Destructive acts in HK are totally counterproductive

In these days of instant news, broadcast live around the world, the recent behavior of a relatively small number of Hong Kong’s more extreme public protesters has caught the world’s attention. Redounding greatly to the demerit of those who clearly went too far, in addition it contributes to a very negative current international perception of Hong Kong. That such a situation has been reached is lamentable indeed, and not the least cause of sadness is that by taking protests too far, such violent actions may be counterproductive.

A few days ago, throngs of mostly young men besieged the police headquarters building in Wan Chai, along with others. During that period, the police within and without showed remarkable forbearance and just sat it out, patiently. I can hardly imagine any other police headquarters in the world suffering a siege of their building without taking the most forceful action to lift the siege. Had our police done so, a lot of protesters might have been hurt. It is a measure of our police force’s professionalism and control that it didn’t come to that.

Recent political developments in this city have drawn millions of people onto the streets to march in protest. Whether you agree with all their causes of protests or not, it is an impressive thing to see hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong people of all ages, marching in our hot mid-summer weather for causes that they believe in. The fact that these protests were almost entirely peaceful made them all the more noteworthy by the international media in contrast with much more violent events overseas. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has rightly admitted that this was a wake-up call; the government needs to pay more attention to the aspirations of the Hong Kong people. The CE has promised to do just that, which is a welcome and direct consequence of seeing those peaceful marches. To some extent, then, these peaceful protests achieved an objective – the removal of that controversial bill on the judicial extradition of suspected law-breakers for trial on the mainland.

Around the world, a place’s parliament is meant to be the venue for political and governmental representation to address the needs of the people. As such, it surely represents the people – or, at least, is supposed to, and thus should be treated as an august place for rational debate. The breaking into Hong Kong’s Legislative Council building, by hundreds of young protesters, and their trashing of the place suggest the trespassers do not feel they are properly represented by that body. This is a sad state of affairs to reach, and again the CE has promised more dialogue in the hope of improving the situation – a vital step to take, and soon – which may lead to fewer protests in future.

Overseas, in Europe, in South America, in the Middle East and also here in Asia – and now in Hong Kong too – it seems to be almost a rite of passage for young men to engage in anti-government demonstrations by fighting with the police. In many other places, of course, the police are far more heavy-handed than ours, when attacked by a mob. But our Hong Kong protesters are, for the most part, non-violent, which is much to their credit. All the more unfortunate, then, that a minority of them use violence and vandalism to try to make their point.

That a few hundred extreme protesters are prepared to violently tackle our police, to hurl verbal insults and dangerous objects at them, to attack them with laser lights and corrosive substances, to smash their way into government buildings, to vandalize public property, to trash LegCo, and even to beat up those citizens who oppose them, is sickening to observe. When protests become so violent, they stray from being a legitimate expression of grievance toward dangerous anarchy, and it diminishes the message they are trying to convey. It should be condemned by all.

The smashing-up of LegCo should be a source of deep shame, as are the violent attacks on our police force members, who are thereby placed in the invidious position of keeping the peace when the more extreme protesters want to do exactly the opposite. Causing damage to the LegCo building achieves nothing for those who demand more democracy. Indeed, strengthening the representative nature of the make-up of LegCo itself would be a viable way forward, once the physical damage, caused by protester vandalism, has been repaired. So, instead of smashing it up, LegCo should be empowered.

The CE has already correctly indicated a way forward – more dialogue, more explaining, more consultations, more listening – and we will likely see an end of these more extreme protests once that really happens.