Hong Kong’s protest movement against the government’s suspended extradition bill is nearing its eleventh week, with no end in sight. Everyone around the world is asking: where do we go from here? Yet, no one seems to be able to provide an answer. This is a dangerous sign, as it indicates the whole situation is drifting out of control.
How did we get here in the first place? The peaceful demonstration with over a million people on June 9 followed by the clashes on June 12 successfully halted the extradition bill, but the government refused to withdraw it completely from the legislative agenda.
After the first instance of police brutality on June 12, when tear gas canisters and rubber bullets were fired at peaceful protesters, two million people marched peacefully again on June 16. They called for the complete withdrawal of the extradition bill, an independent inquiry into police tactics, and the resignation of key officials responsible for the debacle. The government responded with, well, no response.
Subsequent weekly protests became more confrontational and sometimes violent, with both police and protesters escalating their actions. The city has entered a vicious cycle of increasingly agitated frontline protesters, and establishment figures including Chief Executive Carrie Lam have hidden behind the police force, who use tear gas, guns and batons against the very people they were supposed to be protecting.
That was the image projected to the entire free world, as Hong Kong continues to occupy front pages globally.
The movement had the opportunity to take a new direction last Monday, when a mass strike took place across Hong Kong. An estimated 300,000 or more people participated. Most notably one-third of the city’s air traffic controllers took part in the strike, causing hundreds of flights in and out of the Hong Kong airport to be cancelled.
Unfortunately, when night fell, the people of Hong Kong’s attention turned to the numerous confrontations and police station attacks around the city. What happened?
On Monday morning, Lam came out after a long hiatus for a press conference, declaring that all the demands from protesters had been dealt with and that protests were now focused on challenging Beijing’s sovereignty over Hong Kong. She blamed the disruptions of economic activities on the protests and washed her hands clean of responsibility, conveniently forgetting that she got us into this whole mess in the first place.
That was a very shrewd tactic, but grossly selfish and irresponsible. By pitting people against people, while totally ignoring police misconduct and obvious collaboration with triads, she once again successfully provoked further anger and conflict.
On Tuesday, the State Council Information Office held a press conference echoing the same line to take as the Chief Executive, calling for more heavy-handed force against the people as well as mass arrests. Is that going to solve Hong Kong’s problems and bring back peace?
Dictators never change, because they never listen. Yes, the movement has evolved. The protesters and their wide base of supporters no longer simply want to see the complete withdrawal of the extradition bill and the establishment of an independent inquiry, and so on.
They want a real share of political power, the removal of the kind of governance that has plagued Hong Kong since the 1997 Handover to China — one where the government and their pro-establishment cronies ram through unwanted policies by manipulating an undemocratic political system that does not represent the wishes and the choices of the people.
Once again, as Hong Kong people have demanded for decades, we want true democracy. We want to choose our own Chief Executive and legislators without screening and selective disqualifications.
Yes, the movement has evolved. The protesters and their supporters are saying no to Hong Kong’s growing police state. Last week, when a university student was arrested for buying 10 laser pointers in Sham Shui Po, on the comically fabricated charge of possession of assault weapons. It was a perfect example of one of our biggest fears about the extradition bill itself — arbitrary arrests and convictions of citizens over trumped-up charges under an authoritarian government.
Only this time, these fabricated charges were made not by a corrupt mainland authority but by our previously respected Hong Kong police force.
So, the bill may not have been passed but the authority responsible for it is simply abusing its power further. Who needs the law, then?
That is why it is so ludicrous for the Hong Kong and Beijing governments to ignore their own abuses and blame the people. Protesters are not calling for anarchy. They have clearly called for the restoration of the One Country, Two Systems framework. Only dictators twist and abuse that framework by placing their authority over promised autonomy.
So, after two months of protests, the fight for public support has once again taken centre stage. Daily press briefings from the police and the administration are held in order to spin news headlines, especially for the majority of those who are not readers of online forums such as LIHKG, used by anti-extradition law supporters.
Young people have fought back brilliantly with their own periodic press conferences in order to reach a bigger audience too. Comparing these efforts, one can clearly see the distinction between the pure pursuit of freedom and justice by youngsters, and the twisted logic, misinformation and top-down authoritarianism of the authorities.
When, in the middle of last week, the Hong Kong and Macau Office summoned selected heads from the pro-establishment ranks, such as members of the National People’s Congress, to Shenzhen with instructions to toe the line, Beijing repeated the same mistakes they have made since the Handover — that is, selectively listening to only its own selfish cronies and dictating its own views based on the misguided fear and mistrust of Hong Kong’s core values and spirits of freedom, fairness, justice and the rule of law.
If this current movement for change is extinguished, it will come at a great cost to our economy and Hong Kong’s image as an international financial centre. If Beijing continues to put politics above our economic and social wellbeing, even if they get away with it for the time being, freedom and justice will prevail in the long run. Beijing can choose to be on the right, or wrong side, of history. It is their choice. Hong Kong people have spoken.