26 February 2020
Acts of vandalism and destruction of shops belonging to pro-establishment business people won't really further the protesters' cause, the author says. Photo: China Daily
Acts of vandalism and destruction of shops belonging to pro-establishment business people won't really further the protesters' cause, the author says. Photo: China Daily

Why vandalism acts won’t help the protest movement

Hongkongers would remember that the New Year’s Day demonstration organized by the Civil Human Rights Front was brought to a sudden halt on the orders of the police after some properties in Wanchai were vandalized by protesters.

There have been some allegations that the vandalism may have been carried out by undercover police officers posing as protesters, so as to create an excuse for the law enforcement to stop the march.

Depending on who you ask, the allegations may be well-founded or they could just represent false rumors. Whatever be the truth, we come to an important underlying issue: should protesters resort to vandalism and destruction of shops as a means of resistance?

Personally, I am not in favor of acts of vandalism, and would like to take this opportunity to explain why these types of destructive actions aren’t worth it from the lens of “cost-effectiveness”.

To begin with, the goal of vandalizing the so-called “Blue stores” (i.e. restaurants or retail outlets owned by pro-establishment business people or state-owned companies), apart from venting the anger, is purportedly aimed at inflicting losses on the enterprises.

By making them sustain “heavy losses”, through lost business or service suspension or through costly repair works, protesters may hope that the pro-establishment businesses would stop “suppressing” the resistance movement and start changing their political stance after weighing the upside against the downside.

Yet the question is, will such plan really work?

My answer is in the negative. It is because, as media reports have pointed out, the outlets or stores that were vandalized during the New Year’s Day rally were mostly either the local offices of Chinese state-owned insurance companies or branches of global banking titan HSBC.

That begs the question: apart from the symbolic meaning, would the small acts of vandalism have any material effect or inflict serious damage to these giant multinational corporations? The answer is obvious.

Compared to their billions of dollars in annual profits, the cost of repairing the vandalized branches would be just peanuts for these big companies.

Also, it is worth pointing out that the protesters themselves will incur an extremely high cost by vandalizing the so-called “blue stores”.

Let’s now take HSBC as an example. Following the attacks on its branches, ws can say that the real victims are definitely not the bank itself, but rather, its clients.

If the affected clients share the ideals of the resistance movement, they may understand and be fine with the brief inconvenience to which they are subjected as a result of the protests.

However, if the clients are either centrist or leaning towards the establishment, the so-called “light-yellow” or “light-blue” camps respectively, the destruction of “Blue stores” by protesters may alienate the citizens and push them towards the opposite side of the movement.

If the second scenario comes about, it will definitely work against the resistance movement at a time when most protesters agree that the anti-government push will be a long drawn-out war.

Besides, based on the degree of harshness at which the police is now enforcing the law, any protester who is caught vandalizing property is likely to be charged with rioting, an offense that is punishable by up to 10 years in jail.

As far as protesters are concerned, I believe it is absolutely not worth for them to resort to property destruction, given that the vandalism at best will cause just a minor hiccup for the big companies.

That said, given the fact that many “blue companies” have been forced to clarify their political stance to avoid being targeted by protesters, and as government officials continue to bombard the “yellow economic circles” (economic activities and services dominated by pro-democracy businesses) with criticism, there is no doubt that the business sector is under mounting pressure.

As such, I believe the direction protesters should take is this: stop vandalizing “blue stores”, and instead try putting pressure on pro-establishment businesses through market tactics.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 8

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ contributor