The strict official line on Hong Kong’s brief but bloody and inauspicious New Year ‘Fishball Revolution’ is that a small bunch of extremist radicals indulged in criminal violence and, as threats to society, must now be rounded up and brought to justice. Chief Executive CY Leung and his deputy Chief Secretary Carrie Lam will not accept that the riot had anything to do with governance. Loyalist groups and media dutifully go along with this (the South China Morning Post today offers this and – for fans of hardcore mouth-frothing – this).
The brick-throwing and firing of live ammunition were genuinely shocking. This was not, as some media reports said, the worst unrest since Occupy Central ended a year ago; it was the worst in living memory for most participants (inexact precedents date from the early 80s at the latest or the 60s). There is a constituency out there – off-line, grumpy, elderly – who would love to see uppity students hanged and flogged. But even many pro-establishment figures must suspect that the riot is a symptom of the city’s failed leadership.
Lawmaker Regina Ip calls not only for water cannon but for the administration to address ‘deep-rooted’ problems. Mainstream pro-democracy politicians and others similarly strive to get their own personal balance between denouncing the violence and blaming the governance.
A letter in the SCMP provides a quick reminder of the problems with the latter:
Legitimate requests are made to overhaul our education and health-care systems, have a universal retirement scheme and deal with cage homes and subdivided units. These calls are systematically ignored. In the meantime white elephant projects like the high-speed rail link to Guangdong and the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge (being backed by Beijing) are put to the top of the agenda in Legco. It is no wonder that the feeling of not being included is finally taken to extremes.
The first person to blame for this is a chief executive who has refused to listen to Hongkongers and failed to recognise the feelings people had which were boiling over. Secondly, we should blame those ministers and secretaries who in their bureaus and departments should have listened and recognised what was going on. They failed to do this and did not act.
You can add an array of other contributing factors, from bureaucratic stupidity in administering street food vendors to Beijing agents’ abduction of booksellers.
We know throwing rocks at the police is wrong, and we know that if a government is doing its job properly, you don’t get rioting – but beyond that, we don’t have a clue.
An optimist would hope that officials would learn a lesson at this point, and do more to get governance back on track. There is a bigger picture and a more pessimistic and even apocalyptic point of view – of which more later. Meanwhile, an interesting look at police tactics here, and a taste of the apocalyptic here.