The violent scenes at New Town Plaza in Sha Tin on Sunday night were definitely horrifying and distressing, and have raised widespread concerns that the emotions of both protesters and police might already have spun out of control.
Many are worried that if left unaddressed, the situation might result in even more severe clashes in the coming days.
Unfortunately, considering that none of the five demands put forward by protesters to the government has been properly addressed, one can see no end in sight for the raging saga over the extradition bill.
It is said that a number of mainland “envoys” have arrived in Hong Kong recently in order to understand the latest developments.
According to a number of those who have talked with them, the mainland “envoys” said in no uncertain terms that asking Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to step down is definitely off the table – the central authorities will never allow it.
Even so, these people from the mainland appear highly concerned about the views of young people in the city.
They have also sought opinions about the call for the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry and asked about the rationale behind the idea.
Since clashes over the now-suspended extradition bill broke out on June 12, during which the police allegedly used excessive force against the protesters, the SAR government has repeatedly rejected the idea of establishing an independent commission of inquiry, largely due to fierce opposition from the police force, whose morale may be affected if the proposal is accepted.
The government has insisted that no matter how broad the scope of the investigation might be, it is the police that will inevitably be the target.
The problem is, the more the government appears defiant amid mounting calls for an independent inquiry, the stronger the grievances in society may get.
Consequently, the protesters are more likely to divert their frustrations and anger to frontline police officers in the coming days.
All that the government’s refusal to yield to public clamor does is drive a deeper wedge between the police and the people, thereby dealing an even more shattering blow to police morale in the long run.
A figure in the pro-establishment camp has told us in private that the administration’s unwillingness to budge an inch over the issue is apparently not due to any order from Beijing.
Even pro-Beijing heavyweight David Lie, an incumbent Hong Kong delegate to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, has recently published a newspaper article favoring the setting up of an independent commission of inquiry.
As such, the pro-establishment figure believes, the final word on whether to conduct an independent inquiry still rests with the government, at least for now.
In our opinion, the government can first appoint a highly regarded public figure to chair the commission, and then formulate the scope of the probe, so as to ensure fairness and impartiality, as well as to provide reassurance for the police.
Only by doing so can the police be truly vindicated and public grievances addressed.
On the other hand, if the government still naively believes that an investigation spearheaded by the Independent Police Complaints Council alone would be enough to meet protesters’ demands, the situation will only go from bad to worse, and all we can do is to wait for the other shoe to drop.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 16
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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