As with any sort of bullying, shouting at Mainland shoppers in a threatening or hate-filled manner is nasty. Anyone doing it is a very naughty boy and, if the ‘threatening’ bit is sufficiently serious and provable, liable to arrest and prosecution. That’s the statement-of-the-obvious disclaimer out of the way.
The Great Tsimshatsui Anti-Locust Mayhem Frenzy Outrage last Sunday was a pretty minor thing. The best the organizers could do on-line was attract 100 or so people. If it weren’t for the Voice of Loving Hong Kong counter-protest, few would even have noticed. On a scale of 1 (silently seething) to 10 (burning and beating an Indonesian maid), it ranks at about 5 for obnoxiousness. Yet Hong Kong government officials react as if a rioting lynch mob had left a blood-soaked trail of death and destruction the length of Canton Road.
The rapidly orchestrated expressions of shock by Chief Secretary Carrie Lam and three other ministers tell us that someone is panicking and wants to send an unmistakable message to someone else, and they don’t care how contrived or desperate it looks to third parties. Maybe the message is from Chief Executive CY Leung to Beijing to show his distaste for the local unpatriotic rabble. In theory, it could be from the bureaucrats to assure their tycoon buddies that the Mainland Tourist Pig-Trough will be protected. Or it could be a signal from nervous officials that our generally laid-back forces of law and order can and will get tough if this sort of protest graduates to window-breaking or nose-punching. (Or all of the above, etc.)
The key thing here is that someone is jumpy. That implies that the amateurish little protest on Sunday hit a very raw nerve. It even suggests that at least some elements in our leadership, for all their apparent obliviousness to public grievances about the Mainland influx, do in fact realize that something could snap. In other words, they don’t entirely believe the baloney about how the extreme market distortions and social disruption are outweighed by the economic benefits. If so, it could even be that some of our less clueless policymakers suspect that the game might be up, and they are going to have to do something soon to relieve the pressure.
(Meanwhile, taxpayers are asked to stump up funds for another Disney hotel, to lure yet more tourists. Something is really out of control. It should be obvious now that, whatever the original intention, the influx of visitors is narrowing Hong Kong’s economic base and limiting employment and entrepreneurial choices for most residents.)
The lesson here is not new. As we found out in 2003-05 over the Article 23 security law and in 2012 over National Education, there is only one way to get the Hong Kong government to see sense and change what it is doing. Writing to your local legislator won’t do it; calling a radio phone-in won’t do it; letters to the editor don’t work; handing in a petition to a grinning senior official is pointless. Needless to say, voting won’t have any effect. The only way for the public to convince Hong Kong’s out-of-touch and arrogant government that it is wrong is to assemble on the streets in sufficient numbers as to implicitly threaten the unthinkable.
Maybe it will still take an outbreak of window-smashing at Gucci, Prada and Hermes, much as we would all find the sight of broken glass on luxury displays intensely depressing and, to use government-speak, ‘regrettable’. Let’s hope it doesn’t get to the stage where someone gets hurt – though with wheeled suitcases trundling over toes day after day across the city, it’s amazing no-one has gone berserk yet. Physical bullying of innocent visitors is wrong. But physical bullying of the government is, sadly, the only thing that’s going to work.