There are many good reasons for people to protest in Hong Kong. The limits of Hong Kong’s supposed autonomy are evident in the powerlessness of the government to respond effectively to a worsening situation.
That our national government can demand patriotism from the legal sector is a greater threat to the foundation of the rule of law than what happens on the street. The term rule according to law, and not rule of law, is already being used in relation to Hong Kong.
The very idea of journalism as we once understood it is now being savaged. Journalists, first-aiders and others who find themselves in a position to refute from first-hand experience the state narrative are subject to accusations of being anti-China actors.
Reuters, the BBC, the Financial Times, CNN and the New York Time are, we are increasingly hearing, no better than the CGTN, Global Times and China Daily. Rumours, once confined to the lunatic fringe, are now being peddled as self-evident truth.
There is every reason for people to be angry. This is fundamentally not the Hong Kong that was meant to be safeguarded by the Basic Law, and guaranteed by both Beijing and London under an internationally registered treaty. The protests have, as many had feared, acted as a catalyst for what had been a slow erosion.
When order on the streets is restored, as it inevitably will be, the facade of One Country, Two Systems, which it is very much in Beijing’s interest to maintain, will conceal an even more rotten core. And 2047 has become meaningless.
People are right to be angry. Many people, on all sides, today carry deep wounds. To various degrees, everyone’s lives have, at very least, been unreasonably inconvenienced. And anger has fuelled anger. Lines have become further entrenched, and the middle ground dangerously hollow.
This situation, let us remind ourselves, was not how it started. The protests that began in June were peaceful. The police response, arguably excessive in the context, was not brutal. But, as we saw in 2014, a narrative was immediate spun that was black and white.
There was a time when the Hong Kong government played the moderating role between competing camps, between nationalists and communists, between black and white, but HKSAR officials have proven either unable or not empowered to do this.
Once divisions were played down. Today divisions are played up – a fall is always blamed on a push. Rumours, once below the dignity of Hong Kong officials, are routinely applied to support an official narrative decided in Beijing.
In June and July, the protest was not a riot. It was not violent. The demands were not unreasonable. An amnesty for those on both sides caught up in Beijing’s standard rhetoric to divide, demonise and then destroy, was not unreasonable.
Far from endangering the rule of law, an amnesty when trust in our core institutions was fast collapsing would have strengthened it.
Instead, a government emaciated by Beijing and a police force, arrogant, hyper-sensitive and devoid of both political awareness and leadership, first created an enemy and then backed people into a corner.
At the start of the summer many people who know Hong Kong, including those in the police, could still talk of the city’s students as uniquely peaceful, innocent and patient. They are not any of these things today.
The events of the last week amounted to a serious escalation. For me, a line has been crossed. The protest movement has been hijacked by hooliganism.
Appeals to a noble cause do not excuse unacceptable behaviour. It has been a collective mistake by a very small minority of people who support the movement. It is not representative of a movement but of the deep physical and emotional hurt carried by so many people in Hong Kong today. Like many, I understand the pain and commitment, and I do sympathise, but I do not condone your actions.
Hong Kong is being reduced to a state of anarchy by a small minority of radical protesters. Blinded by hatred, and offered no room for either hope nor salvation, their actions are neither reasonable nor acceptable. Everyone should be held accountable for their actions.
Everyone who incites violence – which, I must stress, is quite different either expressing support for or justifying violence, or inciting people to protest – should be held to account. This includes those in the Hong Kong police and within the community who have incited violence against protesters. The act, not politics, is the crime.
Accountability must also be demanded of the Hong Kong government for its abject failure to understand, acknowledge and manage the crisis that has engulfed our home. Those who have peddled blind obedience to either side should hold their conscience to account.
If the government is truly as powerless as it seems – and has privately claimed it is – then I appeal to the dignity of ministers to resign and force political change. Surely the current situation is untenable.
Now is the time for both the police and the protest movement to sacrifice solidarity for the sake of common sense, and condemn individual acts that are an affront to civilised society. What remains of our political leadership on all sides needs to retake the centre-ground, or risk leaving Hong Kong with an unpalatable choice between the twin fears of anarchy and oppression.