Benedict Rogers: The people of Hong Kong are pragmatists, not radicals
In his latest op-ed “Hong Kong Protests: David vs Goliath” on UCA News Benedict Rogers says that democratic reforms are the best way of deescalating tensions in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is at a crossroads. Troops from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army are reportedly massing at the border and its Hong Kong garrison has released an ominous video. The Hong Kong police are under investigation by the city’s anti-corruption agency for complicity in the Triad attack on protestors in Yuen Long. The police have likewise assaulted journalists in Kwai Chung and a police officer threatened demonstrators with a loaded gun. Meanwhile at least 40 protestors have been charged with ‘rioting’ and Triads have launched fireworks at protestors in Tin Shui Wai injuring ten.
Hong Kong has gone from peaceful marching demonstrations to being at risk of becoming the West Bank or West Belfast within the blink of an eye.
There is a massive, unprecedented failure of governance in Hong Kong. All of this heightened tension could easily have been avoided. Hong Kong people are pragmatists, not radicals. Even the young demonstrators who stormed the Legislative Council last month protected books and antiques as they made their protest against the establishment. It would not take much to calm the situation, yet the intransigence of the Hong Kong and Beijing authorities is staggering — and dangerous.
Hong Kong’s jailed democracy leaders Edward Leung and Benny Tai have both appealed for non-violence. In letters from jail, with echoes of Martin Luther King Jnr, both have emphasized peaceful methods. Leung’s letter from jail called on Hong Kong people to “practice persistence and hope in these difficult times” as “those who are supposed to fix the problems in society choose to look the other way.”
There are, in reality, only two ways to resolve the impasse in Hong Kong right now. One is, God forbid, a Tiananmen-style crackdown, which we are already beginning to see in embryo with the police’s widespread use of teargas, batons, beatings, shotgun triggers pulled, and Triad gangsters mobilized. Let us hope that neither Xi Jinping nor Carrie Lam allows for the deployment of the trigger-happy PLA, which would result in a massacre that would not only slaughter the individuals concerned — hundreds of them — but kill off the hopes of Hong Kong remaining an international financial center and an open city in the region. Such a massacre would be the slaughter of Hong Kong itself, it’s very raison d’etre, its meaning, soul and being.
The alternative, which is equally hard to imagine but absolutely necessary, is for the Beijing and Hong Kong governments to recognize that the only end to these protests is for some degree of democratic reform to be introduced.
If Hong Kong people feel they have some say in their future, then they will — provided they are confident of the assurances — get off the streets, re-engage with the political system and restore calm and order and, crucially, confidence to Hong Kong’s battered economic reputation. Hong Kongers are not, by nature, extremists. They are reasonable people. If they are persuaded that the legislators they elect will represent them, that there will be scope for universal suffrage to enable them to choose their chief executive, and that their rulers will listen to them and not push through absurd ill-thought-out draft legislation such as the extradition bill ever again, then maybe there is hope for a breakthrough.
But unless there is a move in the direction of democratic reform by the authorities, and a move in the direction of dialogue and non-violence by the protestors, Hong Kong is heading for bloodshed, turmoil and tragedy on a scale it has not yet seen.
Benedict Rogers is cofounder and chair of Hong Kong Watch. The article was first published on UCA News on 2 Aug 2019.