A merciful bridge across the madness

Editorial | Mary Ma 20 Nov 2019

It was a meaningful breakthrough when former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, law lecturer Eric Cheung Tat-ming and a delegation of school headmasters were allowed to accompany young protesters out of the heavily besieged Hong Kong Polytechnic University campuses to safety.

It was only ironic that similar attempts by others had been stonewalled earlier.

The outcome was probably the best possible scenario for a dire situation.

Will the breakthrough at the PolyU steer the social unrest that has unsettled Hong Kong for five months towards a peaceful solution? I sincerely hope so.

Over the past five months, the police have been using an approach that some said was too militant and others said was too soft to suppress the violence day in and day out, but this cannot solve a crisis of a political nature.

As far as the crisis is concerned, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is an immense disappointment who has still to come up with a political solution.

The police siege of the PolyU was a brutally harsh lesson for the youngsters who were probably thinking they would be among the lucky ones to escape arrest when they left home to join their mates at the university in Hung Hom.

Having been cornered on the campus for a couple of days without food supplies, these minors quickly awoke to the cruel reality that there's always a price to pay no matter how noble they thought their causes were.

Tsang, Cheung and others - including dozens of school principals and PolyU's council chairman Lam Tai-fai - did the right thing this time. At this dangerous crossroad, Hong Kong direly needs people who can point the direction and form a bridge.

It could not be clearer that the police's plan was to round up all the diehards in one strike, expecting that the five-month-long anti-government protests would peter out after they were all caught.

As the force pursued the strategy, they were wise enough to avoid repeating Beijing's grave mistake in 1989 when the army's crackdown on students led to countless deaths. Instead, they set up positions at exits, waiting for protesters to surrender in order to minimize casualties.

Cheung, a pro-democracy academic, also commended the police, saying they were cooperative this time.

Although only a few dozen young protesters left with him and others involved in the mediation, it was still better than doing nothing at all. One of the headmasters involved in the rescue correctly pointed out that even one youngster would be too precious to lose.

While the humanitarian episode led by Tsang and Cheung was most welcome, it cast a bad light on the rest of those politicians in both the pro-establishment and pan-democratic camps who either stuck to Beijing's guns of condemnation from a safe distance or encouraged other protesters to take to the streets to rescue those under siege.

Society is so pathetically divided between "yellow" and "blue" colors that it requires someone to build a bridge. We saw that bridge during the dreadful hours at PolyU.

Society may be split on the question of amnesty but there is clearly a growing consensus for at least the minors to be treated with mercy.

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