Let's not fool ourselves and force issue

Editorial | Mary Ma 19 Aug 2019

Social media has been inundated with scary images of columns of military vehicles stationed inside a Shenzhen stadium and paramilitary police conducting exercises just over the border.

Suddenly, a military crackdown on Hong Kong anti-government protests seems imminent.

While it's alarming to think the worst-case scenario might become real, I'm equally disturbed to hear cynical individuals playing down such a possibility - be it by armed police or regular soldiers, both under the command of the central military commission chaired by President Xi Jinping.

Those outright disbelievers insist the mainland wouldn't have talked so such if it was really serious about the military option, arguing that the louder Beijing huffed and puffed, the less likely it would go ahead with it.

That can be a dangerous self-delusion.

Sate-owned media is now deluged with hardline rhetoric elevating nationalistic sentiments to a high. The rhetoric is not only meant to warn the opposition in Hong Kong, but also to prepare mainlanders for the probable tough action that China's hard-line authorities may resort to.

Some Hongkongers who cross the border regularly say mainlanders are showing a higher degree of hostility toward people from the SAR.

It was timely of former secretary for justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie in voicing out her observation that Hong Kong is far from meeting the conditions under which Beijing would declare a state of emergency in order to send in the People's Liberation Army to crush the protests.

While Leung's public remarks may be taken at face value, it could also be read as a statement to oppose calls by some patriotic fanatics for the troops to get involved.

Last week, some local businesses were singled out by Beijing for bruising treatment. Cathay Pacific lost two top executives after the Civil Aviation Administration of China forced it to hand over personal data of flight crews for security vetting ahead of flying.

The naming and penalizing served as a warning to all who are doing business in China.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po said Hong Kong is facing an economic typhoon with signal No 3 being hoisted. He's wrong as the storm is far more powerful. It's hard to understand why he had to be so wishy-washy to distance his HK$19.1 billion relief package from the 11 weeks of anti-government protests - when the connection is so obvious.

A sum of HK$19.1 billion would be too little to stimulate growth if what's wrong with Hong Kong was purely economic. However, the public may feel a little better because of it.

Yesterday, hundreds of thousands again turned out for another weekend rally.

A reason for the ongoing impasse is that, apart from the protesters' five demands, they don't have any visible leaders, and therefore it's extremely difficult - if not impossible - for the administration to engage them to start a dialogue on their demands or even on democratic reforms.

Ahead are three probable outcomes: a military crackdown resulting in a bloodbath; an impasse that nobody can foresee ending; or a solution through dialogue.

But the biggest problem with the last outcome, the most desirable of the lot is this: who should the administration talk to?


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