the police serving as “human buffer” in order to prevent bloody clashes.

This approach often worked, albeit to a certain extent, until Monday when pan-democrat lawmakers were basically shouted down and pushed over when they were trying to mediate between the police and rowdy protesters.

The lawmakers found themselves unable to stop protesters from smashing the glass walls of the Legco building and forcing their way into the complex at night.

Speaking of their failure to prevent the protest from spinning out of control, some pan-dems admitted that there was nothing much they could do to persuade young protesters to exercise restraint, even as they tried their best to prevent the escalation of violence.

In the meantime, a pro-establishment figure has said the storming of the Legco building on Monday night came as no surprise, as the pan-dems simply didn’t have a grip on the situation right from the start.

Although the mainstream public opinion does not condone radical acts or vandalism, some of the citizens who took part in the annual July 1 rally said they can understand why young protesters are turning increasingly violent.

It is because, they explained, despite mounting calls in society for total withdrawal of the extradition bill and for an independent commission of inquiry to look into the June 12 police action on protesters, the government has remained defiant and refused to budge.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had pledged to listen more to public views, but people are not convinced about her sincerity as she had uttered similar words many times in the past.

As far as the government’s vow to adopt a more open and accommodating governance style is concerned, people generally don’t have much expectation about that either.

Recently, rumors have been circulating among the political circles that some high-ranking officials might be held accountable for the extradition bill fiasco and asked to step down after July 1.

The prevailing view among members of the pro-establishment camp is that Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah should probably take the biggest responsibility for the debacle.

That said, the storming and occupation of the Legco building by protesters on Monday may now set things on a different course, and it remains to be seen how the whole saga is going to play out.

Pro-establishment figures have noted that the political firestorm over the extradition bill shows that distrust and fear against the mainland among Hong Kong people remains very strong even though 22 years have passed since the city returned to Chinese rule.

Given the current situation, Beijing may seek to further tighten its grip on Hong Kong affairs in the coming days, and also direct efforts towards education and propaganda to promote patriotic sentiments.

Yet the problem is such efforts may not succeed, and may actually prove counter-productive. One should bear in mind that Beijing had been tightening its policy on Hong Kong over the past decade or so, only to witness a growing backlash among the local people.

If central authorities are determined to further toughen their stance on Hong Kong as a result of the anti-extradition bill movement, it may only make winning over people’s hearts that much harder.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 2

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.