For months, “pro-democracy” activists have inflicted considerable damage on the Hong Kong economy, polity and society, at first over an extradition bill. That controversial legislation has been withdrawn, yet the senseless violence not only continued unabated, it is getting worse.
On Tuesday, a young protester was shot by police and suffered a chest wound. But in many countries, if they were facing the violence Hong Kong is enduring, such a reaction by the authorities would be expected, with the people responsible for the violence arrested or even shot. So why do the Hong Kong and Chinese governments allow the mayhem to continue?
Obviously this complicated situation cannot be easily addressed because of heavy foreign involvement, the impact of the education curriculum imposed under British colonial rule, restrictions under the “one country, two systems” architecture, and a divided Hong Kong government and population.
The “one country, two systems” governance posture, which allows Hong Kong to maintain the pre-handover “status quo” with the exception of foreign affairs and national defense, ties China’s hands. Sending in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to crush the protests would invite Western criticism and sanctions, with the central government accused of not living up to the promises it made with respect to the transfer of the city’s sovereignty from Britain to China in 1997. Using force would invite accusations of China slaughtering its young people as in the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, thus putting the central government in a no-win situation.
Perhaps taking advantage of China’s limited options, the organizers escalated the protests, maximizing the damage they inflicted on Hong Kong’s economic, political and social institutions.
It does not help when Hong Kong lawmakers and citizen groups argue among themselves over what should be done to stop the violence. The “pan-democrat” members of the Legislative Assembly disagree on everything the pro-Beijing members propose, as was the case when the latter proposed the reclamation of land from the sea to build social housing in 2017. The pro-reunification groups want the government to use maximum force to stop the protests, but pro-independence people support them. In short, a divided Hong Kong has paralyzed the government, rendering it unable to mount any effective measures to curb the violence.
Perhaps the biggest factor contributing to the protracted violence is Western meddling. The imminent passage of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Bill by the US Congress, allowing the American government to sanction any Hong Kong or Chinese officials if they shut down the protests by force, has emboldened the “wreck Hong Kong” crowd. The protesters probably think that no local officials would dare to push back against US extraterritoriality because some might have financial interests in America or regions that America can access.
Whatever the cause, the violence must stop. While citizens have the right to protest for what they believe in, they do not have the right to endanger public safety and destroy property. What’s more, Hong Kong’s economy is in disarray, tourism is down by 40%, and businesses are moving out of the city. Unless the violence stops, more economic and property damage will be forthcoming. People’s lives could even be at risk.
Allowing the violence and destruction to linger could, in fact, be construed as an abdication of duty and responsibility. Governments exist to promote and protect the national interest, the reason they have armies and police forces.
Not allowing the police to protect themselves or “fight fire with fire” might be the right thing to do, but the instigators and protesters seem to see that posture as a weakness. No matter what the politicians say or how much they concede, nothing seem to be enough, because the protests are not actually about democracy, but a sinister ploy to wreck Hong Kong and destabilize mainland China.
Though geopolitical conflicts (between the US and China) and domestic politics might be the reason the violence is out of control, it is very unlikely that the “pro-democracy” activists will win this war, given China’s economic and military strength, which, by the way, is increasing by the day. Tuesday’s military parade marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic showed a number of advanced weapons such as the supersonic D-17 missile, which could penetrate US missile defense systems. And China will have the economic muscle to rebuild Hong Kong now and in the future.
In that light, the protesters should stop before they meet a “Tiananmen Square fate.” After the 1989 crackdown, the instigators and leaders of the protests escaped to the West, while the vast majority of the misguided and innocent youths who had blindly followed them were left to bear the consequences.