Most people may be able to shrug off the burning or desecration of their national flag or emblem as just a symbolic but essentially harmless political gesture. But the People’s Republic of China apparently regards such actions in the same way the Taliban may view the treatment of the Quran. The word of God, or in this case the Communist Party, has been blasphemed.
Thus the official reactions, local and in Beijing, to events in Hong Kong on July 20 has been to focus attention of the smearing with black ink of the emblem of the PRC on front of the so-called Liaison Office of Beijing in Hong Kong, an office which regularly intervenes in domestic political affairs which properly belong only to the local government and its citizens.
Rather less official attention, but a much more public one, was given to the attack by a mob of club- and stick-wielding assailants, dressed in white on a crowd at a mass transit station in Yuen Long, a town in Hong Kong’s New Territories region. The crowd included both black-clad but peaceful anti-government protesters and ordinary citizens visiting the mall on a Sunday
These were “patriotic” thugs recruited from the criminal gangs, known as triads, which are found throughout Hong Kong but most of all in the New Territories. There they are protected by the organization of so-called “indigenous” villagers who have huge powers in the district through being only a small part of the population.
The thugs’ rampage was allowed to proceed for at least half an hour before the police intervened, leading to accusations that the police had been deliberately slow to respond. Indeed, there was evidence the police knew of the attack well in advance.
It seems likely that the Yuen Long assault was a locally generated effort to show “patriotism” using triad thugs well accustomed to violence rather than approved in advance by the Liaison Office. However, some mainland media were quick to praise the action and claim that protesters’ insult to the national emblem was a far more serious issue than the assault on persons.
The attackers were given support by the representative of this “indigenous” mafia on the Legislative Council. The Heung Yee Kuk, as its organization is called, supports the government in return for being allowed to claim land and other rights which in practice run roughshod over official laws, and the interests of the majority of residents in the region. Most likely its rhetoric rather than any nod from Beijing, sparked the attack by the white clad thugs in the NT, keen to show their patriotism to the central government and thus given them more leeway in their future to carry on with their various protection rackets. This would not be the first time the Party and the gangs have done a silent deal.
Meanwhile only a few kilometers away in the central part of Hong Kong island, some 300,000 demonstrators marched peacefully in another protest. Most disbursed without a problem but a few including those daubing the Liaison Office only did so after volleys of tear gas.
The government appears paralyzed. Chief Executive Carrie Lam continues to make statements which are ignored and even pro-business individuals who normally oppose any threat to officialdom remain silent or even call for her resignation. After the Sunday events, she appears at a press conference with her team of stone-faced ministers attempting to show solidarity.
Fears and suspicions had been heightened the previous day by police announcement of the discovery of explosives and bomb-making equipment at a warehouse where anti-government banners were stored by pro-autonomy parties. The “find” followed rumors that radicals sought to use such violence to highlight their concerns.
However, for many observers the find at such an obvious location was too much of a coincidence and there was a high likelihood that the materials had been planted, whether by Hong Kong government operatives or by mainland ones operating undercover – of which there are many.
The wider government is almost paralyzed and the police force appears to set its own rules of engagement – or lack thereof. Beijing fulminates against attacks on national symbols and claims the unrest is all a foreign plot, feeding its gullible billion population with carefully selected version of the facts.
Calls for resignations, whether of Lam, or some of her ministers or her advisory Executive Council have fallen on deaf ears. Meanwhile arrests of anti-government demonstrators ensure that the territory is in for a long period of courts cases, yet the government refuses to listen to accusations of brutality by the police against peaceful demonstrators and media.
Calls for an independent judicial inquiry into all recent events have also been rejected, including one by respected former Chief Justice Andrew Li. The impression is given that Beijing has only one goal: suppression of dissent and punishment of demonstrators. And Lam is a captive of an out-of-control police force.