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Riots and ridicule

These are interesting times in Hong Kong. Despite it being one of the safest and least violent cities in the world we are experiencing almost daily protests which invariably lead to a violent conclusion. What has led us to this situation? Well, I might have to skip a few details but I will to try to explain my understanding of what has been going on.

Hong Kong was returned to China in 1997 having been in British hands since 1842. Chris Patten was the last governor of Hong Kong and tried to introduce an element of democracy. It wasn't much but it did give the population the idea it had some role to play in electing its government. Having had control of the place for 150 years it seemed a little late in the day to try to introduce democracy and it was bound to annoy the Chinese government who agreed to introduce the idea of one country two systems, so that while Hong Kong would belong to China in 1997 the agreement guaranteed that Hong Kong could enjoy a degree of autonomy and that socialism practised in the mainland China would not be extended to Hong Kong and Hong Kong would continue its capitalist system and way of life.

Although Patten introduced a degree of democracy the CEO has to be a candidate approved by Beijing. It may be cruel to say it but that rules out anyone with imagination and a desire to change anything. Don't rock the boat and toe the party line are the orders of the day. As each CEO has come and gone the willingness to fall into bed with Beijing has increased and their popularity with HK people has declined.

There had been calls for the CEO to be elected by the public or at least not just the hand picked pool of 1200 Beijing stalwarts and refusal to do this led to the Occupy Central movement which paralysed Hong Kong in 2014 but which fizzled out without bringing any changes. Our current CEO, Carrie Lam, took over with promises of listening to the public. Elections took place and a number of democrats were voted in to the Legislative Council (Legco) but foolishly decided to make protests during their swearing in ceremony. The government jumped on this as an opportunity to disqualify these legislators.

A few people spoke of Hong Kong declaring independence from China and such is China's paranoia that the party was banned and any discussion of independence was declared illegal with letters going to schools warning them not to allow any discussion of the subject. An erosion into freedom of speech.
When by-elections were eventually arranged candidates were vetted and any who had had anything to do with independence were barred from standing for election.

A Hong Kong man was accused of murdering his girlfriend in Taiwan, returned to Taiwan and, with no extradition treaty in place Lam used this as a reason to introduce an extradition bill which would allow suspected criminals to be returned to Taiwan, Macau and mainland China. The mainland legal system is not one that is trusted and all sorts of organisations and individuals advised Lam not to go ahead with the bill. Unfortunately, her advisers told her to carry on and, with the demolition of any effective opposition, Lam knew she had sufficient support in Legco to push the bill through. Democrats attempts to delay the bill in committee merely encouraged Lam to bypass the discussion stage and put it straight to Legco.

At this point a frustrated public took to the streets and an estimated 1 million people marched on June 9th demanding that the bill be withdrawn and that Lam should step down. Her response was to say that she was going ahead anyway. She was clearly not going to listen to peaceful protest and so the inevitable happened three days later when a protest turned violent. Immediately Lam said the bill was suspended. The protests on June 12th ended up with some violence and there were a lot of complaints about over reaction by the police, over use of pepper spray and tear gas, and concerns that some of the police did not have visible numbers on the uniforms, which is illegal, but was explained away by the head of the police in that they were wearing new uniforms and there was no room to put the numbers.

The following week, June 16th, a march made up mainly of students and young people and with an estimated 2 million people, quietly walked through the streets repeating demands for the bill to be withdrawn, for Lam to step down and for there to be an independent enquiry into the behaviour of the police.

Realising that she had got things very wrong Lam apologised for the fact that she and her cabinet had misjudged the feelings of the people, or at least she said sorry, promised to listen to the people and to do better in the future. But the bill was not withdrawn and Lam was clearly not going to step down.

Since then the protests have continued and have become increasingly violent while Lam has virtually disappeared and, despite what she said, only seems to listen to her pro-Beijing advisers. Last week a gang of around 100 white-shirted men attacked all and sundry at a railway station and evidence would suggest that they were organised and paid for by people close to the government and/or the police.

Many members of the public are fed up with the violence and damage to property, the Legco building was invaded and damaged, and want the police to take a harder line and have organised pro-police marches. Lam and friends have said little other than that we must say no to violence.

From the demonstrators point of view, the continuing violence and changing tactics ensure that Hong Kong remains in the international news. Although many people are demanding that Lam takes some action her inaction is paying off in that the demonstrators are becoming unsure of what to focus on and many members of the public just want everything to get back to normal.

By focusing on the violence people are ignoring the real issues.

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