HK crisis: Iron-fist approach by govt will only worsen situation

August 23, 2019 19:30
Protesters react after police lob tear gas during a demonstration in support of a city-wide strike on Aug. 5. The hardline tactics of authorities will only fan the resentment of HK youth towards their government, some observers warn. Photo: Reuters

The staggering turnout of some 1.7 million people at the August 18 rally once again demonstrated the solidarity and determination of Hongkongers to keep fighting to preserve the city's autonomy and freedoms.

In the meantime, the international community has been getting more and more concerned about the situation here, mainly because of the central authorities’ increasingly high-profile actions and rhetoric against the city.

Earlier this week, US President Donald Trump linked the ongoing Sino-US trade talks to the anti-extradition bill protests in Hong Kong, telling reporters that he “would like to see Hong Kong worked out in a very humanitarian fashion,” because he “thinks it would be very good for the trade deal.”

Yet Trump also warned in no uncertain terms that “it’d be very hard to [do a trade] deal if they do violence, I mean, if it's another Tiananmen Square.”

As we can see, the Hong Kong issue has now become part of the White House’s agenda with respect to the US relations with China and Hong Kong, even before the US government starts reviewing the "United States–Hong Kong Policy Act” and Congress begins scrutinizing the proposed Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.

Trump wasn’t just speaking off-the-cuff when he warned against another “Tiananmen Square” crackdown in Hong Kong, because the truth is, it has already become a common concern among figures in the American political, business, legal and academic sectors, as I discovered during a recent trip to the United States.

And their concerns came as no surprise to me, because the central government’s posture and actions towards the protests in Hong Kong are increasingly reminiscent of the way it behaved during the run-up to the tragic Tiananmen incident in Beijing back in 1989.

As we all remember, the watershed move that preceded the June 4 crackdown was the publication of a People’s Daily editorial on April 26, 1989, which categorized the student movement in Beijing as a “riot”. 

Now let’s get back to Hong Kong. On June 12, after thousands of young protesters had stormed the Legislative Council complex, the Hong Kong government immediately framed the incident as a “riot”.

Then in the weeks that followed, the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO) held three press conferences.

During the first presser, the HKMAO lambasted the "violent" anti-extradition bill protests, accusing the demonstrators of challenging the bottom line of "one country, two systems".

And in the subsequent press briefings, the HKMAO began to toughen its stance, saying that the protests in Hong Kong have begun to show “first signs of terrorism”.

Then came HKMAO director Zhang Xiaoming, who stated during a meeting with pro-establishment figures in Shenzhen that the anti-extradition bill protest in Hong Kong has “clear color revolution characteristics”.

As the central authorities are continuing to escalate their “categorization” of the protest movement, the Hong Kong police have also been stepping up use of force against protesters, and so far more than 700 demonstrators have been arrested.

During my recent US visit, I presented, on numerous occasions, several pictures showing the police’s use of force against protesters and the kind of injuries the protesters have sustained.

People who attended the events and saw the pictures were shocked for the most part, as they agreed that the Hong Kong police appeared to have used inappropriate and excessive force against protesters.

And the recent high-profile and massive deployment of the Chinese People’s Armed Police Force (PAP) units to Shenzhen has further fuelled international concern about a possible crackdown on the protests in Hong Kong.

However, if we think more carefully, we can say that the deployment of the PAP units across the border, and the massive propaganda hype surrounding it, was just an attempt to scare the people of Hong Kong into submission.

The logic is simple: why would Beijing risk international criticisms and adopt tough means to suppress the protests if the Hong Kong police, which is overwhelmingly superior to protesters in terms of weapons and gear, is completely able to do that on its own?

Whatever be the case, the massive turnout at the rally last Sunday has proven that the people of Hong Kong aren’t afraid of Beijing’s coercion. Nor is the use of threats a correct solution to Hong Kong's current political dilemma.

If you ask me, what needs to be really done to resolve the current crisis is for Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to change tack and accept the five demands put forward by the public.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug 21

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Legco member representing the Legal functional constituency (2016-2020) and a founding member of Civic Party