Here's the 'new normal' -- and it's very scary

November 01, 2019 17:31
A riot police officer exchanges words with a masked demonstrator during a Halloween march in Hong Kong. Once regarded as Asia’s finest, the city’s police have seen their reputation tattered due to their mishandling of the protests. Photo: Reuters

So, here we are after five months of protest, with the world's only leaderless protest movement matched by being the only place on the planet where the government has not even tried to establish some kind of negotiations to resolve the issues that have led to the unrest.

And here’s what we now know:

• If you’ve decided to try and take opposition to the government away from the streets and onto the ballot box – the government will slap you down

• If you shut up and behave – the government will fully restore the mass-transit services, otherwise citizens will be denied basic transportation facilities

• If you get beaten up by thugs – government officials will not visit you because only those injured in a politically correct way get the dubious privilege of being confronted in bed by a bevy of bureaucrats

• If you are reporter doing your job covering the protests – expect to be assaulted, harassed and obstructed; the government has now given the police free rein to do this

• If you are going about your business in an area where demonstrations are underway – expect to be tear-gassed or worse; the government has now given the police free rein to do this

• If you are arrested or assaulted by someone who later turns out to be a police officer in plain clothes- expect to be charged with assault, even if one of those officers shoots you with live bullets

• If you are fed up with violent protests don’t bother trying to organize a peaceful demonstration – the now autonomous police force will ban it

• If you seriously believe that a way out of this mess involves negotiations between government officials and protestors – forget it because talks can only take place after the violence ends

• If your business is hurting, you have been laid off or in any other way are suffering economic hardship as a result of the protests – remember the government does not have your back but it is very ready to point the finger of blame

There is quite a lot more to be said in this vein and it’s all pretty depressing. As protests enter their sixth month the new ‘normal’ in Hong Kong would have been unbelievable just months ago, but the unbelievable is now the new reality.

The government that has largely gone into hiding barely pretends to even be thinking of ways to cool things down. The hard men in Beijing who pull the strings appear to be prepared to let things fester for a while. The protestors, leaderless, exhausted and yet determined cannot seriously be expected to give up after so much has been sacrificed.

Looking forward does anyone seriously expect that the once highly valued police force will suddenly recover its reputation? Who believes that once seemingly non-controversial institutions such as the MTRC will suddenly cease to be controversial?

And what about the fears surrounding public-health facilities, now that the police has made it clear that they can barge in and do what they want in pursuit of injured protestors? Will companies associated with propagating the Communist Party line and associated with violent anti-democracy thugs be able to restore their reputation and businesses?

And, perhaps most importantly, how will the deep fractures running between families and friends be healed when the protests die down?

Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive in Name Only (CENO) marvels that no one has yet been killed in the course of the protests but even this is questioned by those on the frontlines who believe that fatalities have occurred and been covered up. And, even if fatalities have not occurred, the wider damage to society is so widespread that this small mercy is rather overshadowed.

The blunt truth is that things cannot go on like this, yet it is hard to identify a glimmer of possibility of all this being brought to an end anytime soon.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author. His latest book, Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and the world’s largest dictatorship, will be published by Hurst Publishers in early 2021.