- Locking up troublemakers and throwing away the key would only breed revolutionaries
- Political reform that gives our young a sense of ownership must be part of the solution
I have no idea when and how this festering unrest in Hong Kong is going to end, but I do have an ominous inkling of where the next one might begin.
All the mess is left to the city’s police, who have to bear the brunt of public anger. Once considered the pride of Hong Kong and the finest in Asia, the force is now a public enemy in the eyes of many. Trained and equipped to tackle law and order problems, they are now being used to resolve what is essentially a political crisis. Given the growing public criticism of the police’s handling of the protests, the odds are stacked against them for a job many believe to be a fool’s errand.
There is no hope for compromise. Lam, after vanishing from public view for two weeks, called a press conference on Monday. She was not there to make a peace offer. Instead, the Hong Kong chief executive warned that the nature of the protests had changed: it was no longer a popular movement against her government or the now-abandoned bill, but a challenge to the principle of “one country, two systems” and national sovereignty.
Once the movement is characterised as an attempt to undermine national unity, the gloves are off.
Let’s assume everything happens according to Beijing’s plan: the protesters run out of steam and lose public sympathy. Hong Kong police quickly nip the unrest in its bud without ever troubling the military. Ringleaders and the worst offenders are rounded up and put away.
Even if things go this way, it will be something of a Pyrrhic victory for the government. Out of the frying pan, we will head directly into the fire.
So far, more than 500 people – mostly youngsters – have been arrested by the police. By the time this ends, hundreds more will be locked up.
What follows will be an acrimonious and costly legal battle that further divides a polarised society and stretches our judiciary system to a breaking point.
Judges, taking over the thankless job from the police, will be cursed and screamed at for every sentence they pass.
Any student of history will tell you there is no better place than a prison to breed a revolution.
One thing that separates a messy rebellion from a real revolution is that the latter tends to be much more organised, with clearly formed strategies and goals, and driven by radicalised ideology and conviction.
There is no better place to foster that kind of brotherhood than having them in an enclosed environment and with a shared sense of injustice.
Radical young leaders and lecturers locked up by the government after the Occupy movement will be there to welcome hundreds of angry youngsters, whose fates will become more intertwined with those sharing the same beliefs.
From Joseph Stalin to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, some of the world’s most infamous revolutionaries and radical thinkers cut their teeth in jail. Let’s pray there won’t be another one among our angry youth.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not calling for an amnesty.
It is wrong to solve a political problem with the force of law and order, and it will be tragic if we just leave the aftermath to our prisons.
The present crisis requires a political solution. Beijing and the Hong Kong government have talked about deep-rooted social and economic issues as the source of this unrest. That’s correct, but it is not the whole problem. Political reform must be part of the remedy.
Facing our young people is an “ownership crisis”. They feel they have little ownership in almost every aspect of their lives. From owning a piece of physical space, to opportunities to move up the social ladder, to having a say in how their city is run and governed, they just feel hopeless.
Giving them hope and empowering them in a way that they truly see themselves as “the master of the house” can prevent them from radicalisation.
Hong Kong needs to have genuine debates, based on well-established facts, on how to move things forward. A credible body – call it whatever you want – that can carry out this fact-finding mission is important. It will refocus people’s minds and start the slow process of rebuilding consensus.
Addressing the underlying issues – particularly housing – will require bold steps from the government and support from all segments of society. This will require us to change our current political structure and strengthen the mandate of our government, making it more inclusive and representative and having a fairer distribution of social resources.
Beijing has hinted it will be open to ideas and suggestions once the chaos in Hong Kong ends. We can only hope they have the wisdom and will to tackle these issues once normality returns to our city. ■
Chow Chung-yan is executive editor of the South China Morning Post
#RobertReview (Hong Kong): 10 | 10
One of the best and most insightful articles about the Hong Kong protests
Published: 9th August 2019.
Updated: 11th August 2019.
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