When the Fishball ‘Riot’ is finally settled, one thing will be clear. CY Leung will emerge as the big winner.

Despite his stern condemnation of the events that unfolded in Mong Kok, Leung likely welcomed the events in Mong Kok as his greatest New Years’ gift ever — an open invitation to erode Hong Kong’s civil liberties in the name of public security. Just like how the Patriot Act enabled the United States government to circumvent civil protections, Leung will waste no time to cease this incident as a method to destroy and mainlandize Hong Kong’s civil liberties.

mong kok clashes

He began earnestly in the early hours after the incident had died down, quickly demonizing the participants as rioters acting with perpetuation and with no purpose except for causing mayhem. Government friendly media helped him fan the flames. On Wednesday morning, the police arrested Scholarism member Derek Lam Shun-hin and attempted to search his home without a warrant, thankfully unsuccessfully.

Leung Chun-ying condemns protesters involved in unrest overnight.Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying condemns protesters involved in unrest overnight. Complete coverage: https://hongkongfp.com/tag/mong-kok-unrest/

Posted by Hong Kong Free Press HKFP on Tuesday, 9 February 2016

The new mantra of the police and the Department of Justice may be to arrest early and to charge broadly. Hong Kong has a last line of defence — the judiciary. But the Beijing White Paper suggests its armour is not strong.

For all the troubles the Localists have caused in Mong Kok, the full force of the criminal law must be thrown at them. But does Hong Kong require stricter laws, and perhaps a sacrifice of civil liberties, to prevent the next incident? Not really. The government can prevent the next incident simply by recognizing the opposing voices not as anarchists, but a group that just want a break from the lopsided policies titled towards the rich. Stop pigeon-holing every protest in Hong Kong as political where Hong Kong’s status within China does prevent a pragmatic solution. Start seeing the protests as socioeconomic where solutions can be found, if the tycoons allow for it.

Lee Bo Protest, 10.1 (20) (Copy)

Localists, from moderates to radicals, serve a useful function in the city by drawing attention to the exploitation of resources by the tycoons and the business class. Their methods are questionable, but their existence and purpose fills a political vacuum post-Occupy Central. They would not have been created and gained support had the government done its job. If Leung insists on favouring his elitist friends while ignoring the rest of Hong Kong, new disgruntled citizens will take the place of the participants who are likely to be incarcerated. And if Leung decides to further erode civil liberties that Hong Kongers cherish under One Country Two Systems, it will only make this segment of society more desperate, not afraid.

While Leung seems content to do anything regardless of public opinion, there is actually a growing number of people who are willing to give up their civil liberties. Strangely, these people condone the firing of shots into the air against police protocol. They support the police even when they beat reporters. Going back to 2014, there are dimwits who think Chu King Wai exercised reasonable control of his baton.

chu king wai occupy hong kong police
Retired superintendent Chu King-wai was filmed hitting pedestrians in December 2014. , Wikicommons.

Some people will label the Mong Kok incidents as a riot. But so what? Can people not separate an act of violence with the systematic inequality and injustice that compelled the act? Can one feel upset about the Ferguson riots but still recognize blacks in America confront serious injustice? It is disappointing to know that there is a segment of society who cannot make this distinction.

The older generation of Hong Kongers may be too stubborn to understand the plight of Hong Kong’s youth. But others are simply unwilling because they have an agenda to protect their vested personal interests. Here is Hong Kong’s inconvenient truth: the death of Hong Kong is being expedited by the segment of Hong Kong society that have indirectly benefitted from the post-SARS policies designed to enrich the tycoons.

mong kok fehd riot protest
Photo: Kris Cheng, HKFP.

Hong Kong’s landscape changed drastically in 2003, the same year in which one million people marched against the implementation of security law ‘Article 23’. Hong Kong’s strategy to revitalize the post-SARS economy was an easy but short-sighted one — encouraging as much renminbi into the city as possible. The integral mechanism of this strategy was the US dollar peg, which has now become the main culprit of Hong Kong’s socioeconomic problems.

Since 2003, the city’s pegged currency and the appreciating renminbi increased the purchasing power of mainlanders in Hong Kong year after year. While retail sales rebounded, this strategy quickly became a burden on society. The peg created the housing bubble, flooded Hong Kong’s infrastructure with too many tourists, and encouraged parallel trading. Since Hong Kong’s necessities are imported from China, the city faced enormous inflationary pressures just because of the foreign exchange.  But the tycoons would not allow an adjustment to impede the flow of easy money.

Hong Kong-Shenzhen border
Hong Kong-Shenzhen border. Photo: Wikicommons.

Some Hong Kongers benefitted opportunistically from the consequences of SARS, perhaps by making a home purchase or two during this time and enjoying a doubling of value fueled by mainland investors. Others have started businesses with a mainland clientele or are dependent on mainland tourists. They are minor and opportunistic beneficiaries of the systematic injustice in Hong Kong. The strength of the youth and the possibility of change scares them. To protect monetary wealth, they are willing to sacrifice civil liberties. They will condone police brutality. They will accept a mainland version of rule of law in Hong Kong. They don’t speak out against wrongs for fear of financial repercussions. They are willing to give up their children’s future for today’s gains.

They may not openly align with our chief executive but their silence is an acquiescence of his autocratic rule. This is why Leung will emerge victorious from the Mong Kok incident because he can count on a segment of ‘ordinary’ citizens who will not oppose to his repressive rule. If Leung is to implement Article 23 today, will one million people defend Hong Kong? The answer is not as clear as 2003 because greed and selfishness can make people very short-sighted.

Michael Leung writes about human rights and socio-legal issues affecting Hong Kong. He is currently a master's student at Harvard Law School and was a graduate of The Chinese University of Hong Kong's Faculty of Law and the University of Waterloo. After beginning his career with stints in Big Four accounting firms and international banks, his interests now lie in envisioning a better city where justice and traditional Hong Kong values reign supreme.