Interesting Hong Kong events of the last few weeks:
- On January 9, activist Christina Chan was arrested by police after leaving Radio Television Hong Kong, where she had given an interview, and questioned about an alleged assault of big burly cops outside Beijing’s liaison office after the New Year’s Day pro-democracy march. While at the station, she said, police insisted on photographing her tattoo.
- On January 16, police used pepper spray on anti-Express Rail Link protestors during the siege of Legco. Radical arty-type Banky Yeung Ping-kei later wrote [Google translation] that he recognised plain-clothes police among the crowd and believed they had acted as agents provocateurs and were involved in the (superbly aimed) bottle-throwing incident that resulted in lawmaker Philip Wong getting a bump on the head.
- On January 17, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen launched into an uncharacteristic and not especially convincing macho-man routine and denounced the anti-XRL protestors as ruining order and acting against the city’s core values, public interest and the rule of law.
- On January 18, magazine Oriental Sunday carried a front-cover paparazzi photo (you don’t have to look) of Christina Chan at home, in her undies, brushing her teeth. Activists complained that this was a part of a pro-Beijing pressure campaign to intimidate them. They had unlikely bedfellows in the form of the Christian hyper-conservative Truth and Light Society, who complained to media watchdogs at the wanton exposure of nubile flesh.
- On January 19, someone broke into the office of Civic Party legislator Tanya Chan (the thinking man’s Christina). She is one of the lawmakers who are resigning in order to force a by-election in each constituency – the ‘five-district referendum’.
- On January 23, the South China Morning Post reported that detectives from several districts were being drafted in to Hong Kong Island to go through all the video footage the police had filmed outside Legco on the night of the ‘siege’. An anonymous source said such redeployment of officers was very rare.
- Also on January 23, someone told me that Banky Yeung had claimed that he had suffered a break-in, and the intruders had taken the chip from his camera, which was otherwise left intact.
By the standards of the US or UK, hardly any of this would be remarkable. Hong Kong people are extremely sensitive to police scuffles and political vandalism, however, so it is understandable that these incidents have aroused concern. The agents provocateurs/camera chip charges are disturbing, but a cynic would note that Banky Yeung is a theatrical, self-confessed ‘urban prankster’ who may not be totally reliable. A real cynic would suggest the limelight-loving Christina Chan, not averse to being photographed in a bikini, arranged the Oriental Daily shoot.
Not wishing to be cynical, we seek a rational explanation. And that is that Beijing has turned the heat up on the Hong Kong authorities after this little outbreak of unrest on the streets and in the legislature. The politicians and cops are appearing to get tough so they can show the Central People’s Government, and local pro-Beijing sneaks, that they will ‘strike hard’ against plots, splittists, black hands, bad elements, etc. The break-ins – not unprecedented – can be put down to over-zealous patriots who know people who know guys with tattoos who need some cash. The salaciousness of the Big Lychee’s glossy magazines needs no comment.
Seen this way, the only sinister bit of this is Banky’s allegations. Are top officials really dumb enough to run the risk of being caught ordering plain-clothes cops to create artificial trouble to justify subsequent harsh measures? Or mount a Watergate-style burglary? (And would Philip Wong accept that the blow to his head was all in a good cause?)
Some would say yes. In which case, the explanation is that the screws really are being turned, and the Big Clampdown is coming. But as we saw in 2003, there are hundreds of thousands of people here who will get off their backsides and take to the streets if pushed too far, and fewer than 10,000 prison spaces (mostly occupied – unless they use stadiums or send everyone off to the gulags). So good luck with that.