When will our leader in hiding face the people?

July 18, 2019 09:01
Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam is struggling to find a way out of the political crisis triggered by her now-suspended extradition bill. Photo: Reuters

What's Beijing to do? Hong Kong people have found a way to slip through its tightening grip. They’re now doing it week after week with increasing defiance at a place and time of their choosing for the world to see. It must be galling for Beijing that the protesters are even waving colonial-era and American flags.

It’s an open secret Beijing is seething over being humiliated by a city that is, after all, a part of China. What’s even more infuriating is a leader it anointed is the cause of its humiliation. Still, the word is that it has ordered the Hong Kong authorities to avoid bloodshed. Media reports said the Hong Kong commander of the People's Liberation Army assured a visiting US defense official that Beijing will not use the military to quell unrest over the now-suspended extradition bill.

Beijing’s no blood order is its most sensible decision since the 2014 Umbrella Movement when it began tightening its grip on Hong Kong. But I fear bloodshed may soon become the norm with clashes escalating between protesters and the police. First blood was shed last Sunday when police fought running battles with protesters inside a Sha Tin shopping mall.

As I watched the mall brawl in disbelief, I feared some protesters or riot police would end up seriously injured or killed. Maybe it was God’s will that didn’t happen. But who knows what could happen at the next clash?

I sympathized with the police during the Umbrella Movement. After their one-time use of teargas at the start of the uprising, they were relatively restrained during the 79-day occupation of streets. Since the start of the current political crisis, I have refrained from blaming either the protesters or the police for the violence that always erupts after each peaceful march.

But I can no longer stay silent after what I saw last Sunday. There is no denying small breakaway groups clash with the police after almost every peaceful march. I don’t know what drives the anger of these mostly young people. Maybe it’s lost hope for the future, as some say. Whatever their reasons, they are sullying the noble cause of the millions who march peacefully.

But the police were not entirely blameless last Sunday. I watched horrified as riot police entered the shopping mall to corner protesters who had fled inside to leave by the MTR and other exits. I asked myself why riot police had gone inside a mall full of shoppers, families, young children, diners, and cinema-goers, especially when protesters were already trying to leave.

Didn’t the police stand idly by when protesters tried to break into the Legislative Council on July 1? Didn’t they disappear when the protesters finally broke in? Didn’t they say it would have been too dangerous to confront protesters inside a confined area? Didn’t they finally decide to go in after all Legco staff had left, by which time even the protesters had gone?

So why did the police go into a shopping mall, also a confined area but full of innocent people, to confront protesters? Numerous callers to radio shows said the police even used batons to hit shoppers. The police said they entered to make arrests. Then why didn’t they make arrests when protesters tried for hours to break into Legco in the full sight of the police? It just doesn’t add up.

I say this not as criticism of the police. Our political leaders have shamefully thrust on them an impossible mission. The job of the police is to deal with law and order. The crisis rocking Hong Kong is a political one which requires a political solution. But our leaders are hiding in their offices while an exhausted police force is having to deal with the political unrest, unfairly earning the wrath of the people.

I said in a previous column what’s now happening in Hong Kong is the start of the endgame. Years of pent-up fury over Beijing’s eroding of Hong Kong’s autonomy has finally erupted. The extradition treaty was just the final straw, not the root cause of the eruption. Hong Kong is now in a state of revolution.

An endgame requires each opposing side to have a winning game plan. The game plan of the peaceful protesters is to stage mass rallies until the government meets their demands. The game plan of the breakaway groups, which believe peaceful marches won’t bring results, is guerilla warfare, clashing with the police and then melting away.

What’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s game plan? Aside from closeting herself in her office, meeting only her political allies, praising the police, condemning the protesters, and canceling scheduled public appearances, she doesn’t seem to have one. Her political ally, Ann Chiang Lai-wan of the DAB party, helpfully suggested that the police should ban protests.

Now that’s a great game plan, but Chiang should go further. Let’s impose a city-wide curfew, or better still, martial law. All those who use free speech to criticize the government should be arrested, as is done in mainland China.

Chiang’s game plan should include arresting all expatriates as foreign spies for attending protest rallies. Opposition leaders should be arrested too for paying young people to protest. She alleged on radio that opposition leaders were paying protesters, and an expatriate who always attends rallies was part of foreign forces destabilizing Hong Kong.

She provided no proof but a claim is as good as proof nowadays. The chief executive should reward her with a Grand Bauhinia award for her wise counsel. Isn’t that what the awards are for anyway, for those who shoeshine?

My suggested game plan for Lam is a humble one that won’t win any awards. Convince Beijing she needs to withdraw the extradition bill instead of only saying the bill is dead. Order a commission of inquiry to probe the failure of governance, why millions took to the streets, reasons for protest violence, police behavior, and if foreign forces fanned the protests.

I know the US has better things to do than destabilize Hong Kong but the inquiry should still look into that to prove Chiang’s idiocy. And I suggest it also look into Chiang’s mental health. Most of us know she speaks not through her mouth but through the other end of her anatomy. That’s why so many people hold their noses when she speaks.

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A Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London.