Vandalizing shops and blocking roads may make life unpleasant for Hong Kong’s residents, but it is the only effective way to put pressure on the government, according to some protesters interviewed by Asia Times in Central on Wednesday.
Sam, a 25-year-old teacher, said he disapproved of violence but acknowledged that it was the only way protesters could advance their cause.
“From June, people had peaceful protests but were not listened to by the government,” said Sam, who studied in the US and has a master’s degree. “It has been proved that we will get nothing from peaceful protests.”
He said that through the disruption of Hong Kong business activities and property damage, the business sector may eventually feel compelled to help the protesters by pressuring the government to agree to a compromise.
He said he would never assault people but added that it was acceptable to vandalize shops and banks as properties can be repaired.
He said he did not want to end the “one country, two systems” policy, or the lam chao strategy, which means “die together” in Cantonese.
But if that happens, the cost for him would be slight as his job pays only HK$20,000 (US$2,554) per month, he has a bank balance of just HK$40,000-50,000, and he does not own any property or stocks. He said a lot of young people were in the same situation – victims of high property prices and limited social mobility.
Commenting on US support for the movement, he said the protesters should not rely too heavily on Washington, which wants them to avoid violence. He added that while he was afraid of being arrested, he still wished to participate in protests. He and his friends have so far managed to avoid arrest.
Hundreds of protesters were held in Hong Kong over the past five months. People rallied in various districts across the city to call on the government to meet their five demands, which include the establishment of an independent commission of inquiry to look into alleged police brutality and the implementation of genuine universal suffrage.
Clashes between protesters and police have escalated since the death on Friday of Chow Tsz-lok, 22, who was seriously injured during a protest on November 4. On Saturday, protesters were enraged by news of the alleged rape of a 16-year-old girl by four policemen at the Tsuen Wan police station on September 27. Prior to this, the naked body of Chan Yin-lam, a 15-year-old girl, was found in the sea in Yau Tong on September 22. The police said she committed suicide.
While protesters have recently changed their slogan “Hong Kong people, rebel!” to “Hong Kong people, revenge!”Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung said in a Legislative Council of Hong Kong meeting on Wednesday that he could not identify the biggest cause of public anger. Previously, Chief Executive Carrie Lam had blamed “selfish rioters” for the chaos plaguing Hong Kong, suggesting that they had no stake in society and therefore nothing to lose.
“What I want is justice!” Benjamin Chan, 22, told Asia Times. “There have been many suspicious deaths in the city, while the government has no intention of investigating them.”
“It’s ridiculous to say protesters have nothing to lose in the movement,” he added. It may be true that many youngsters don’t have property and stocks, but they risk their lives and job opportunities to fight for Hong Kong’s freedom and democracy, he said.
He said Lam’s administration had lost its credibility, but she still refused to step down. He said that in addition to meeting the five demands, the government must make a strong effort to regain the trust of the Hong Kong people.
He personally agreed with the strategy of using force to counter “blue ribbons,” or pro-Beijing people, at protest sites as they were a threat to protesters. As police tended to be on their side, the blue ribbons think they have “nothing to lose” if they hurt protesters, he said.
“Beating them up can send a signal to these people that there are costs for attacking protesters,” said Chan.
On November 3, a knife-wielding man slashed several people and bit off part of the ear of a pro-democracy politician in Taikoo Shing on Hong Kong Island. When he tried to attack more people, he was beaten up and subdued by bystanders.
On November 11, a pro-Beijing man tried to detain some protesters in the Ma On Shan MTR station. He then argued with some residents on a bridge. Suddenly a masked person doused the man with a flammable liquid and set him ablaze. The fire was put out within seconds. A video of the incident went viral globally.
“A lot of foreigners watched a few videos and immediately determined that the protesters are wrong and the government is right,” said Kevin Bills, a 25-year-old Hong Kong-born Pakistani who works in the finance sector.
He understands that many young Hong Kong people are disillusioned and frustrated. He said Hong Kong people have adhered to the Basic Law since 1997 but still have not been able to get the democracy they want after 22 years.
The government should face the fact that it cannot contain the situation in Hong Kong because at least two million people are against it, Bills said.
The best time for the government to open a dialog with the protesters would have been 10 weeks ago when there wasn’t much violence on the streets, he said. However, he stressed that it is not too late to engage with young people and address their concerns.
He said he has helped the protesters by bringing them food and water after finishing work for the day. He added that he welcomes foreigners visiting Hong Kong to learn about the situation.
Dorta, a tourist from Poland, traveled to Hong Kong on Tuesday for a seven-day visit, hoping to gain a better understanding of the protests.
“I asked some young people on Nathan Road what if they will get nothing in the end. They told me that it’s better to do something than nothing. And I agree with this,” said Dorta. “Hong Kong protesters are brave for holding protests to fight for democracy.”
She said black-shirted protesters were very nice to her as they gave her a mask when police started firing tear gas in Mong Kok on Tuesday evening.
She admitted that she does not know much about Hong Kong, but had been watching events unfold on the TV news, mainly the BBC. She said she saw stories about detained protesters being abused.
She said she had protested against the communists in Poland for 10 years and was arrested once and detained for 24 hours but she was not physically abused.
However, she said she disagreed with the tactic of vandalizing shops and banks.
“When Polish people fought against the communists in the past, we did not vandalize things,” she said, referring to the Eastern European country’s Solidarity movement, which began in 1980.
A 52-year-old Hong Kong teacher surnamed Chan said he also disapproves of vandalism, although he understands why some protesters resort to the tactic.
“If a child breaks things at home, perhaps the parent has done something wrong,” Chan said. “If Hong Kong is a child and Beijing is the parent, we need to tell Beijing to improve and be a better parent.”
Chan said blocking roads could effectively damage the economy and it could be a better option than attacking pro-Beijing shops and people.
“Beijing gives Hong Kong people an impression that it only cares about two things – the Hong Kong economy and whether radical protests will be replicated in China,” Chan said.
Chan, a typical middle-class worker with two children who owns an apartment, said he doesn’t care if protests lead to a decline in property prices and the economy. He said people may benefit as goods will become cheaper amid a slowing economy.
He added that there is no need for Hong Kong to pursue independence as the central government will continue pursuing the “one country, two systems” policy, instead of giving up the city.
Leofort Mercado, a 51-year-old Filipino who has lived in Hong Kong for 35 years and has permanent residency, said he also supports “one country, two systems” and hopes Chief Executive Lam will take the initiative to talk to the protesters and de-escalate the situation.
He said he works for a bank in Central and is neutral about local politics. He holds a Filipino passport and votes in the Philippines.
“The protests have hurt the Hong Kong economy and should end as early as possible. If protests continue, they will further hurt local businesses, including the bank I work for,” he said.
His view was reinforced on Tuesday evening when protesters vandalized Festival Walk shopping center in Kowloon Tong and torched its Christmas tree. Protesters complained that the mall had allowed riot police to arrest people there on Sunday.
Mercado said he owned no property in Hong Kong, but his stocks were down over the past month. He said if the situation in Hong Kong gets worse, he may move to the Philippines until stability returns.