Maybe it’ll work *next* weekend!

For the 20th week in a row, a group of top-level Hong Kong government officials sit in a conference room. The Ad Hoc Rampaging Protesters Unleashing Chaos and Violence Committee comes to order. As in 19 previous meetings, attendees are discussing what the administration can do to bring an end to the regular and unending cycle of rallies and demonstrations turning into mayhem on the streets.

There is silence around the table as one policy secretary after another mumbles or shrugs. Suddenly, the Security Bureau boss sticks his hand up. “I’ve just had an amazing idea! Let’s send in hundreds of riot police to fire tons of tear gas all over the place! I bet it’ll work this time!”

I was at the ‘illegal gathering’ (the SCMP’s description) yesterday. Although there were plenty of black-shirted (but mostly non-battle-equipped) younger folk there, the crowd had above-average numbers of the middle-aged Respectable Bespectacled Brigade, including media types, perhaps because the rally’s original theme concerned press freedom. Some were in wheelchairs. They did not seem to present a threat to law and order.

There were also platoons of heavily equipped riot police everywhere, obviously just waiting to start firing their sub-lethal weaponry. Soon enough, the Peninsula Hotel was shrouded in smoke. Many demonstrators squeezed out through the Avenue of Stars. Tourists with luggage waited in vain for taxis outside the InterContinental. And a few hours later – in accordance with the routine of nearly five months – clashes broke out further up Nathan Road, with the usual arrests, injuries, etc.

Other districts saw outbreaks over the weekend. The almost ritualized heavy-handed police tactics – tear gas everywhere, arrest anyone you can grab – has become one of the main causes of the protests. Protests against police over-reaction are met with more police over-reaction, which leads to (duh) more protests.

Back in the government conference room, nobody asks if this is isn’t getting really stupid. However, Louisa Lim and Ilaria Maria Sala in the Guardian step in:

The escalating weekend insurgency and the police brutality deployed in response have marooned the territory in a cycle of violence that is doing serious damage to its economy, rule of law and public trust in its institutions.

… The authorities are boxed in: any political reforms that fall short of concessions or real dialogue would likely worsen the situation, as would no action at all.

They mention the ‘Northern Ireland’ scenario of perpetual troubles.

The authorities – essentially Beijing – are indeed ‘boxed in’. It is fanciful to imagine the Leninist Xi Jinping regime allowing Hong Kong even mildly representative government. But it is also hard to see them going ‘full-Mainland’ via a rapid imposition of censorship, martial law, suspension of habeas corpus, and so on, given the risks of serious insurrection and international sanctions.

There are several other variables. Beijing’s fear of rebellion crossing the border would override any other consideration, for better or worse. There are strategic international factors at play (sanctions, etc). And there is the possibility of factional struggles among the CCP elites.

A more local variable: the owners of Hong Kong’s hotels and malls must be starting to feel pain. Local policymaking traditionally revolves around the needs of these family-run conglomerates, whose heads have correspondingly shoe-shined Beijing for decades. They probably have little clout, and few friends – if only they had been nicer to their fellow citizens over the years! It couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of parasites.

Barring a serious – and hard-to-envisage – shift, perhaps we do face a real prospect where this does not end. A future of permanent paramilitary occupation and low-scale insurrection, but blissfully few tourists.

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17 Responses to Maybe it’ll work *next* weekend!

  1. Stanley Lieber says:

    Where do the banks and the banking system fit into this scenario?

    How worried are they about the direction and likely duration of events?

    Put more bluntly, how are they fixed for collateral on all those loans?

    They might be the canary in the coal mine.

  2. vilma caho says:

    excellent reports thank you

  3. ccpony says:

    I’m serious. This is a revolution and China is about 13-15 months from collapsing. Remember this.

    This government is incompetent on so many levels, and they have installed a micro-manager, who is myopic as much as he is delusional. How this culminates or ends in something other than a collapse of the CCP is beyond me. Anyone?

  4. StayStoic says:

    Part of me shares the foolish hope that our highly-compensated “best-of-the-best” government superiors may someday inadvertently take a positive step toward reconciliation. However, more likely things will be as you described…or, as General Sir Anthony Cecil Hogmanay Melchett, VC, KCB, DSO, …, put it:

  5. Paul says:

    I just ask people who complain about the chaos a very simple question.
    “What exactly has the government done in the past week to try and solve this situation?”
    The answer. Absolutely nothing.

  6. YTSL says:

    I should stop being surprised at how this unsaga unfolds but I really was not expecting the police to fire tear gas so close to the Peninsula, the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, etc. like they did yesterday — and so early in the afternoon too. Things are so surreal here that I can imagine, even now, movies being pitched with plot twists like what has really happened in Hong Kong these past few months getting dismissed as being “unrealistic”. And the optics: it’s hard not to laugh at the absurdity of so much of it all even while fleeing from the prospect of being tear gassed!

  7. Joe Blow says:

    I notice that more and more China banks’ branches and even some restaurants (Maxim’s Group) are transforming their shops into little Fort Knox equivalents, wrapping the whole shops, neatly, with fixed metal plates. This is supposed to protect them against ‘vandals and hooligans’ who faithfully show up every week. This contrasts nicely with all those empty shops that have been plastered with posters and freedom art and who are still waiting for the return of the locust shoppers, who may never come again.

  8. Mary Melville says:

    An angle not being discussed is where are our fabled religious institutions and charities when there is a clear need for both physical and spiritual support?
    Yesterday, for example, not only were hundreds of domestic helpers ousted from a popular gathering zone around the Cultural Centre, Kowloon Park, another popular hangout as it provides a safe and secure node with clean toilets and other services was also closed.
    Across the street St. Andrew’s Church was in lock down. YMCA is opposite Cultural Centre but provided no refuge. The mosque is manned and opens its gates when needed.
    Like our government, many of these establishments enjoying peppercorn rent and government subventions, cater only for their mostly well heeled congregations or use space in their buildings to generate revenue while displaying no concern for the general community.
    In addition they mount no support for the many fraught pedestrians or protesters and police who may be questioning their roles in the unending drama.
    Our religious institutions and large charities have become bloated and lost their way.
    They have abandoned their traditional role of providing moral guidance and sustenance to those in need..

  9. @Mary Melville – both the Anglican church and the mainstream Buddhist organisations are already well absorbed into the United Front, with token seats on the CPPCC etc. The Catholics are divided, with Martin Lee and Joseph Zen on one side and Carrie Lam on the other, but even their leadership in the Vatican is negotiating a deal with the CCP. No help there, I’m afraid.

  10. Guest says:

    @Joe Blow: obviously Maxim’s wasn’t going to trot out Annie Wu to guard its restaurants with harsh language, although I’d have loved to see her try.

  11. PaperCuts says:

    Religious institutions have been under attack for centuries by corporate goons, atheists and degenerates. They are so compromised and watered down today they all but support the disintegration of traditional moral values. This, and you’d be lucky to find a charity out there that acts as anything but a big fat piggy bank for it’s crooked management.

  12. Jason says:

    @Mary Melville: In principle I agree, our religious organizations should be far more involved. There are exceptions: Kowloon Union Church in Jordan Road and the Methodist Church in Wanchai have been kept open as safe haven for people in need.
    @YTSL: You have a good blog!

  13. YTSL says:

    @Jason: Thank you!

  14. Mark Bradley says:

    @YTSL I second that you have a good blog. Will be part of my daily reading along with Big Lychee of course.

  15. Mr Miyagi says:

    In a city so reliant on tourist revenue, is it a good idea to tear gas and rubber bullet peaceful protestors in front of the world renowned Peninsula Hotel? Only if you are an ignoramous of world class proportions. And that is what we have running the government here.

  16. Mark Bradley says:

    @Mr Miyagi well Hong Kong is a world class city so of course we have world class ignoramuses running the police and government. Asia’s World City. We’ll bounce back, we always do!

  17. dimuendo says:

    Mr Miyagi and indeed all.Quite,what the point was,of tear gassing g at an initial peaceful (however “illegal” ) gathering in front of the Cultural Centre a d Peninsula perhaps the “powers that be” could explain. The question be who are such powers? Not the so called government. To decide to tear gas requires initiative, however misguided, of which it is clearly bereft. Not the Commisioner of Police. The District or Divisional Commander? The chief inspector or inspector on the,spot? Crass. As,stupid a decision as the one to tear gas at the start of Occupy.

    PS Nor has it stopped my local mtr exit being fire bombed for at least the third time!

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