Unwanted tools to fight mob rule

Editorial | Mary Ma 7 Aug 2019

The State Council information office held a second press conference in less than two weeks yesterday to condemn the anarchic situation in Hong Kong and reiterate Beijing's staunch support for Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.

It wasn't only a warning to rioters, but also a message to those opposing the beleaguered Lam's leadership.

Following two months of mobs and protests, the situation is deteriorating quickly into a literally lawless state, with anti-government rioters clashing with riot police. Meanwhile, self-proclaimed patriotic gangs are ambushing retreating protesters and residents, brandishing rattan sticks and metal poles in North Point, Tsuen Wan, etc.

For some radicals in the opposition, they were keen to see the possibility of People's Liberation Army troops being called in to deepen the crisis. There are also radicals in the pro-establishment camp eager to see PLA soldiers set up positions on the streets.

For these radicals on both sides of the confrontation, they must be disappointed because Beijing gave no indication that it's about to mobilize the PLA garrisons.

It's only wise of Beijing to avoid falling into the trap because they know that, as soon as it starts cracking down on the local civil disobedience movement with military force, the strategic value of Hong Kong to the country would disappear overnight.

Those wishing to see a Tiananmen Square-style crackdown by the PLA must be evil minded.

The Beijing spokesmen didn't say anything new, basically repeating the line stated more than a week ago. But the message is clear: it's best for the crisis to be resolved by the Lam administration within the One Country, Two Systems policy framework.

Lam is not short of executive powers to restore peace, but whether she knows how to use these powers wisely is debatable.

So what will she do next?

As the chief executive, she is empowered to impose curfew in Hong Kong following consultation with the Executive Council, her de facto cabinet. Curfew doesn't have to be territory-wide. It can be confined to certain designated areas within a specific period of time of the day.

If Lam opts to place certain busy places like Mong Kok, Wong Tai Sin and the Western district under curfew, anyone appearing on the street within the curfew period would face immediate arrest by the police. The police may also use heavy weapons against mobsters.

Also, instead of calling in armed military forces, Beijing can declare a state of emergency in the SAR via the National People's Congress Standing Committee.

Then, Lam's executive powers will be greatly augmented to impose laws she deems necessary without going through the Legislative Council.

Because of the expanded powers, she may also shut down opposition publications and censor communications.

Certainly, normal economic activities in the city will be greatly disrupted if a state of emergency is declared.

So, will she go ahead with them?

In the absence of PLA involvement, those boosted executive powers would be the tools of last resort for Lam in restoring peace - if the anarchic situation continues to worsen from what's already a serious crisis.

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