Rioters can't gain what they want via violence
Updated: 2019-12-04 07:35
Tom Fowdy writes that perpetrators of violence are emboldened by US legislation, but they cannot win; the authorities will not cave in to violent extortion
I just spent a week in Hong Kong, and luckily, it was peaceful. Radical protesters had called off violence for the previous weekend in order to "ensure" that the District Council elections would not be canceled. As a result, things were normal on the ground. However, as has been typical for the past few months, in the following weekend, things quickly sparked up again.
On early Sunday morning, an individual was assaulted with a manhole cover for trying to dismantle a road barricade set up by demonstrators. Then on Sunday night, after I departed, violence broke out in Kowloon's central Tsim Sha Tsui area, with protesters smashing up stores that they deemed to be "pro-Beijing", as part of a targeted campaign.
The sequence of events all makes sense. Within that week, the White House had signed into law the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which has effectively acted as a reward to the violent behavior of protesters. Despite the peace of that time period, I witnessed that they had no appetite for any compromise. Now, seeing backing from Washington, they believe they can continue to pursue violence and effectively suffer no consequences for it.
Their goal is to extort the authorities, aiming to create a perpetual cycle of violence with the objective of escalating the response from the government and in turn drawing in more momentum and international support, noting that each time, the local authorities and Beijing will take the blame. However, a redline has already been drawn quite clearly: They cannot get what they want through the pursuit of continual violence. Nothing will change, save the total decline of Hong Kong itself in the midst of perpetual chaos.
During my time in the city, the atmosphere was peaceful, yet the underlying hand of radicalism was present everywhere; the extensive levels of vandalism, destruction and radical calls to action could not be avoided.
The "Thank you US" rally over the weekend was unusual as hundreds of people cheered for the United States. After a while in the rally, it finally hit me that there is no desire for compromise from those protesters despite the fact that some of their "five demands" are void of any practical realism. After the Hong Kong act of the US Congress was signed, the most radical of demonstrators effectively celebrated it and glorified the American president, seemingly unaware of the fact that the sanctions, if implemented fully, would decimate Hong Kong's economic privileges.
However, more crucial to that aspect was the inset belief that with the United States, they don't have to compromise with the government and can freely pursue violence and chaos until they get what they want. Washington has sent them a green light. It has effectively patted them on the head and told them "well done" - thus showing them that they can continue these behaviors willingly and without any consequences. It thus purposefully undermines law, order and stability in Hong Kong.
Thus now, the perpetrators of violence are feeling emboldened. But they cannot win. The city's local authorities - and for that matter, Beijing - will not cave in to violent extortion, for if those responsible continue on such a path, they are less, not more, likely to achieve their goals. What it will achieve, however is the following: Hong Kong's economy will continue to decline drastically. Once famed for its open market, stability and investment opportunities, the city is now rocked by increasing political risk, grave uncertainty and outright liability.
When I interviewed some of the city's household assistant workers from the Philippines for a media agency, they told me their expat employers were leaving for Singapore and Malaysia.
In this case, the idea that continued violence and disorder can somehow produce a political solution to the Hong Kong crisis is inherently wrong, and authorities will not be extorted. Those who are breaking the law must be held legally accountable. It is leading the city down a wrong path, a bad path.
Thus ironically, radical protesters and the US are effectively undermining Hong Kong more than Beijing ever did, and ever could.
The author is a British political analyst, writer and columnist.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
(HK Edition 12/04/2019 page8)