Published:  02:52 AM, 14 September 2019

Time to end its distressing self-harm

Time to end its distressing self-harm

Hong Kong, officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People's Republic of China, is a special administrative region on the eastern side of the Pearl River estuary in southern China.

With over 7.4 million people of various nationalities in a 1,104-square-kilometre (426 sq mi) territory, Hong Kong is one of the most densely populated places in the world. Distance from Bangladesh to Hong Kong is 2,436 kilometers South-Eastern side. This air travel distance is equal to 1,514 miles.

Officially the regional flag of the Hong Kong depicts a white stylised five-petal Hong Kong orchid tree (Bauhinia blakeana) flower in the centre of a red field.

The flag of Hong Kong was first officially hoisted on 1 July 1997, during the handover ceremony marking the transfer of sovereignty from Britain to China.After months of being engulfed in protests, precipitated by the now-suspended extradition bill, there remains no end in sight to the situation in Hong Kong.

China's state media recently shared a video of armoured troop carriers apparently assembling in Shenzhen, a mainland city bordering Hong Kong.China was running out of patience. The Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council has repeatedly delivered stern warnings, calling the recent turn of actions as terrorist-like.

If anything, the crisis has deepened.The Hong Kong police are visibly agitated and have rolled out fiercer tactics over the course of the protests.

They have infiltrated protest rallies to make surprise arrests.They have fired as many as 800 rounds of tear gas in one night. In their cat-and-mouse chase of protesters, they have also fired rubber bullets and sponge grenades as different newspapers say.

Armed intervention - what some considered unthinkable two months ago - may be now less than 30km away from becoming a reality. Indeed, as Chief Executive Carrie Lam warned, Hong Kong may well be on the brink of going down a path of no return and there is no telling whether she might call on Beijing for help to quell the protests.

The anti-extradition bill movement, on the other hand, has effectively locked the authorities into a political stalemate. Far from being cowed into silence, it continues to evolve as protesters escalate their tactics.Just in the last two weeks alone, in addition to demonstrations by lawyers, civil servants, and hospital staff, a city-wide general strike that disrupted businesses and transportation networks was called.

Recent sit-ins at the Hong Kong international airport triggered cancellations of flights and even turned violent.Rather than petering out, more protests are expected to come in the coming days as newspapers reopt.

The protesters have made five demands so far: The formal withdrawal of the bill, Carrie Lam's resignation, the retracting of thecharacterisation of events as riots, a full independent inquiry into police actions, and the release and exoneration of arrested protesters. Various Occupy leaders have served, or are still serving time in prison. Elected pro-democracy lawmakers have been disqualified from office.

Captured in their organising philosophy of "Be Water", protesters have been mobile and tactically flexible. They have been able to launch a provocative, hit-and-run strategy against the police in multiple districts before dispersing quickly to evade arrest.

Being formless and leaderless, they have avoided the police's direct targeting of protest leadership that would have demoralised the rest of the movement.However, such an environment has also precipitated occasional bursts of violence like those seen in the clashes at the Hong Kong Airport.

This also speaks to the challenges in trying to end the chaos: Who can credibly claim to represent their voice at the negotiating table? Or tell them to cease their actions?A recent academic survey of motivations of almost 6,700 respondents carried out by the Chinese University of Hong Kong over June to August 2019 is especially instructive on the state of the movement.

With over 90 per cent of surveyed protesters unwilling to contemplate suspending the movement, it is unlikely at this point those authorities can persuade them to get off the streets.

The onus is on Hong Kong authorities to foster a public mood of civility and restraint, tackle the discontent and end this norm of violence.Scholars have documented how taking a tougher course of action to clamp down on protests can backfire, and instead add to the general spectacle of the protest. Indeed, perceived police brutality is often part of the viral video clips disseminated across various digital platforms.

A young woman was reportedly hit in the eye by a beanbag round fired by police during one of the recent clashes. The image of her bloodied face went viral, and is now the latest rallying symbol of the movement, which has not only dented the government's legitimacy, but also hardened attitudes towards any chances of compromise.

The CUHK survey recorded in the past two weeks also tells us that more than 95 per cent of respondents came out to express dissatisfaction with police's handling of the protests. That the resignation of Carrie Lam is no longer the protesters' first priority speaks to how perceived dramatic police aggression has transformed dynamics.

More than 93 per cent of surveyed protesters also believed radical tactics are understandable in the face of an intransigent government, a proportion that has grown from the last June to August.In fact, since July, Hong Kong's democracy has become a primary goal for 85 per cent of the protesters.Protesters are radicalising not only in terms of their tactics, but also in their goals.

The Hong Kong government must think outside of the box to deal with this unprecedented challenge. It cannot simply hope to wait out the protests, or rely on the typical suite of hardline tactics.It should accept humility and consider implementing an independent inquiry into the use of force by law enforcement, a course of action already urged by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

While some observers have said that giving into protesters' demands would legitimise their acts of violence, the possible scenario of hardline alternatives gaining more traction is far worse.A whole generation of Hong Kongers could be irreversibly radicalised. Studies show Hong Kong youth's outlook regarding identity, Hong Kong's autonomy and Chinese policy towards Hong Kong have sunk to all-time lows.

The last thing authorities want is to make Hong Kong youths feel backed into a corner.Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said on 4th August 2019 she will withdraw legislation that would allow extradition to mainland China. The bill was the catalyst for 13 straight weekends of protest and the concession is welcome, but by now it will take more to end the city's political crisis.

The demands of protesters have escalated as police have arrested more than 1,100 people, including pro-democracy lawmakers and activists. Hong Kongers now want the right to directly elect their chief executive and lawmakers. Beijing won't allow...

The anti-government protests in Hong Kong over the bill which was aimed at extraditing locals to be prosecuted in the Communist Party controlled courts tested the Chinese leaderships patience to the hilt.

Premier Li Keqiang, China's second highest-ranking leader backed Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam's move to withdraw the controversial extradition bill, breaking his silence over the massive pro-democracy protests which challenged Beijing's hold over the former British colony.

The anti-government protests in Hong Kong over the bill which was aimed at extraditing locals to be prosecuted in the Communist Party controlled courts tested the Chinese leaderships patience to the hilt.

Top Chinese Communist Party leadership, including President Xi Jinping refrained from commenting on the three-month-long agitation which often turned violent as pro-China Lam struggled to deal with the protests."The Chinese government unswervingly safeguards 'one country, two systems' and 'Hong Kong people govern Hong Kong people, Li said in a joint press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

He said China backed Hong Kong to end the violence and chaos in accordance with the law, to return to order, which is to safeguard Hong Kong's long-term prosperity and stability.The world "needs to believe that the Chinese people have the ability and wisdom to handle their own matters well," he said objecting to the US and the EU backing the protests.

Despite mobilising thousands of special police forces at Hong Kong borders and well-armed soldiers stationed at its garrison in the city, China refrained from deploying them apprehending intensification of protests.

Since June this year, Hong Kong has been witnessing unprecedented protests by millions of people at times demanding the local government to withdraw the legislation.

While some of the peaceful demonstrations witnessed at times the participation of over two million locals, hard-line prodemocracy activists have been clashing with police almost every day disrupting normal life.In the last few days the protests by youth and students turned violent.

Earlier reports from Hong Kong said China has overruled Lam's proposal to withdraw the bill.Lam,62 has been hinting during the past few days that she even wanted to quit.On 2nd September 2019, a recording of a private meeting emerged where she was heard saying: "If I have a choice, the first thing is to quit." But she said she had "never tendered any resignation."

However, she announced on 4th September 2019 that the bill would be formally withdrawn, but this has not satisfied the anti-government movement, with some protesters planning to block traffic to Hong Kong's international airport on 7th September 2019.

The protestors called her announcement too little too late.Besides the demand to withdraw the bill, the pro-democracy protestors are also calling for her resignation, inquiry into police brutalities and universal franchise of one person one vote with freedom for all the locals to contest the elections for the legislature.

We believe a peaceful solution is needed for Hong Kong. In the current situation, violence must be prevented. Only dialogue helps. There are signs that Hong Kong's chief executive will invite such a dialogue. We, as outsiders, hope that materializes sooner and that demonstrators have the chance to participate within the frame of citizens' rights.

The writer is a senior citizen,
writes on politics,
political and human-centred figures,
current and international affairs

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