Shameful 'anti-locust' protest a blot on Hong Kong's image

Updated: 2014-02-18 07:13

By Albert Lin (HK Edition)

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Shameful 'anti-locust' protest a blot on Hong Kong's image

Shockwaves are still reverberating across Hong Kong as we all come to grips with the outrageous incident in Canton Road on Sunday which has cast a pall over Hong Kong's previously unsullied reputation as a friendly and very hospitable city.

What makes the affair still more shameful is the boastful attitude of its organizer, who said he was "pleased" with the result - we deliberately do not mention the braggart's name since we do not wish to give him still more free publicity - he has gleefully revealed that he organized his poisonous "stunt" through online contacts.

What was suggested by him in his original messages, and the enthusiasm or otherwise reflected by the replies he received, would certainly make interesting reading.

For instance, how many did not respond? And how many replied, saying: "No, that's not the Hong Kong way to do things"?

Moving on, we must realistically make a blunt and painful assessment of the possible damage to our tourist industry that could result. First, you may be sure that the insulting behavior of an estimated 100 protesters in Hong Kong is headline news across the country. It is embedded in the minds of many would-be mainland tourists who will now be thinking twice about coming here.

Who would spend good money to travel by plane or train to Hong Kong if they feared being called a "locust" and being on the receiving end of the crude and grossly insulting middle-finger "salute" from such misguided trouble-makers?

Let's look at some important facts. Last year we hosted 40.5 million mainland visitors. Just consider for a moment the hundreds of billions they pumped into our economy. Plus how much mainland visitors spent in Hong Kong over the Lunar New Year holidays.

For decade after decade, tourism has been one of the mainstays of the local economy. Among the services that depend on tourism are our hotels and restaurants, transport companies and of course high-fashion stores, jewelry, IT, hi-fi and other outlets.

It cannot be emphasized too much that at the height of this ugly shouting match, some stores in Canton Road very sensibly closed down for business until sanity was restored.

What worse example than this could be cited as to what might be setting a highly worrying pattern for the future. Could, say, another protest in the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui have a "ripple effect" on a section of the "Golden Mile" of Nathan Road, with many more stores closing their doors as a sensible precaution?

It is, indeed, a most unpleasant vision.

Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok has drawn attention to these closures, and promised follow-up action by the police if they find evidence of any laws being broken.

For openers, did the protest take the form of a procession, and if so did its convenor apply for a licence?

What are the legal parameters that apply to the crime of "disorderly conduct" in public?

Is it an offence to deliberately "give the finger" to perfectly innocent shoppers?

Oh, yes, and another thing - the stores forced to close might also wish to make inquiries about the possibility of suing for lost trade.

Meanwhile, there is another aspect to the affair that casts a shadow over coming events. This incident reminds us of the planned "Occupy Central" protest threatened in the middle of the year. Another batch of agitators are threatening to bring gridlock to the Central business district - the very heart of Hong Kong.

Since there has been such a long period of notice about that planned protest, it would be comforting to know that security arrangements are in hand to ensure that we don't see gridlock across the area's busy streets.

Returning to Sunday's incident. Let's ask ourselves a very serious question - has there really been a serious change of mood in Hong Kong that such a disturbing incident could take place ... has the nature of the average Hong Kong resident changed so drastically that they would approve of such conduct?

In my belief, and shared with all those I have discussed this with, that the answer is a very firm NO! We are all of one mind - this was a most regrettable backward step by an irresponsible bunch of radical-minded nay-sayers wanting to see themselves on TV. While history is full of instances of an entire people's best interests hijacked by a vociferous minority, I believe Hongkongers are sufficiently clear-headed and determined to ensure this would not happen here.

The bottom line is that we cannot afford to let Hong Kong's good name to be besmirched by the rude and radical behavior of a few whose grandstanding may please a narrow electorate, but will be at the cost of our community as a whole.

The author is Op-Ed editor of China Daily Hong Kong Edition.

(HK Edition 02/18/2014 page9)