Government must stand its ground amid the violence

September 13, 2019 18:35
Riot police prepare for a dispersal operation in Mong Kok on Aug. 3. The author says the withdrawal of the extradition bill will help facilitate constructive dialogue and break the current deadlock. Photo: AFP

As violence over the extradition bill saga continues to spiral, we find ourselves on the brink of self-destruction.

Chief Executive Carrie Cheng Yuet-ngor has adopted a flexible and mobile strategy by first suspending the extradition bill and then withdrawing it formally so as to rebuild mutual trust in society and take one major step toward a political dialogue.

Sadly, the opposition has rejected the chief executive’s offer outright, and immediately organized over 20 mass activities in an apparent attempt to fire up public opinion and create new controversies.

As far as the rioters who are continuing to resort to violence and political coercion are concerned, I believe the government must never yield an inch, and should bring each and every one of them to justice in accordance with the law.

The “suspension” and “withdrawal” of the extradition bill might have different political and legal meanings, but they both deliver the same objective effect, i.e., the legislative initiative is nipped in the bud.

Unfortunately, even though the government is making every effort to defuse the situation, the political firestorm has already mutated and even gone on to spill over into other fields, thanks to the manipulation of the opposition.

At first, protesters said they would fight for their cause only through peaceful, rational and non-violent means.

However, as we can see today, violent acts such as blocking road traffic or destroying the MTR facilities have already become the “new norm”, and the escalating violence committed by protesters has already exceeded far beyond the bottom line of a civilized society, and is charging the red line of our rule of law system.

The approach adopted by the opposition, namely “violating the law in order to achieve a just cause”, has not only sent our city’s economy into a technical recession but has also prompted the global credit-rating agency Fitch Ratings to downgrade our sovereign rating, the first time since 1995.

The Fitch Ratings warned that if the political turmoil in our city persists, Hong Kong’s credit rating may go down further, thereby dealing a severe blow to the confidence of various sectors in the city’s investment outlook.

Although withdrawing the bill may risk whetting the opposition’s appetite for more concessions, I believe it is going to deliver instant efficacy in terms of stopping violence and chaos as long as it is handled carefully.

Besides, by withdrawing the bill, the government can encourage those demonstrators who adopt peaceful, rational and non-violent means to dissociate themselves from the radical faction, and gradually turn public opinion against the rioters. This in turn will facilitate dialogue among the various sectors of society and break the current deadlock.

Meanwhile, members of the public should understand their choices and ask themselves: do they want to restore order to our society as soon as possible and engage in constructive dialogue in a peaceful and rational manner with the aim of resolving our deep-seated social conflicts, or do they want to see violence continue to escalate and push the livelihood and economy of our entire city off the cliff?

In fact, to the opposition, the extradition bill controversy is only part of a strategic game. For them, the significance of the bill's withdrawal has little significance to them as they have already shifted the focus of public opinion to the clashes between police and protesters, as well as to the goal of achieving universal suffrage in the election of the chief executive and members of the Legislative Council.

Likewise, for the radical faction, it isn’t about the extradition bill anymore.

Instead, it appears they are dead set on deliberately exacerbating social confrontations and creating a hostile environment in society in order to throw our entire city into disarray, paralyze the government and then seize the governing power, thereby turning Hong Kong into either an independent or semi-independent political entity.

As such, I strongly believe our government must not budge even an inch in the face of violence, and must not allow even a single rioter to escape justice.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Sept 10

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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President of the Association of Hong Kong Professionals