Only losers in this war of unrest

Editorial | Mary Ma 10 Oct 2019

As anti-government protests enter a fifth month, the social toll is becoming increasingly evident.

Taking the brunt of protesters' anger have been Maxim's Group and MTR Corp, making them frequent targets on weekends repeatedly. The attacks on Maxim's branches and MTR stations were senseless.

Protesters might have been trying to make the point that both have been accomplices in the government crackdown on their movement. The fact is they're the most innocent of all.

Although a member of the family of Maxim's founder did openly criticize the protests at the United Nations, that had nothing to do with the group as its operations are run entirely independently of that family descendent.

It's also absurd that the family member should not be free, like others, to speak her mind and exercise her right to express herself without fear even if she were to be involved in the company's management - though she, as a matter of fact, isn't.

The logic is as simple as those cited by critics of the mask ban.

They insist participants in lawful and peaceful assemblies shouldn't be covered by the newly ordered regulation as they would then no longer be free to express their views without fear of retaliation by employers. Examples of such retaliation include cases at Cathay Pacific Airways in the wake of the airline being singled out by Beijing for punishment.

If protesters feel they should be able to express themselves freely without fear, why can't the relative of Maxim's founder?

The plight of the MTRC is bittersweet too.

The MTRC was beloved by many peaceful protesters in the nascent stages of the anti-extradition-bill campaign as it transported them from one point to another in huge numbers - including assigning special trains to evacuate them from flashpoints.

While these early arrangements were hailed by many, state-owned media took the lead to slanderously accuse the MTRC of aiding the demonstrators. High-level pressure from police and the administration forced the transport operator to reverse course.

As with Maxim's, the MTRC became an "enemy" despite its innocence. Without doubt, the so-called "August 31 incident" at Prince Edward MTR station marked a turning point.

Recent rampages appeared to have been motivated by a desire to escalate tensions to an explosive level to bring about a more forceful crackdown by not only the police but also the People's Liberation Army or its paramilitary units - thus sucking Beijing into the chaos.

If the PLA or its armed police units had acted, it would have provided a excuse for the world to impose sanctions on China.

Now that October 1 - the most dangerous day - has passed without a bloody intervention, it is most unlikely that the PLA will be used anytime soon to quash the unrest in the SAR. Maybe Beijing is now prepared to let the city burn until public opinion turns around in its favor.

While the protest fires don't look like they will burn out any time soon - it may take months or even a year before that happens - my concern is about the toll it will exact on our community as a whole.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor must think hard - the crisis can only end with a political solution, not with riot police.

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