The ‘two sides’ delusion

Christine Loh makes an impassioned/cliched/snore-inducing plea for moderation, dialogue and reconciliation. Lots of mild and reasonable pro-establishment types make this sort of argument, and when radical protesters vandalize MTR stations many sensitive middle-ground folk might find it appealing.

But it denies the power dynamic of the situation.

This is not a disagreement between two parties of equal standing (as in a contractual dispute). This is a conflict in which one side (the government/Beijing) holds all the power, and the other side (the people/anti-government movement) has none.

Indeed, that imbalance is the root cause of the problem. It is also deliberate: the government has not only resisted giving the people more input, but has systematically worked to exclude them (through disqualifications and the dismantling of upward feedback channels and opinion surveys).

There are no grounds for ‘negotiation’. The ‘both sides must make concessions’ line is meaningless. The onus is on the side that holds all the power (with which, remember, goes ‘responsibility’) to change things. The side with no power, by definition, cannot make changes. (Similarly, it is the job of the government to win the confidence of the people, not the other way round.)

Most people intuitively get this. So why are relatively moderate pro-establishment figures indulging in hand-wringing lovey-dovey mutual-respect bringing-two-sides-together BS?

Some of these people are deluded, and others cannot conceive of institutional reform and representative government anyway. But those who have the intellect to do so (like Loh) don’t dare talk of it, because that directly contradicts Beijing’s public position on what is happening in Hong Kong.

Back in June, the first massive street demonstrations jolted Chief Executive Carrie Lam into admitting that the government had lost touch with public opinion and needed to listen. Since then, that line has shifted: the focus is far more on ‘ending the violence’ and supporting counterproductive Police/MTR measures against protesters – with a dash of ‘both sides’ having a responsibility to ‘come together’ as a sweetener.

This reflects Beijing’s insistence that Hong Kong’s unrest does not reflect broad-based opposition to the government, but is the work of a small number of foreign-backed extremists. That narrative was originally designed to keep domestic opinion on the CCP’s side. It is now being disseminated worldwide by Beijing’s highly persuasive mouth-frothing diplomats and official media.

Hong Kong’s more rational and perceptive establishment figures are now essentially forbidden to publicly acknowledge the extent of the protest movement, let alone its causes. They are probably under pressure to sound deranged (like Fanny Law) and peddle conspiracy theories about ‘comfort girls’ or CIA backing. Bleating about dialogue and reconciliation is almost rebellious and edgy, and the nearest they can get to having credibility (other than having a conscience and telling the truth haha).

This does not bode well. How can you solve a problem when you’re not even allowed to accurately define it?

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15 Responses to The ‘two sides’ delusion

  1. Stanley Lieber says:

    When even Li Ka-shing is publicly calling for the Lam administration to up their game, you know they’re in trouble.

  2. old git says:

    The process of reform by the HK Government has always been to listen to submissions from those who submit, to see if those opinions coincide with the Government’s views.

    If they do so, then the Government will claim consensus.

    If they do not, then either those who submit have not understood or, as in the case of the extradition / asset freezing bills, in the course of the hammering of it through armor-plated skulls and cleaning the Augean Stables at the same time, the Government has not explained itself clearly enough.

    So listening to the 5 demands is adequate in Government terms.

  3. Mark Lane says:

    Very insightful and well-reasoned post, Hemlock!

    I, too, am tired of the trite and tired both-sides-are-bad / plea for moderation argument, which seems to be a favourite of conservative types around the world when such types hold political power.

  4. Cassowary says:

    1. We’ve tried moderation for 40 years. Activists used to be so moderate that they didn’t even use the word “politics” out loud. What did that get us? You should know Christine, you were there.
    2. All you seem to have learned is that Beijing only talks to people who adopt the pre-emptive cringe, so now you want everyone else to do it.
    3. So basically what you’re asking for is unilateral disarmament. The protesters are to give up their sole source of leverage, which is their ability to embarrass the government. And what they’ll get in exchange is a talking shop followed by mass incarceration, while the establishment attempts to go back to business as usual and leave the moderates once again pissing into the wind.
    4. I hope the kiddie seat they gave you was really worth it.

  5. Cassowary says:

    And by the way, “attempting to go back to business as usual” means trying to cash in while desperately ignoring the breakdown in the rule of law and the police state growing up all around us.

  6. Reactor #4 says:

    Critically, the number of university students engaging with the protests is minimal. Yesterday, the SCMP’s website reported just 150 kids attending an event at Baptist University. A colleague of mine who was on another university campus just this lunchtime said there were more people gathered round the “Singing Society” PR event rather than the Riot Club’s recruitment stand (apparently there were no pictures of mid-teenage girls who might be up for offering their vaginas).

    The smart kids have a plan: add as much intellectual value as they can and scarper (I suspect that Chinese people carry a gene for this, especially those descended from refugees who made it to HK in the third quarter of the last century). Thus the only people who are having a moan are the disenfranchised useless, who were too lazy/stupid to study when they were younger and are thus trapped here until they die, plus a small gaggle of expat egger-oners, whose life anthem could very well be the New Seekers “I’d like to teach the World to sing”.

  7. Fanny says:

    My theory has long been that the CCP has never had any wish to deploy military or to squash any rebellion in Hong Kong with force. They believe the police can do that, though they really don’t care. What really is driving the CCP position is the knowledge that they can sew up this entire thing by manhandling the legal process and bending it to conform to socialism.
    The theory is that the reason they say that Hong Kong can change things through legal means is because they are dismantling the Basic Law. What we have here is not a failure to communicate. It’s the literal communication of something like a coup. They are using unrest, which they are fomenting, to pitch themselves as saviors and behind HK and Britain’s back, change the law. We are going to wake up one day and be living in a socialist communist Leninist state. And there is not a damn thing that we can do about it.
    We are not going to be murdered in the streets. We are going to be cajoled into going insane and just accepting that we live in an asylum and have lost everything.

  8. @Reactor #4 – every positive development in human history has originated from a small number of disaffected people. A century or two ago you would have been telling people to just put up with child labour or slavery or torture because “that’s just the way things are – if you don’t like it, emigrate to the colonies”. It’s those who can envisage a better world and work for it who are really the smart ones.

    That apart, emigration is no longer an escape. The CCP believes it owns the loyalty of everyone with Chinese genes wherever they are in the world, and is now powerful enough to find ways to screw with their freedom in other countries if they don’t agree. “We know where your parents live” and all that.

  9. Mark Bradley says:

    “They are using unrest, which they are fomenting, to pitch themselves as saviors and behind HK and Britain’s back, change the law.”

    The CCP is doing a terrible job making themselves look like saviors. They look more like a bunch of ham-fisted idiots wetting themselves. And how exactly are they going to unilaterally change the law? By creating secondary legislation via the emergency regulations ordinance or by declaring a state of emergency via the NPCSC under article 18 of the Basic Law?

    Also jury trials are still a thing in HK and I expect a lot of juries acquitting people. We already have one case of a drunk guy shooting a cop in the leg being acquitted.

  10. Joe Blow says:

    Christine’s columns and her ineffective posturing only serve one goal: to put herself in the picture. When the time comes for the Government or Beijing to compile lists of ‘reliable patriots’ who can fill senior (and well paid) positions, of any kind, they may therefore think of Christine. She is a self serving and self dealing cretin, on a par with Junius Ho.

  11. Knownot says:

    RTHK reported this morning:

    “A group of professionals in the medical sector published a petition in local newspapers on Wednesday, urging the government to respond to all five of the protesters’ demands and blasting police for blocking access to injured protesters.

    The full-page advertisement, with hundreds of signatures displayed in the background, said a government response is urgently needed to save Hong Kong.”

    The statement spoke of “rampant” abuse of power by the police.

    There have been similar statements by individuals or groups with some status in society. This may be much too hopeful – but such statements, which are admirable, could clear a path that the government could follow, if it wished, and if it were permitted.

  12. Mary Melville says:

    Forget all those pledges about listening to the people, dialogue, addressing the issues.
    Yesterday Carried appeared in the cheongsam that had been mothballed for months.
    The elderly Henry Fan is touted as the new head of the Hospital Authority. His claim to fame …. being part of the management at CITIC, a state owned company, when it lost almost $15 billion. So much for the dynamic young leadership style we were anticipating.
    Property developers and DAB have suddenly gone gaga over developing brownfields in the New Territories to provide affordable housing ….. all the better to rescue pro establishment politicians from the wrath of the voters at the upcoming district council elections.
    So, in summation, after months of turmoil we find ourselves back at square one with the Holy Trinity of Government/Tycoons/Legislators picking up where they left off.

  13. Ho Ma Fan says:

    What a wonderful range of comments, covering the entire gamut of possible scenarios and views. Isn’t this just the kind of thing Hong Kong needs right now, albeit in real life and not on a digital Lennon wall?

  14. Guest says:

    “A colleague of mine who was on another university campus just this lunchtime said…”

    Sounds kind of Fanny Law-esque.

    “(I suspect that Chinese people carry a gene for this, especially those descended from refugees who made it to HK in the third quarter of the last century).”

    I suspect that many of those who have protested peacefully and not-so-peacefully were descended from refugees who made it to Hong Kong from 1951 to 1975.

    “Thus the only people who are having a moan are the disenfranchised useless, who were too lazy/stupid to study when they were younger and are thus trapped here until they die…”

    Reactor may be in danger of being trapped in Hong Kong with them.

  15. Cooling Rod says:

    @Reactor
    Ahh you’re a teacher. That explains the morbidly jealous hatred of people actually doing things.

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