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.