Forget the Japanese occupation, the 1960s riots or SARS. Chief Executive CY Leung declares that Hong Kong has never been in such a crisis as this – the filibustering of the 2013-14 Budget in the Legislative Council. The consequences if the budget isn’t passed will be dire and irreversible. What will happen? Will public hospitals turn dying patients away? Will schools close forever? Will senior civil servants have to take the bus rather than their chauffeur-driven cars? No, the worst thing CY can think up in response to a pro-Beijing legislator’s loaded question is damage to something called our ‘global reputation’. ‘Huge’ damage, no less.
Oddly enough, this is the same fate that we are told befalls us if the Occupy Central movement goes ahead and does its sit-down thing on the streets next year. As well as reputational harm, such a protest will also cause huge economic losses, and some extremely important people known as ‘investors’ will run away.
The stock market’s response is to start the day up 24 points.
The demonization of radicals and pro-democrats through exaggerated and often plainly false claims of the supposed damage they do is not new. A few years back, officials and pro-government media successfully convinced much of the public that lawmakers who resigned in order to force by-elections were wasting vast public wealth. If there is a silent majority, it may well be the part of the community that is receptive to the notion of opposition as disruption or vandalism rather than opposition as promotion of better ideas and policies.
One reason is that the political structure (and the colonial mentality of the bureaucracy) gives opponents few choices other than to be obstructive and loud. Another is that the pro-democrats are not too hot on better ideas and policies. The filibustering radicals like ‘Long Hair’ Leung Kwok-hung are demanding a universal pension – a bad policy that lacks overwhelming public support. And pro-dems seem to find it hard to articulate rebuttals to smears about them hurting Hong Kong. The Occupy Central people could make a case (because it’s true) that their civil disobedience could be huge symbolically but of little consequence to the economy. Worst-case scenario: commuters downtown have clean air for a few days. But they don’t.
For every po-faced official who gets away with portraying the pro-democrats as naughty children costing the taxpayer money and imperiling civilization, there’s one who seems determined to undermine the government’s credibility at every opportunity. And usually, that’s Police Commissioner Andy Tsang, whose valiant boys in blue have just arrested a semi-obscure activist called Melody Chan on a two-year-old charge – not long after she raised her minor public profile working with Occupy Central. Several other radicals have also been charged with offences dating from the 2011 protest. Now it’s the pro-dems’ turn to fling mud, typically in the form of the phrase ‘white terror’.
The police chief swears that this isn’t a politically motivated crackdown. I’m inclined to believe him: if the idea is to marginalize or intimidate dissidents, this is an extraordinarily humiliating, and anyway inept, way of doing it. Even the Standard’s ‘Mary Ma’ editorial rolls its eyes in exasperation at the cops’ claim that it took them all this time to track down vicious 26-year-old trainee-lawyer Melody. Just as Occupy Central is starting to look a bit directionless, along comes Andy Tsang to declare the weekend open by delivering the movement a boost in public sympathy and credibility.