The Hong Kong protests against the extradition bill is entering its tenth week, with no end in sight. Everyone in Hong Kong and around the world is asking, where do we go from here? Yet, no one seems to be able to suggest an answer. That is a dangerous sign, indicating that the whole situation appears to be drifting out of control.
How did we get here? Peaceful demonstration with over a million people on June 9th and the protest on June 12th successfully halted the extradition bill, but the government refused to completely withdraw the bill from the legislative agenda. With the first occurrence of police brutalities on June 12th when tear gas canisters and rubber bullets were fired at peaceful protesters, two million people again marched peacefully on June 16th, calling for the complete withdrawal of the extradition bill, an independent inquiry commission into the police tactics, and the resignation of key officials responsible for the debacle. The government responded with, well, no response.
Subsequent weekly protests turned more confrontational and even violent, with escalated force from both the police and the protesters. Hong Kong entered into a vicious cycle of a more and more agitated group of frontline protesters against the establishment, including the Chief Executive hiding behind a police force wielding their tear gas, guns and batons against the very people that they were supposed to be protecting.
That was the image projected by Hong Kong to the entire free world as we continue to occupy the front pages globally.
Last Monday, the movement had the opportunity to take a new direction, when a mass strike was called all across Hong Kong. An estimated over 300,000 people participated. Most notably one-third of Hong Kong’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, by Monday night, the attention of the people of Hong Kong was already turned toward the numerous outbreaks of confrontations and attacks on police stations around the city. What happened? On Monday morning, Chief Executive Carrie Lam came out after a long hiatus for a press conference, declaring that all the demands by the anti-extradition bill protesters had been dealt with, and that the nature of the protests had changed to be one of challenges toward Beijing’s sovereignty over Hong Kong. She further blamed the disruptions on economic activities in Hong Kong on the protests, washing her own hands clean and promptly 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, and totally ignoring the police misconducts and triad collaboration that lie in plain sight, she once again successfully provoked more angers and conflicts.
By Tuesday, the State Council Information Office held a press conference echoing the same line to take as the Chief Executive. By jointly calling for more heavy-handed violence against the people and mass arrests, is that going to solve Hong Kong’s problems, and bring back our peace?
Dictators never change, because they never listen. Yes, the movement has evolved. The protesters and their even wider base of supporters no longer just want to see the complete withdrawal of the extradition bill and the setting up of an independent inquiry, and so on. They want a real share of political power, the removal of the sort of governance that has plagued Hong Kong since the handover, one of which the 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 a growing police state being instituted in Hong Kong. Last week, when a university student was arrested for buying ten laser pointers in Shamshuipo, on the comically fabricated charges of possession of assault weapons, it was a perfect demonstration and realization of one of our biggest fears about the extradition bill itself, that charges can be drummed up and arbitrary arrests and convictions can be set up against citizens by an authoritarian government. Only that this time, even worse than we feared months ago, these fabricated arrests and charges were made not by a corrupt mainland authority, but by our previously respected Hong Kong police force itself.
So, the extradition bill may not have been passed, but the authority compensated for that loss by simply abusing its powers even more. Who needs the law then!
That’s why it is so ludicrous for the Hong Kong and Beijing governments to ignore their own abuses, and blame the people. The protesters are not calling for anarchy. They have been clearly calling for a restoration to the true nature of our One Country Two Systems framework. It is only the dictators that want to twist and abuse that framework by putting authority over promised autonomy.
So, after two months of protests, the fight for public opinions has once again taken center stage. Daily press briefings by the police and the administration are set up to try to spin the news headlines, especially for the majority of those who are not readers of online forums such as LIHKG. So the young people fought back brilliantly with their own periodic press conferences in order to reach a bigger audience too. By comparing these efforts, one can clearly see the distinction between the pure pursuit for freedom and justice by the young people, and the twisted logic, misinformation and top-down authoritarianism demonstrated by the authorities.
And when in the middle of last week, the Hong Kong and Macau Office summoned the selected heads of the pro-establishment ranks, such as members of the National People’s Congress, to Shenzhen with instructions to toe the line, Beijing is set to repeat the same mistakes that they have made since the handover — that is, selectively listening to only its own selfish cronies, and dictating its own views, based on a 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 put down, it will come at a great cost to our economy, and our image as an international city and financial center. 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.