Date
12 November 2019
Demonstrators stand behind barricades, surrounded by tear gas, during a protest in Hong Kong. Authorities haven't ruled out the prospect of declaring an emergency to quell the unrest. Photo: Reuters
Demonstrators stand behind barricades, surrounded by tear gas, during a protest in Hong Kong. Authorities haven't ruled out the prospect of declaring an emergency to quell the unrest. Photo: Reuters

Why govt should not invoke emergency powers

There has been talk among some political figures that the government should consider invoking the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, a law that dates back to 1922, to put down the ongoing social unrest in Hong Kong.

During a media session on Tuesday prior to an Executive Council meeting, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor didn’t rule out the possibility of invoking the colonial-era law, as she said the administration has a duty to examine all means available to end the violence and chaos in the city.

Well, resorting to tough laws and emergency powers may restore social stability in the short run.

However, it will not do any good to Hong Kong and its prospects in the long run.

It is because invoking the emergency law is almost tantamount to imposing martial law across the territory. It may deter some protesters, but it will seriously affect law-abiding citizens and foreign investors.

Under the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, the administration can invoke sweeping emergency powers and ban all demonstrations and protests.

But the danger in that approach is that could provoke a fierce backlash among the public and spark another round of even more ferocious resistance movement. Also, one should ponder the potential impact on normal social activities.

We believe the government cannot afford to underestimate the ramifications of invoking the emergency law.

For example, under the ordinance, authorities are given the power to shut down internet and mobile phone services in order to prevent protesters from communicating with one another.

The problem is, millions of average citizens and business owners will also be at the receiving end of the extreme measure.

Shutting down the internet and telecoms network has been a tactic deployed by some third world countries to quell unrest over the years.

But for an international financial hub like Hong Kong to adopt the same measure, it would be a disaster.

We believe that as things stand now, the Hong Kong situation is still far from a point where invoking the Emergency Regulations Ordinance is deemed the only viable option to bring calm to society.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 28

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal