Hong Kong’s Demonstrators Protest Themselves Into a Trap

It ended in chaos, doubtless much to the satisfaction of “law and order” requirements of a government as unyielding as it is unrepresentative. Hundreds of thousands took to the streets of Hong Kong again on July 1, the date both of the 1997 handover to China and the anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China.

But the story became focused on the more radical student-led groups who besieged the offices of the Legislative Council. While it took some five hours for the columns of marchers to make the four kilometer journey from Victoria Park to the Central District, the besiegers of the Legislative Council broke a few windows but otherwise were in a standoff against the massed ranks of police equipped with shields, helmets, masks, pepper spray, rubber bullets and tear gas.

But after dark fell, the besiegers suddenly made entry into the Legco chambers, the police in effect using none of their array of weapons to stop them. A few dozen then occupied the legislative chamber, defacing portraits and erecting banners and generally creating mayhem. Eventually they withdrew, as did the demonstrators outside, with only a small amount of tear gas used to disperse them.

There were few reports of injuries despite the mayhem, a contrast to June 12 when police fired tear gas and rubber bullets indiscriminately into crowds of demonstrators.

But the trashing of the Legco immediately had the government demanding law and order and denouncing the demonstrators, every effort being made to focus on this event than the hundreds of thousands who marched peacefully yet again. They were demanding the complete withdrawal of the bill, which would enable rendition of criminal suspects to the mainland, and other reforms to a political system run by an arrogant bureaucracy in the interests of a business elite.

For sure the actions of the radical groups upset many who had been supporting the march. Pleas for peace by pro-democracy legislators fell on deaf ears. Indeed, it seems that in their fury the hard core fell into a trap set by the police. The latter had stood by all day behind a baricade, letting the front line of demonstrators smash glass doors and cause other damage. But they then conspicuously failed to try to prevent the late-evening entry and the trashing of the chamber even though the numbers of riot police in the vicinity outnumbered the hard core of the demonstrators and could have legitimately used tear gas to protect the building.

Where all this will lead is anyone’s guess, but Hong Kong is closer than ever to being run by police and a Security Bureau which appears to take orders from Beijing. Meanwhile the pro-democracy groups have insisted that while they deplore violence the cause lies with the complete failure of Chief Executive Carrie Lam to respond to the massive demonstrations against her and her government, hiding away from the public and the legislators, most recently making a statement from the police headquarters.

Constant official praise for the police force, an increasingly politicized body, contrast with withdrawal of police posts from hospitals as a result of the hostile staff. So the nurses and doctors who care for the population are now part of the “enemy,” not the police, whose leadership appears to be Lam’s last hope of staying in office regardless of her unpopularity, which extends far beyond the crowds of protesters.