Date
12 November 2019
Demonstrators disperse after tear gas is fired by police in Hong Kong’s Admiralty area on Monday. The anti-government protests that started two months ago following an extradition bill controversy show no signs of abating. Photo: Reuters
Demonstrators disperse after tear gas is fired by police in Hong Kong’s Admiralty area on Monday. The anti-government protests that started two months ago following an extradition bill controversy show no signs of abating. Photo: Reuters

Restraint needed on all sides

On Tuesday, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of China’s State Council held a press briefing to discuss the situation in Hong Kong, At the event in Beijing, spokesperson Yang Guang adopted a much stronger tone against the Hong Kong protesters and the “behind-the-scenes masterminds”, compared to comments made by the same agency in a similar briefing a week ago.

Yang sternly warned that “those who play with fire will perish by it”, and added that “at the end of the day, they will eventually be punished.”

Meanwhile, Yang also reiterated the central authorities’ “resolute” and unwavering support for Hong Kong’s embattled leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, and said that a conspiracy of the opposition to remove her from office is doomed to failure.

In other comments, the Beijing spokesperson lashed out at the protesters for chanting the slogan “Liberate Hong Kong; revolution of our times”, warning that the slogan goes after the “one country” in the “one country, two systems” principle.

Yang’s rhetoric was in line with a statement issued by former Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa wherein he strongly criticized “violent protesters and their supporters” for disrupting public transport and social order in Hong Kong, and for what he described as attempts to hijack the citizens in order to paralyze the Hong Kong government and coerce Beijing.

The accusations made by Yang and Tung, who currently serves as a vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, a top Chinese political advisory body, automatically beg the question: are the anti-extradition bill protesters really attempting to topple “one country”?

Lawmaker Claudia Mo Man-ching, convener of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp, has argued that the slogan “Liberate Hong Kong; revolution of our times” does not challenge “one country”, but instead seeks to convey a message of people’s opposition to violence and triads, and also that Beijing should deliver on its promise of allowing Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy.

Amid the current fraught situation, there is no doubt that violence committed by some protesters and their increasingly radical moves, such as defacing the national emblem of China and insulting the national flag, would prompt some people to wonder what the protesters are really after.

Assuming that Mo’s explanation paints, to a certain degree, a correct picture of the mindset and motives of the protesters, we believe what the protesters should do right now is to keep things in perspective and re-focus their attention on the extradition bill issues.

They should demand accountability among the city’s top officials for their handling of the matter, rather than escalate the campaign into other issues or indulge in violence.

As for the central authorities and the Hong Kong government, if they really want to resolve the ongoing disputes and crisis, they should also avoid elevating the social conflicts in Hong Kong to the level of a national sovereignty issue.

Unless both sides exercise restraint, the conflicts and divisions within society will only continue.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 7

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal