Finance Secretary John Tsang has spoken out against the protests in Mong Kok on Tuesday, saying that the incident was “not localist behaviour” and that it had nothing to do with the government’s legitimacy.

Violent clashes between police and protesters angered over the government’s clearing of street hawkers in Mong Kok broke out on Monday evening and continued into the early hours of Tuesday morning. Many protesters belonged to localist group Hong Kong Indigenous.

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Photo: Kris Cheng, HKFP.

“I feel saddened and frustrated at the events that unfolded on Tuesday morning in Mong Kok… a small group of people acted irrationally and challenged the bottom line of Hong Kong’s rule of law,” Tsang said to reporters following an event on Wednesday.

“It’s very obvious that their acts were targeted towards the Hong Kong police force – this is unacceptable. I hope everyone will cooperate with the police to bring these people to justice as soon as possible.”

Tsang also said that he believed the incident had nothing to do with the issue of government legitimacy and that street hawkers were just an excuse and a cover for irrational behaviour. Tsang urged everyone to support the police.

‘Not localist behaviour’

In December last year, Tsang said on his blog that localism could be a “positive and constructive force that makes Hong Kong a better place and benefits Hong Kong as a whole,” comparing it to the sense of belonging felt by alumni at his secondary school, La Salle College. “Both involve a strong passion and pride in their own identities, traditions and cultures. Such emotion exists everywhere – from as big as a country and a race, to as small as a school,” he wrote.

John Tsang
File Photo: John Tsang. Photo: GovHK.

However, referring to the Mong Kok protests, Tsang said on Wednesday, “This is definitely not localist behaviour. [True] localists treasure Hong Kong and cherish its values. They would not sacrifice the interests of Hong Kong, whereas these people have gone against Hong Kong interests.”

Localist groups such as Hong Kong Indigenous are generally pro-democracy but many consider pro-democracy activists and pan-democrats within the legislature to be ineffective. The camp is also tied with various movements related to the expansion of Hong Kong’s autonomy, for example advocating for city-state status or outright independence.

‘Irrational rioters’

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So, who is currently on an overseas trip in Canada, also said that this sort of behaviour would not be tolerated. Like Tsang, So said that the incident involved “irrational rioters” and had nothing to do with government legitimacy.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So Kam-leung.
Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So Kam-leung. File Photo: Now TV screen capture.

So also said that Hong Kong is a place governed by rule of law and law enforcement was very important. Hong Kong had a good track record when it came to public order, he said, and although the incident would definitely take a toll on Hong Kong, he had faith in the city’s public order.

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Click for more on the Mong Kok unrest.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.