No end in sight to vicious protest cycle

Editorial | Mary Ma 8 Jul 2019

The past weekend was marked by more demonstrations, and it's abundantly clear the protests are taking on new shapes.

If they had been aimed at opposing the extradition bill, they're now being broadened to target the mainland, and relaunching the democratic reform that has been stalled since the last proposed reform package was voted down in 2015.

Yesterday's march through the heart of Tsim Sha Tsui toward the West Kowloon high-speed rail terminus saw thousands join in. On Saturday, a rally took place at a Tuen Mun park known to be used by mainland women - disparaging known as damas - who sing and dance to entertain mostly local elderly men in return for red packets.

More protests are upcoming. On Saturday, protests are expected in Sheung Shui -- a notorious hot spot for cross-border parallel trader syndicates.

The demonstrations are no longer confined to Hong Kong Island, and the issues have ceased to be limited to the extradition bill. The protesters are also resorting to guerrilla tactics, helped by social media.

As in past major marches, the TST one was peaceful, and the importance of that last bit can't be stressed enough.

A common message has apparently emerged from the recent events aimed at the mainland. Demands for Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to scrap the extradition bill, as well as ordering an independent probe into alleged police brutality, repealing the official riot characterization of protests and freeing arrested protesters now become secondary.

In light of Beijing's track record, there's little doubt that while the central government may hold back for a while to allow the situation to cool down, it will act to tighten its grip on the SAR even more forcefully once things stabilize.

The current crisis will most likely be followed by more hardline policies from Beijing toward Hong Kong, which would be a cause for great concern. The outlook for Hong Kong isn't promising.

As I've said before, by introducing the extradition bill without exercising a much-needed sound political judgment, Lam and her cabinet have unwittingly opened up a Pandora's box.

It would be ideal to proceed with political reforms according to the Basic Law if the crisis is to be solved. But the prospect of relaunching such reforms is extremely poor at this point of time - unless there's a fundamental change of heart in Beijing, which, however, is most unlikely.

Haven't some pro-Beijing critics like political scientist Lau Siu-kai sounded out that it would create greater tension in Hong Kong and between the SAR and Beijing if political reforms are raised now?

Meanwhile, it's hardly surprising that Lam's appeal for talks with student unions behind closed doors has been snubbed, for student leaders know they can't speak for the protesters when the recent demonstrations were mostly impromptu and held without a clear organizer.

If tensions continue, it's inevitable that tourism, for example, will suffer, with fewer mainlanders coming here, dealing a major blow to the retail sector.

Worse still, despite some clumsy attempts, SAR officials remain clueless as to how they can close the opened box.

 

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