Govt needs to tread carefully to de-escalate the situation

August 09, 2019 13:29
Chief Executive Carrie Lam visits the Tai Wai Market on Wednesday to learn about the progress of its improvement works. Photo: HK Govt

After mostly staying behind closed doors and avoiding public engagements in the past few weeks, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was finally “on the move” again this week.

On Wednesday, without notifying the media beforehand, Lam paid a visit to Tin Shui Wai, where she sought to learn about the damage suffered by the local police station during recent protests, and also visited the site where a new public market would be coming up.

Later, the chief executive went to Tai Wai to review the progress of the improvement works of a market there.

According to a government press release issued at around 8 pm on Wednesday, during the visit, Lam “chatted with a number of residents who expressed to her their diverse views on various social issues.”

The press release, however, didn’t go into detail as to what exactly these public “views” were.

It is understood that some local residents told Lam that they hope social order can be restored as soon as possible, while some others urged her to respond to the demands put forward by the protesters to end the crisis.

Lam didn’t come face-to-face with any demonstrator during the community visits.

The trip came after a survey has shown that Lam’s popularity ratings have hit a historic low in the wake of the extradition bill fiasco.

We believe the reason why she escaped being greeted by protesters during her visits on Wednesday was because her itinerary on that day hadn’t been publicized in advance.

Also, the local residents whom Lam met during her brief stopover at the Tin Shui Wai wet market were mainly older people, and not the youth.

It is doubtful if Lam's trip achieved anything, but we can at least give her some credit for trying to reach out to the “flesh and blood” people and listen to their views directly, rather than hiding behind closed doors in her office and getting sanitized versions of the events in the city from her officials.

Still, it must be said that, regardless of what Lam may have heard during her Wednesday visits, the stark truth is that we are still a long way off before the society can return to normal following the recent events.

As the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) of the State Council has stressed this week, the most urgent task lying before the Hong Kong government right now is to end the social disturbances and restore order.

Authorities might think that one way of achieving that is to carry out large-scale arrests of the demonstrators as a form of deterrence.

It is understood that, according to the estimates of the mainland authorities, there are about 1,000 radicals among the youth that are taking in the Hong Kong protests on a regular basis. With police saying that they have arrested more than 500 people so far, it is possible we will see more arrests in the coming days.

That said, it is difficult to tell whether the police have really neutralized half of the suspected young radicals. Among the protesters who have been apprehended so far, quite a few of them could just be people who failed to outrun the police, and not the frontline radicals who resort to use of force and whom the authorities are truly after.

Meanwhile, it is also doubtful if pressing of rioting charges and massive arrests by the police can really deter the throngs of protesters.

While violent actions such as storming of government facilities and attacks on police stations have caused disquiet among an increasing number of citizens, we should bear in mind that the administration has also faced mounting criticism for excessive use of force and arrests and “political prosecutions” of protesters.

According to a source, there are concerns within the government itself that the massive arrests and prosecutions, if taken too far, could backfire on the administration.

As such, authorities are focusing on doing proper homework before laying charges against the arrested protesters, the source said.

Given the current tense situation in the city, there is no doubt the Department of Justice will have to be extra careful in its handling of the detained protesters if it wants to avoid more troubles.

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

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.