立場新聞 Stand News

逃犯條例:抗爭與分化 Protests play to Hong Kong’s divisions

2019/6/13 — 12:46

編按:本文為方禮倫應德國媒體 Suddeutsche Zeitung 所邀對昨日抗議的報道。他在本文寫道,經過昨天的抗議後,無論支持還是反對《逃犯條例》,都只會鞏固和加深香港分化,以及政府權力在手的姿態和運用方面,如何與香港的核心價值觀和精神背道而馳。

Following yesterday’s protests, Evan writes of the two perspectives that only serve to entrench and deepen division in Hong Kong; and how the government, in its style and use of authority, is incompatible with Hong Kong’s core values and spirit.

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The protests yesterday in Hong Kong calling for the government’s controversial extradition bill to be shelved, and the police action to disperse protestors that followed, have shaken the people of Hong Kong. And yet, on both sides, the day played out to expectation.

The Hong Kong Police deployed their full arsenal: baton charges, pepper spray, tear gas, water guns, bean-bag shot and rubber bullets. It remains doubtful whether this was fully justified in all occasions, and whether excessive force was used. The protestors, mostly youths, wore face masks and googles, and carried umbrellas as protection. On both sides there was an expectation that the situation would turn ugly.


Following the uncompromising statements made by Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam in the aftermath of Sunday’s mass protest, that saw up to a million people take to the streets, there was an expectation the authorities would take a hard line. This was reinforced by police action the evening before, that saw much of Hong Kong’s Admiralty district cleared and people searched. Still people choose to converge upon the Central Government Offices, a building designed to embody the promise of a more open post-colonial government and of the principle of Hong Kong people running Hong Kong. History rarely goes to plan.

It was in the adjoining Civic Square that Hong Kong’s youth movements first came to prominence during the 2012 anti-national education protests. It was here Joshua Wong addressed the crowds. It was here too that in 2014, in attempting to reclaim an area supposed reserved for public demonstrations, protestors began what would become the Umbrella movement. Yesterday, the square was lost behind lines of barricades and policemen armed in riot gear. It may have seemed like 2014 all over again. But it was not.

Back in 2014 the protests marked the culmination of a process, started a year before, to try to bring Beijing to the table to discuss meaningful steps towards a form of representative government outlined by the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution. Many in Hong Kong then believed the only way to guarantee the continuation of the Hong Kong identity and way of life was through constitutional reform. They were asking for progress, and they hoped Beijing would listen.

In 2019 Hong Kong is no longer so naive nor trusting. There is no longer hope of progress or of reform from within. Many no longer believe their identity can co-exist with a national identity as defined, demanded and imposed by the Chinese Communist Party. The protest is instead about the preservation of the city’s separate legal system. It is driven by a guttural fear of living with a noose around the neck, at the mercy of a regime with no qualms about torture, forced confessions and of concocting offences.

In 2014 Beijing dared Hong Kong people to occupy the streets for a vision; yesterday the government responded to a people desperately clinging to a perception of security — that the law is not a tool to enforce the state, but a means to protect the person.  And whereas in 2014 the protest represented many organisations, with a recognisable leadership structure, the protest yesterday was more a spontaneous reaction to circumstances.

Ms. Lam describe it as an organised riot therefore ring hollow. It was neither organised nor a riot. It was a protest by the agitated and frustrated, the desperate who feel trapped in a home that no longer listens, and in whose future they no longer have a hope of having a say. They hold us for a miracle to sway the government’s hand. It is about the dignity of being able to gather together as a people, to be part of a free community defending their values, identity and way of life.

In the morning I received a tide of messages. Those on the streets reported a chilling scene: “The atmosphere here is Orwellian,” wrote a friend not accustomed to hyperbole. “It is not like occupy. There is an element of coercion in it and it is much darker.”

Then: “They fired a shotgun into the crowd. The peaceful atmosphere has gone.”

Others, following the scenes from afar, communicated a very different story: “The protestors are much younger and more aggressive.” To one Hong Kong, the police brought menace to what was a largely peaceful protest, acting with extreme brutality under little provocation. To another Hong Kong, mostly removed from those who were hurting, the police acted valiantly in quelling a threatening situation. For a community already divided these two narratives, both tinted with prejudice, only serves to further entrench and deepen divisions.

Jetting off to Thailand, one Hong Konger wrote: “Hope that everyone today makes the right choices.” But what are the rights choices? That depends on which side of the fence you choose to sit, or whether you place law and order above your rights (blue ribbon) or vice versa (yellow ribbon) — a division that corresponds to the deep political and social divides that exist within the Hong Kong community.

An often repeated mantra is that the Chinese seek stability and harmony. In practice both come with courtesy of an unwillingness to compromise and an iron fist. Ms. Lam has demonstrated both, which will surely please Beijing. Rather than seeking to heal divisions through empathy, sensitivity and understanding, she has sought to overcome division by suppressing all but the official narrative. It is an exercise of power, top-down and dictatorial, that many in Hong Kong who remember the comparatively liberal last years of British colonial rule find alien. It is a style of governing and understanding of authority that is distinctly more authoritarian, more Chinese Communist Party than Hong Kong SAR, that is incompatible with the free, open and liberal society that is Hong Kong.

There is no reason to believe, as some maintain, that Beijing is pulling all the strings. What Beijing has done, especially under the presidency of the openly reactionary and authoritarian Xi Jinping, is change the nature of power and its relationship with people. Much as it has done with the Chinese identity, institutions central to what Hong Kong was, freedom of speech and the rule of law, are thus undermined not only through institutional structures but through the way people understand and relate to them. Whether or not this is policy, the insidious effects are keenly felt.