A noxious smell permeates our environment this summer. It is not just our usual nimbus of pollution. It is not even the canisters of tear gas that our neighbourhoods and people are frequently subjected to lately in Hong Kong. Somebody call the fire department, because it’s gas.

Good ol’ fashioned putrid, nefarious, toxic gas. Leaking through every microphone in every press conference. Wafting out of neutral-seeming statements from businesses, political leaders, and the myriad powers that be. Preserve the rule of law, they chide, even as that is precisely what people want to protect. Silly children, go home and behave yourselves, they berate, even though peaceful protest is a right, and when nobody listens despite mass attempts, there are few other ways to make voices heard. Say no to the violence, they say sternly over their spectacles, even as our fellow Hong Kong denizens themselves get assaulted by rubber bullets and sticks. The lights are just as bright as before, they insist, as they go around snuffing them out.

carrie lam press conference
Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her cabinet officials meet the press on July 22. Photo: inmediahk.net.

But things are not going according to plan. We are seeing what happens when the public isn’t Ingrid Bergman’s character Paula, falling for the ruse in a 1940s film, believing what is said by a manipulative spouse. We are witnessing what happens when the public is able to pinpoint exactly how and when the lights are being dimmed, and who is trying to dim them. We are watching the public be so sure of their own senses and self-worth, that their own flames are burning bright from their own volition and efforts, weekend after weekend through protest.

Any reasonable observer of the situation in Hong Kong can see the situation for what it is. Some things are clear:

  • Hong Kong people have vociferously and repeatedly made their voices known, in a mostly peaceful fashion.
  • There is a deep mistrust of police and government.
  • The people do not trust the leadership, nor does the leadership appear to be functioning for the people.
  • The powers that be could turn the page quickly if they chose, perhaps changing Hong Kong’s sacrosanct identity without too much effort – the capacity and power are not in question.
  • Alternatively (and might I add, hopefully), they could choose to de-escalate the situation because Hong Kong’s special status does still bring some value that is worth preserving, instead of demolishing it under the eyes of the world. Considered de-escalation through the right channels could improve the trust, at least in the short-term.
  • Meanwhile, international powers are not truly equipped with enough socio-economic-political clout to help anybody with anything substantial in this case. Few are likely to stick their necks out far enough in any case, because the costs are high.
  • The unhappy population is not going to miraculously decide it’s all okay. Nor are they going to be intimidated into going home without a peep.
july 21 china extradition
Photo: May James/HKFP.

With many seeing exactly what is what, one wonders what the point is, to continue with the failed gaslighting techniques and messages. Why the performance and pretence of care? After all, who is the audience if the curtain hangs in tatters?

Sai Pradhan is an advisor, writer, and artist. For more on her advisory work, please see her LinkedIn profile. To see her artwork, please see her website.