Politicising the coronavirus crisis

May 04, 2020 08:17
There has been talk of loosening border controls with the Mainland. Photo: RTHK

To what extent is the Hong Kong government intending to use the deadly coronavirus pandemic for political ends?

Although the usual loyalist suspects did their best to disguise their relief, it was evident that the onset of the coronavirus was welcomed by them as a way of defusing the political unrest in Hong Kong. Some were even foolish enough to think that once the virus crisis subsided the discontent would somehow be forgotten and disappear.

Now that Hong Kong appears to be emerging from the end of the tunnel that has brought life as usual to a halt the same people who thought the pandemic was good for putting an end to protest are now trying to make sure that this will be the case.

The police, who are now so self confident that they have taken it upon themselves not just to enforce the law but also to interpret it, have declared that even people practising social distancing according to the rules can still be arrested if they are acting for a ‘common purpose’. This nebulous concept appears to mean whatever the police decide that it means.

Thus, when people go to a supermarket they have the ‘common purpose’ of shopping but are not arrested for this offence, if they head into a bus where social distancing is even more difficult, they share a ‘common purpose’ of transportation. Yet even the police are not going to arrest anyone for travelling.

However using police-designed guidelines for enforcement, if people gather for a protest, albeit maintaining the required distance between each other and in groups of no more than four, out come the riot shields and all the other familiar paraphernalia of the police in action against the citizenry.

The medical imperative for social distancing therefore quickly becomes politicised. It has already been used as a pretext to ban May Day rallies and will also be deployed as a reason to prevent this year’s commemoration of the June 4 Tiananmen Square massacre.

There is even the possibility that the pandemic will be brought into play as an excuse for postponing the September Legco elections. This suggestion has already been raised by the inexorable Junius Ho, still smarting from his defeat at the November district council polls and clearly worried over his fate should he have to face the electorate in September.

And, just to prove that the Lam government will always put the interests of its masters in Beijing and members of the local elite over those of Hong Kong people, there is already talk of loosening border controls with the Mainland. In case no one in government headquarter noticed, the SAR has succeeded in getting the pandemic under better control than the Mainland.

Yet very important and well connected people in Hong Kong are itching to be allowed to travel backwards and forwards across the border to look after their business interests. And so, almost incredibly, it is seriously being suggested that these VIPs should be placed in a special category of people who are exempt from the normal quarantine restrictions. This is very much like the system of giving members of the elite special permits entitling them to drive across the border, although in this instance the consequences are infinitely more dangerous.

Meanwhile the waxworks in government and the avid red flag wavers have developed a new narrative of not only lauding the Mainland’s handling of the crisis as proof positive that dictatorships are more capable than democracies but they have taken to accusing those in the opposition of being un-patriotic for their failure to acknowledge this dubious new mantra.

They go further and say that anyone opposing the government or daring to cast doubt on the Chinese Communist Party’s handling of the crisis is sabotaging the unity required to fight the coronavirus. Now is the time, they maintain, to crackdown on dissidents and lock them away. Indeed they might also be hoping that the rest of the world will be so preoccupied with the pandemic that no one will notice or bother to respond to Hong Kong dissidents being carted off to jail.

As ever they see this crisis through the prism of their own experience which is to never waste an opportunity to serve the interests of the party. As Xi Jinping said, "it is necessary to adhere to the leadership of the party over all work. Among the party, the government, the military, the people, the academia and all circles, the party leads all."

The problem for those seeking to politicise the coronavirus crisis is that people in Hong Kong will remember how the loyalists behaved during the pandemic and it will add to discontent that continues to simmer.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author