Perhaps the end of the beginning…

After some 3,000 or arrests (which will clog up the courts for months), the transformation of a fairly professional police service into a paramilitary occupying force, tear-gassing of residential neighbourhoods, extensive curfew-like shutdowns of the transport system and resort to emergency legislation – there are signs that Hong Kong’s mass protests have peaked. Through attrition, exhaustion and basic lack of mobility, what the SCMP calls ‘rampaging mob’ activity this weekend was relatively small in scale and veering towards a more desperate sort of violence that could turn off more moderate supporters.

That, at least, is what the government is likely to be reassuring itself. It may be true (see here). But officials are almost certainly in denial about two other things.

One is that this has come at an extraordinary cost. It has entailed the curbing of residents’ and visitors’ movement around the city, disrupting social and economic life. And it has required the deployment of huge police resources. These have in turn created unprecedented embitterment and hostility among the populace. Are the authorities going to maintain these police-state conditions permanently, or try to return to normal life?

The second is that this does absolutely nothing to address the fundamental problem – a local administration with no credibility or legitimacy.

After expending so much effort – even on such demented obsessive-compulsive trivia as stopping schoolkids from wearing face masks – Hong Kong’s government and its shadowy Mainland bosses have accomplished a big fat zero in terms of positive outcomes.

The sovereign in Beijing, as it never tires of reminding us, ultimately has all the power. The people of Hong Kong have none – this uprising has happened because they are deliberately excluded from having any input into how the city is run. The responsibility for fixing that by definition lies with the Chinese government. Can anyone imagine Beijing now taking steps that restore confidence in Hong Kong? Backing off from interfering in companies like Cathay Pacific, or from encouraging police collusion with triads? That is hard to believe.

It is also hard to believe that the ‘post-riots’ phase of this struggle between Beijing and the millions who have not been arrested will be any easier for the CCP to suppress.

A more immediate question: will they let us have our MTR back? Here are some deeper and more-wistful-than-average reflections on a mass transit system.

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24 Responses to Perhaps the end of the beginning…

  1. D3SH says:

    Definitely a sense that we have or are starting to reach that same point we hit with Occupy, where people say they support the cause but have had enough of the disruption. (A comment I think is faintly ridiculous if people understood just how much they have to lose.)

    Still, the government has repeatedly managed to stoke the embers of the protests every time it looked like they were dying down. I wouldn’t put it past them or the police to have another collapse of mental capacity and to do something that will fan the flames yet again.

  2. boredcollie says:

    While I applaud the author of the MTR post traumatic stress disorder narrative about the MTR and it’s “daddy,” we must remind our gentle readers that the woman writing the missive was not on any train and watched the whole thing via webcam and satellite feed on the Internet like most of us, and not like the actual people who were attacked. That’s not to discount her view, which I think is correct, but let’s not give her too much wind for her petticoats.

  3. Din Gao says:

    If the protests taper off, there will be no excuse to cancel next month’s District Council elections. Oh dear.

    Perhaps the solution will be to encourage more white-shirt thugs/triads to attack pro-democracy candidates – as they have already done in Sai Kung and North Point – and postpone the elections indefinitely as a “security measure”.

  4. Joe Blow says:

    It was decided at grassroots level that this week was going to be ‘non violent action week’ in anticipation of the HK Bill-vote in the US.

    Protesters now also realize that marching at the front of a big demo makes them easy targets for the popo. So now we see more guerilla style tactics (like Mao has thought us) of small, independent groups hitting a target quickly and dispersing immediately, like water.

    Next month’s election is almost upon us. Let’s wipe the DAB and Regina Ip off our plate and straight into shitter. Go and vote.

  5. Joe Blow says:

    *like Mao has taught us* ouch.

  6. Headache says:

    It looks like a few on both sides see the District Council elections as the next opportunity for a bit of authoritarian meddling/sticking it to the man.

    This movement might have run out of steam by then, but as Hemmers says, the underlying problems aren’t/won’t be/can’t be resolved.

    Restoration of the status quo just means a resumption of quiet dysfunction and we mark time until the next blow up/crackdown.

    Some things are unpredictable, but one isn’t: unless/until the CCP comes to its glorious end, things can only get worse for HK.

  7. Underling: “Ma’am,the people are rioting, demanding more democracy. What shall we do?”

    Carrie: “I know, let’s cancel the District Council elections.”

    Unfortunately, these people are so stupid, they might just do it.

  8. Mark Bradley says:

    @Joe Blow excellent points.

    So let’s say the protests do die down as a hypothetical. Will the CCP dare do a massive crackdown like described in that Financial Times article complete with “great firewall” style of internet censorship?

    Wouldn’t that just fire everyone up again if CCP engages in any sort of collective punishment?

  9. PaperCuts says:

    I demand tax breaks. There’s no way I should be expected to pay the same tax into this joke of a State I paid last year. What am I paying for? A State that sicks triads and gangsters onto unarmed civilians in Yuen Long MTR, beating them with bars, bamboo, fists and sticks? A State comprised of glorified administrators who couldn’t even administer a chook raffle? A State who tear gasses anyone who looks sideways at them? A State run by a tiny minority of well-to-do, flush scumbags out of touch with real people? A general State of fear, lies, thuggery and incompetence?

    You have some gall to pick my pockets to help prop up more of your ineptitude. Hong Kong is a first world city run by third rate hacks. You’re lucky lynch mobs don’t assemble with pitch forks hell bent on taking your heads.

    Wave all tax this year you pack of slinking cowards.

  10. Mary Melville says:

    Re the DC elections, we can thank Regina Ip for her SCMP article yesterday and its blunt reminder that both district councils and Legco are effectively nothing more than RUBBER STAMPS.
    ‘If the pro-government parties lose big in the upcoming district council elections on November 24, it means the government could lose indirect control of several district councils”
    “And if the government continues to perform dismally, the pro-government parties might lose more seats in the Legislative Council election next September, meaning the government could lose its majority and its ability to control its agenda”
    So much for the lauded separation of powers, monitoring of the executive and the other crap we are expected to embrace without question.

  11. Stephen says:

    I think the Government will certainly “stoke the embers of the protests” when Puppet Lam gives a usual bland, civil service, building consensus type policy address on Wednesday. I would have thought a siege of Tamar would be on the cards so she can only videotape her wisdom to the adoring masses.

  12. Gerald says:

    I thought our CEO was going to hold a series of ‘town hall meetings’ to have a ‘dialogue’ with us lesser mortals, but this does not appear to have transpired.
    Anyone know when the Chief of Police is going to let her out to perform this task?

  13. C.Law says:

    The sense of surprise in the HKFP article as to who is the “Daddy”of the MTR merely reveals the incompetence and wilful ignorance of the local media. For as long as I can remember the media have reported without comment the various announcements and briefings by spokesmen from the MTR and the Govt which have included words to the effect that they are separate entities. This has even, or perhaps especially, happened when the MTR was engaged in controversial matters such as, for example, “negotiations” with the Govt over the building of the Express Rail and the problems with the construction of the Shatin – Central Line.

    One look at the MTR website shows that not only does the Govt appoint the Chairman but that the majority of the Board of Directors consists of Govt officials, starting with the Financial Secretary and the Commissioner for Transport, yet I have never seen any member of the local media challenge any of the spokesmen on their statements alluding to them being separate entities.

    David Webb has publicly drawn attention to this from time to time, but the media have just continued to ignore it.

    The local media are as useless as the Govt they claim they try to keep to account (hah, hah ! ).

  14. Alex Ho says:

    You all have to read Alex Lo’s warm, tepid water-like column today. Talk about calling the kettle black. I love when Alex rails against people’s views of “the real Hong Kong,” because I don’t think the guy has visited the city for at least a decade.

  15. Reactor #4 says:

    The recent disturbances have got some people really worried. A colleague’s mother, who is nearly 85, has a Pekingese dog (Master McMichael is his name). He’s a lovely little chap and a great companion to her. Often he accompanies on her chauffeur-driven trips over to the South Side where several of her friends live.

    Mrs Chan, though, is fraught with fear that the “peaceful protesters” will get wind of her mainland connection (she actually bought him from a breeder in Clearwater Bay), and will come round and torch the furry fellow, and quite possibly ransack her Mid-Levels flat.

    I said that she should pretend that Master McMichael is a Tibetan Terrier – they might then cut her a bit of slack (I’ve noticed some underpass walls sprayed with “Free Tibet, Free East Turkestan”). If, however, the shouties have in-tow someone who knows their dogs she could be in deep doo-dah. Does anyone have any other suggestions?

  16. Copperdammerung says:

    I don’t think the unrest is abating at all, and I think violence levels are just going to spiral upwards until the body count starts to hit the dozens before the status quo is broken.

    I do think the extraordinary cost has yet to be properly evaluated, and won’t become properly clear for years. “The curbing of residents’ and visitors’ movement around the city, disrupting social and economic life… and … the deployment of huge police resources” are fleeting effects which don’t have lasting consequences.

    The “unprecedented embitterment and hostility among the populace” is going to be a problem for the government and the police for decades to come.

    For the government, the worst nightmare is having awakened the populace to politics: it will be less easy to get things done from now on, as people have woken up and only those who directly benefit large amounts from the government will be voting DAB or FTU or the other UFWD CPC clones.

    The police have made a nightmare for themselves for decades. As I have remarked before.

    The bigger unspoken disaster is giving thousands of the brightest and most public spirited of the workforce a crash course in police brutality, 5-10 years in jail and a criminal record which will, let’s face it, lead to a lifetime of social security claims, public housing, poverty and probably a rise in crime.

    In an already ageing population, that’s going to be a large scale disaster: 3,000 is 5% of all Hong Kong’s six form students (obviously, not everyone arrested is a sixth form student, but it’s useful for a sense of the scale of how much damage this government has caused the territory so far).

    And good luck getting ahead competitively in the world with the best of an entire generation at the start of their working lives all languishing in prison. Society will be left with the dim, the selfish and the risk averse, when it’s crying out for the innovative and creative to drive the economy into the future.

  17. commiepinko says:

    This is a wonderfully rich quote from the police after it was discovered an IED was exploded via mobile phone on Sunday. All spoken without any trace of irony and the reporter none the wiser, I am sure:

    ““These people doing violent acts are not protesters. They are indeed rioters and criminals that are destroying our rule of law,” Mr. Tang said. “Whatever causes they claim they are fighting for can never justify such triad-like behavior,” he added, referring to organized crime groups.”

    I had to guffaw some of my tong yuen back onto the spoon as I read that.

  18. Mary Melville says:

    Am surprised that this quote did not generate more concern:
    The police also said it took them more than two hours to call an ambulance for the Now TV driver, who had multiple injuries including a fractured jaw, because they struggled to ascertain his identity.
    Since when has there been a requirement that an injured person be identified before an ambulance is called? What if this person suffered internal injuries? Bear in mind that he had been hit in the head.
    The implications are shocking.

  19. Headache says:

    @ Copperdammerung

    Population replacement will solve some of that. Around 150 a day should do it.

  20. Mun Dane says:

    It’s telling about the level of support or distrust of the police now is that the first thought that seems to jump into a large number of peoples minds is that the reported slashing of a police officer could be an inside job.

    Also, leaving my apartment the other night I was stopped by one of my neighbours who warned me about police in the neighbourhood. Doubt I have ever passed more than a nod or jou-san with him in the years I have been in the building.

  21. Casira says:

    > After some 3,000 or arrests (which will clog up the courts for months)

    You are naive, it will be cloged up for decades

  22. Cassowary says:

    @Copperdammerung: The police have arrested 2,500 people but they have only managed to charge around 450 of them. They’ve been too busy busting heads to collect evidence and have often grabbed people just because they happened to be standing around. The number charged with rioting is about 230. This is hardly the mass incarceration scenario you are envisioning but it does mean that a lot of people have been roughed up in detention and have even more reason to distrust the cops for decades.

  23. Copperdammerung says:

    The replacement 150 from across the border are generally not exactly top notch in terms of education, creativity and innovation, so not really.

    For sure, they’ve only charged 450 so far, and while they’ll have to release quite a few, but they’ll also probably charge a whole load more that they haven’t actually arrested in the long term: for eg. they didn’t arrest anyone for occupying LegCo on the day, but the cases are slowly coming in. Beyond rioting, arson, wounding with intent etc will get you life imprisonment. There is also no statute of limitations on the POO offences, so there’s a whole load more convictions to come. The Plod have earned the epithet in several ways…

    With the new emergency powers, everyone they arrest gets a year in prison for mask wearing automatically, so numbers of convictions and incarcerations will only increase. And the city’s open rebellion is far from over.

    Even so it’s not so much the length of the incarceration as becoming “an ex-con with a criminal record” at the very start of your working life that will lead to the longterm problem of a lifetime of social security claims, public housing, poverty and a rise in crime.

    Because many firms won’t touch you, and a lot of professional careers are off the table altogether, narrowing your options and forcing you into low paid work and thus public housing with a lot of embitterment towards the government and a hatred of police and not much to lose by further convictions except time, so more crime, more violence against the police.

  24. Headache says:

    @ Copperdammerung

    I was being facetious. The 150∞ will presumably be good enough at staying out of politics and focusing on the economy, i.e. shutting up and making money.

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