Protesters maintain unity despite violence

City talk | Jerome Taylor and Zhao Yan 15 Oct 2019

Hong Kong's hard-line protesters have embraced increased violence against private properties, businesses and even people, triggering some soul-searching among the less extreme. But few moderates would abandon the radical comrades.

Even by the standards of Hong Kong's summer of rage, the last fortnight has been brutal.

After months of focusing anger on police, the SAR administration and symbols of Beijing's rule, hardcore protesters went on an unprecedented vandalism spree after the chief executive invoked emergency powers to ban face masks.

The rail system was crippled, with 2,400 ticketing machines and turnstiles vandalized alongside 900 CCTV cameras in 83 of 94 MTR stations.

Businesses perceived to be mainland-owned or Beijing loyalists were trashed, while protesters beat up ideological opponents. In one incident, a mainland JPMorgan employee was punched in the face as a crowd shouted: "Go home!"

The fact is, the movement, founded on defending an independent judiciary from the authoritarian mainland, has increasingly meted out street justice.

The scenes have provoked debate on the online forums used to organize protests. One well-read post asked whether radicals were going after the wrong targets.

"Continuing to escalate vandalism will only help public opinion on the opposite side and lose our support from the international community," the author wrote, fretting that radicals risked being seen as a new iteration of Mao's Red Guards.

And at a press conference on Friday, protesters hinted at concerns that the violence might be counter-productive. "I hope fellow companions will not be controlled by hatred," a spokesman said.

But there was little letup in the chaos on Sunday, with more vandalism and fights erupting across the SAR.

Yet the violence appears to have done little to dent mainstream support.

Political analyst Dixon Sing Ming said this is because neither Beijing nor the SAR administration have given protesters incentives to de-escalate after four months of wielding big sticks and offering few carrots.

"The majority of the people of Hong Kong still feel the major culprit remains [to be] the collusion between the Beijing government and the Hong Kong government and police," he said. "The increase in violence by the police has been a major factor in not detracting the overall support for the protesters, including those increasingly militant and violent attacks."

Police have certainly matched protesters for zeal, firing nearly 2,000 tear gas canisters over a single week this month, compared to 1,000 in the first two months.

Two teenagers were also shot and wounded with live rounds during melees between police and protesters, while a journalist-filmed video shows an officer throwing a heavy rubbish bin from a bridge onto fleeing demonstrators.

A phrase commonly adopted by protesters roughly translates to "we will not sever ties" - pushing the idea that the movement must remain unified even if people disagree on tactics.

"Even if we're not in full support of what they do, at least we try to show some sympathy and understanding," said Claudia Mo Man-ching, a democratic legislator who advocates non-violence.

Bonnie Leung Wing-man, who helped organize the mass protests this summer that were ignored by Hong Kong's administration, said many moderates feel gratitude to the movement's radical wing, who are often dubbed "The Braves."

"All protesters are indebted to The Braves as without them the bill would have been passed," she said, referencing the now- scrapped plan to allow extraditions to the mainland, which was the catalyst for the initial protests before they snowballed into a wider democracy movement.

"There are discussions on the strategies on whether some actions should be stopped," she added. "We have doubts, we discuss, we try to convince, but we are still united."


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