Protesters can smell blood in the water

City talk | Cheng Huan 21 Oct 2019

The good news is that the ban on face-masks has deflated the protest balloon.

The protest movement has obviously lost some of its momentum, and Hongkongers with sane minds can hopefully start to look forward to walking the streets in peace and safety again, with the uncertainties of living in Hong Kong near their end.

But the bad news is that the remaining diehard protesters are seemingly more prepared than ever to resort to criminality while hiding their identities behind helmets and masks.

As for the five demands, I very much doubt if it is politically possible for the government to give way and succumb to the remaining four.

The first demand, to drop the extradition bill, has already been met. Even on the assumption that the government meets all the other four demands, it is obvious that having tasted blood, the protest movement will change gear and add extra demands.

As is well known, if you cut yourself in the sea, sharks will smell your blood from far away and come in large numbers to feast on your body while it is weakened. There is a feeding frenzy and sharks will even attack each other in their maniacal rage.

It's why in Hong Kong's present febrile climate, it is easy to imagine the confusion that would follow acceptance of the four remaining demands, the confusion that would probably result in even more vicious violence.

Sadly, areas of our city now resemble the victims of car crashes - paralyzed and broken.

Just walk the streets of Wan Chai and Mong Kok to fathom the senseless defacing and criminal damage of public and private property, and appreciate the extent of the vandalism and hooliganism we have descended to.

This proud city prided itself as "Asia's World City," but five months of carnage has left that boast an outdated slogan.

I have also been reflecting on the embarrassingly great inequalities of our society, which I am convinced are the underlying cause of recent events.

What are the root causes of those inequalities? Well, the surprising truth is that some of the inequalities are entrenched in the Basic Law, which acted as a bridge to carry old colonial policies forward to the HKSAR.

It was the Basic Law that continued policies that enriched property tycoons, allowed oligarchies and monopolies and made the government subservient to land values.

Of course, the Basic Law was created with the best of intentions: the maintenance of one country, two systems and the preservation of our way of life beyond 1997 under Chinese sovereignty.

To maintain stability and prosperity, it is understandable that the Basic Law sought to preserve most old British colonial policies.

But in so doing, it entrenched ways of doing things that were probably already out of date and needed reform.

I recall that even before 1997, there were more and more calls for the colonial government to widen its tax base and reduce its reliance on high land prices.

Articles 40 and 122 of the Basic Law in effect entrenched the colonial land policies of the New Territories.

The "lawful traditional rights" of indigenous inhabitants, as defined by the British, are preserved and protected by the Basic Law.

Article 6 categorically stipulates that private ownership of such property "shall" be protected. Ownership of property by property tycoons is similarly protected, especially by Article 120.

Our English Common Law-based judiciary would inevitably enforce such clear principles as those enshrined in the Basic Law.

Indeed it is perhaps most ironic that if we wish to tackle the entrenched property prices, we may need to amend the Basic Law.

I wonder if the violent protesters will be prepared to fight for such changes?

Cheng Huan is an author and a senior counsel who practices in Hong Kong

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