Not just five demands, five lessons too for Carrie Lam

October 24, 2019 07:31
Chief Executive Carrie Lam cannot demand an end to violence without first providing a political path to end it, says the author. Photo: HKEJ

By now, our leaders should know violence won't end just because they demand it. They have lost all legitimacy, which makes their words meaningless. But they keep on condemning violence as if that alone would stop it.

By now, they should know the no-mask law has failed to deter violent protests. But they still pretend it is working, ignoring the reality that the ban has stoked rather than doused violence. But how does anyone explain this to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who is known to listen only to herself?

Lam, our senior officials, pro-government politicians, and their Beijing bosses have all condemned violent protests as if the moral high ground belongs to them. It doesn't. The moral high ground belongs to the protesters. They were forced into using violence after Lam ignored their peaceful voice.

That's why so many Hongkongers tolerate violence, the targeting of mainland-linked businesses, and the hurling of petrol bombs. That's why an estimated 350,000 turned up for an unlawful march last Sunday, many defying the no-mask law.

Lam knows why only the pro-establishment camp, Beijing, herself, and her senior officials are demanding an end to violence while the rest are silently supporting the protesters. But she and her Beijing bosses prefer to blind themselves to the real root cause of the uprising, choosing instead to spread the lie that inadequate housing is solely to blame for the public anger.

If that were true, Lam's promises in her policy speech to fix the housing crisis should have pacified at least some people. It didn't. Tens of thousands still took to the streets. Hong Kong's biggest political crisis was not sparked by livelihood issues. It was sparked by Beijing's insidious attempt to mainlandize the city.

Over the years, Hong Kong people silently seethed as waves of mainland tourists, immigrants, students, and businesses changed the very character of the city. Shops and restaurants that served local neighborhoods were forced to give way to luxury brand stores that catered to mainlanders who made up 80 percent of our tourists.

The government tried to enforce patriotism through national security laws, national education, respect for the national anthem, and promotion of Mandarin at the expense of Cantonese. The final straw came with Lam's now-withdrawn extradition bill that would have sent Hongkongers to face justice in the mainland's opaque judicial system.

There are many lessons Lam and Beijing can learn from the uprising, now in its fifth month. The first and foremost is that they cannot scare the people into submission with mass arrests, emergency laws, and a de facto evening curfew with an MTR shut-down at 10 p.m. The people are not afraid no matter how many students the police arrest.

The second lesson is Beijing should stop blaming foreign forces for the protests. Most people know it's just blatant propaganda to divert attention from the real cause of the unrest, and the protesters themselves know it's a leaderless homegrown uprising. Foreign interference, if you even want to call it that, only involves the West giving moral support for Hong Kong democracy. Instead of blaming foreign forces, our leaders should ask themselves why they themselves cannot win hearts and minds with mainland-style values.

The third lesson is don't wait for the protests to gradually die down. It worked with the use of court injunctions during the 79-day Umbrella Movement. It won't work now. The Umbrella Movement was different in nature, with political reforms as its driving force. Today's uprising is fueled by more than just a demand for democracy. At its heart is a resistance against mainland authoritarianism seeping into Hong Kong. We have already seen that with the disqualification of opposition election candidates, new limits on free speech, and the banning of even peaceful protests.

The fourth lesson is a simple one. Our leaders didn't learn the lessons of the Umbrella Movement. If they make the same mistake again by hoping the protest will fizzle out or using further emergency powers to end it, the next uprising will be even more violent.

The fifth lesson is that people are convinced Hong Kong has become a police state. Hardly anyone believes the use of a water cannon outside the Tsim Sha Tsui mosque was accidental. My elder brother, who was sprayed by the water cannon, and I are not Muslims. He just happened to be there. But I can well understand the anger of the Muslim community. How would Lam, a Catholic, feel if a police water cannon fired chemical-laced water at her church?

People say Hong Kong has become ungovernable. That's not true. It is Lam who never knew how to govern. No capable leader would demand an end to violence without first providing a political path to end it. She has now lost all moral authority to govern. She remains leader only because Beijing is propping her up.

For the sake of Hong Kong and her successors, I urge her to learn the five lessons and hope she will urge her bosses to do the same.

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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.