(At this point, I might as well change my name to Keyboard Warrior or something.)
Chinese New Year is meant to be a day of happiness and fortune.
And yet, this happens. Mong Kok up in flames, bloodshed, tear gas, and gunshots.
I am very aware that there is very limited information about the situation at the moment, and for the most part it is restricted to firsthand accounts and video footage from various individuals and media outlets. I am also aware that none, if any, of these accounts are completely impartial or accurate.
However, I saw in a number of videos that police officers were wielding guns and heard gunshots. Looking back on our experience with Occupy Central and the Umbrella Revolution, can I say that the police definitely fired shots into the crowd tonight? No, I cannot. But can I say that the police definitely used appropriate and proportional violent measures for peacekeeping? Well, also no.
Just to clarify, I think that the police are justified to retaliate with violence against violent protestors. However, the key word here is “retaliate”; the first shot is not theirs to fire. Violent retaliation is only justified if it is necessary for self-defence, and is proportional to the initial violence against them. Given this, were their actions tonight justified? Again, I don’t have all the information, but I don’t think I need to spell my answer out to you.
On the other hand, I have one major question for the protesters: Why?
How on earth is this going to help their cause? In my opinion, this is probably the worst thing they could have done. Not only have they lost what little legitimacy as representative of the Hong Kong people they had, they have also alienated everyone who would possibly have backed them. Nobody wants to be associated with rioters. Speaking as a generally uninvolved centre-leftist who doesn’t especially like the government, I certainly wouldn’t. I don’t think the “silent majority” everyone speaks of would either.
In addition, by being so rash and reckless, the only people they are hurting are the civilians they claim to be fighting for – who’s going to shoulder the policies that are aimed to combat forces like them? How is that going to motivate the average Hong Kong voter to come out in support for greater democratic reform? It’s like shooting themselves twice in the foot.
I am deeply saddened and angry that this is what Hong Kong has become. Neither side of the violence tonight is in the right (then again, when is any perpetrator of violence innocent?). This is stuff that would have been unthinkable before 2014. It still doesn’t quite make sense in my mind (and I honestly never want it to accept it as reality).
But, more than anything, I am tired. Tired of seeing the blues bash the yellows and vice versa. Tired of reading comment after comment online filled with swear words and little to no reasoning. Tired of hearing one-sided statements, “only way forward”s and “last resort”s. Why can’t we all just be a little less stubborn, a little less emotional, and face this problem, this political dilemma, as a community? Hong Kong’s political reform is not any old reform, it’s practically a foreign policy issue. The “last boss” we have to deal with isn’t each other, it’s our neighbor up north. But until we fix this internal issue that is pretty much a (almost bloodless) civil war, there is no way we can stand up to the Mainland and bargain for what we want.
I fear that this will not be the last incident of its kind. To me, the future from here is nothing but doom and gloom, violent escalation and bloodshed if the political environment in Hong Kong does not change fundamentally. As much as I hate to admit it, no matter how united the Hong Kong people are, if the government refuses to budge there is nothing that can be done. So, the government needs to realize that after the Umbrella Revolution, things have not and will not return to the pre-UR state where moderate economic and social reforms were all that was needed to keep the people content (or quiet, at least). The underlying rifts that these reforms once managed to cover up are now very much visible, and widening. At its core is the fundamental opposition between Beijing’s (and Hong Kong government’s as its proxy) desire to bring Hong Kong back into the fold, and the Hong Kong’s people desire for freedom they believe is their right. As long as the Hong Kong people remain cynical and suspicious about the government’s motivations, radicalism, localism and populism will grow. The only way to bring peace back to public life is to face these rifts and actually do something about them. What that something is, I have no idea.
To add on to it:
1. On police violence: I would like to amend my stance on the police reaction towards the protesters. When faced with a much larger group of armed, violent people who do not seem to be listening to warnings, I believe it is justified for each police officer to deploy greater force, so long as it is a) in retaliation, not in attack, and b) the total of each officer's response is proportionate to the aggregate violence against them. I understand that b) is extremely difficult to gauge, and on the individual level probably impossible to decide how much violence is enough or too much. However, I believe with more transparent and clear police regulations on how to deal with situations like these, we will be able to avoid further split between authority and the public. Of course, the likelihood of this is slim, but one can only hope.
2. On protesters: I am aware that the majority of the protesters were not involved in the violence, and that many were only peacefully protesting against the excessive food hawker regulations. However, this raises a question: how on earth did something like this turn into last night's tragedy? I believe we have to point the finger at certain radical localist groups' opportunism. When seeing the people "rise up" against authority, who wouldn't take that occasion and turn it into a platform for themselves? Not saying that opportunism is inherently bad, but this kind of opportunism is when it ends with injury and bloodshed. This is just the extreme short-term, dealing only with the events of last night. The underlying cause of conflict (of any recent and future HK conflict, really) is probably the sociopolitical division that has grown wider and more visible since the UR.
3. On political division: I know I sound like an idealist when I say "why can't we all just get along?" I know full well why we can't - vested interests, prejudice, balance of power... The list goes on. And I think I can speak for some of the "silent majority" when I tell you that question is a plea that I know will be heard but not answered with a "yes, we'll try". This is the atmosphere we live in - it's despairing, it doesn't produce anything new apart from more division, and we don't know how to stop it. It's a cycle that feeds on itself: the government does something, the yellows and the blues do something against/for it, the situation escalates, the police are called in, LegCo turns into a battlefield, and the government does something again. (Very simplified, but you get my point.)
4. On media: As both new media and traditional media release more coverage of last night's events, it becomes both easier and harder for the public to see "what really happened". It becomes easier in that more stuff is available; harder in that there's more time for the material to be edited, and for the most part it looks more impartial. At this time, it is even more important for us to be vigilant: ask "what's missing?" instead of just "what can I see?"
Feel free to agree, disagree, even bash me. These are just my opinions, I'm not expecting you to just nod your heads to them.
(Photo source: BBC)