As Beijing paraded its military hardware on the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic, cornered riot police shot a frontline protestor in Hong Kong. The 18-year-old, treated in hospital and out of danger, will be charged with assault, joining more than 2,000 who also have been charged.
National Day will have a different collective memory in Hong Kong.
Pro-Beijing politicians and police officers are calling for use of the colonial-era Emergency Regulations Ordinance for the first time in 50 years to ban face masks and grant the executive suppressive powers of arbitrary detention, press censorship, property seizure, deportation and declaration of curfew.
All of these are offered as solutions to the ongoing protests in the absence of political leadership and are only likely to stir more protests. Face masks have become a symbol of resistance to protesters who fear retribution if they are identified as well as a rather inadequate form of protection against the clouds of tear gas constantly released by police.
Nobody in charge
Mass street protests began in June against the ill-conceived Extradition Amendment Bill which would have allowed local suspects alleged to have broken mainland laws to be sent for trial into its opaque justice system, where confessions are forcibly extracted for show trials following backstage political verdicts.
Carrie Lam strutted arrogantly until told to withdraw the Extradition Bill by Beijing when global TV news coverage risked embarrassing Chairman Xi at the G20 gathering of world leaders. She has disappeared from view since and is absent from her duty to govern. Beijing cannot accept her resignation without a credible replacement and game plan.
The protests have broadened to general anger at lack of public housing, unfulfilled Basic Law promises and increasing mainland meddling, despite dangerous confrontations with riot police. The well-behaved students of the 2014 Umbrella Revolution have morphed into aggressive risk-takers. They have totally lost faith and trust in the Hong Kong and Central governments.
A leaderless city is now at the mercy of street mobs disrupting public transport, while riot police try to maintain order for an incompetent and absent government. Daily news coverage, talk-show chatter and strident partisan propaganda dwell on the street drama, while the root causes of the malaise are dodged by the rulers, who remain unaccountable.
Beijing fingers property cartel
The property cartel has amassed landbanks in the New Territories, waiting for market prices to rise beyond their current stratospheric levels. Hong Kong remains the most expensive city in the world with the highest-value residential real estate, with average residential property valued at US$1.235 million. Developers also manipulate built property by selling some units and withdrawing others, till market demand floats prices. The HK government is seen as colluding and permissive in condoning such practices when half the population cannot afford their own roof.
Pro-Beijing legislators called for a ‘vacancy tax’ on unsold units and urged invoking the Lands Resumption Ordinance to forcibly retake unused rural land. That was immediately shot down by the powerful Heung Yee Kuk (Rural Council) which monopolizes traditional village land in the New Territories and is a savvy political horse-trader. A weak government cannot overrule them.
Having mollycoddled Hong Kong’s property developers since the handover in 1997, Beijing turned on them publicly as the cause of unaffordable housing, which it believed was the primary pain of the protesting youth. That comes from the mechanistic Marxist gospel of social structures, which identifies class conflicts between the owners and victims of economic power.
Beijing cannot accept that it is largely unloved in Hong Kong because it threatens the individual, social, academic, press, and political freedoms that society takes for granted. While unaffordable housing and social inequality are real, denying elections and transparent governance, for mainland-style authoritative politics, is driving the rejection. HK refuses repressive colonization.
The sudden public fingering of the property developers was to divert youth anger to a new focus of hate. That strategy worked so well in the Glorious Revolution of 1949 when furious peasants were unleashed upon landlords everywhere. Terrified survivors swam to Hong Kong and paddled to the wider diaspora across Southeast Asia.
The youth did not take the bait. They did not attack the property villains marked out for them, like Red Guards marching for Mao. They want the Basic Law on universal suffrage implemented to elect their own representatives and chief executive, for the problem-solving to begin after 22 wasted years of the handover.
On November 24, direct elections for 18 district councils are due. The largest pro-Beijing political party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB) and the Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) a leftist labor front, dominate, amply funded to provide street services in all the districts.
Protest candidates are popping up. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its proxies are outed as alien to the Hong Kong way of life and core values. The issues they raise go beyond livelihood matters to fundamental freedoms, representative democracy and accountability. Part of the drive to arrest protestors is to disqualify potential election candidates.
The DAB and the FTU boast their closeness to the Communist Party. They supported the Extradition Amendment, Patriotic Education and Article 23 Security Bills that the larger society opposed and stopped through mass street protests. Their district council seats, public-funded salaries and perks are at risk. They are an angry lot venting openly on Carrie Lam.
More public consultation?
Carrie Lam was farmed out for more dialogue sessions with the general public and youth representatives to halt the protests. Everyone knows she has no mandate to deal with the demands of the protestors beyond the formal withdrawal of the Extradition Amendment Bill she was allowed. Her parroting of the party line and circuitous stalling has not changed.
The Queen Elizabeth Stadium session saw youth protestors fill the roads blocking access and egress. Lam was trapped for four hours and finally smuggled away via the rear door past 1.30 am. It was a sham consultation and quite pointless. Public relations advisors dreamed up this charade. PR is not going to rescue a puppet leader in a crisis without a mandate to take decisions.