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Monday, November 30, 2020, 09:58
Violence doesn’t advance political agenda as verified by Hong Kong experience
By Paul Surtees
Monday, November 30, 2020, 09:58 By Paul Surtees

For generations, Hong Kong citizens were held in high esteem internationally for their serious work ethic, their reliability and their social harmony. Such attributes are not generally found in many other parts of the world. Being known for them reflected much to the credit of our hard-working citizens. Such sterling human qualities could readily be emulated by the citizens of other world cities.

Hong Kong also previously was regarded as one of the safest and most peaceful cities. But the gratuitous violence and wanton destruction of public transport infrastructure and private businesses during the anti-government campaign last year has drastically altered the outside world’s perception of Hong Kong. That perceived danger for visitors, especially when added to the COVID-19 public health crisis, has since made us a less than popular tourist destination, with a calamitous effect on our economy and employment as tens of thousands of our businesses and hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong residents are dependent on the tourism industry. 

But another, and most unwelcome, matter has been the copying of some radical Hongkongers’ more extreme protest actions in other places, as seen in the anti-government street demonstrations in Thailand. There is a whole litany of Hong Kong protest behavior which has started to be copied elsewhere, some of them comparatively harmless, some of them not.

Let us hope such level of self-control (of the Thai people) will not be lost in order to preserve the peace, and facilitate a reconciliation between government and protesters. We in Hong Kong have learned that violence does not advance anyone’s political agenda, nor contribute to finding a solution to political disagreements

Let’s start with the protest attire, an all-black fashion has been taken up elsewhere, having originated in Hong Kong. Faces are covered with masks — this could be seen as a sensible health precaution during the pandemic, but could also be done to deliberately hide the identity of the more extreme protesters. The same can be said of the wearing of large goggles. 

The wearing of a crash helmet by many protesters is another take-up from Hong Kong. It is sadly ironic, that many young scooter and motorbike drivers commonly refrain from wearing a protective helmet when on their vehicle, tragically leading to very many serious injuries and unnecessary deaths in traffic accidents in Thailand. But these same young people are ready enough to don a helmet to protect themselves when they engage in street protests and clashes with the police.

Also “exported’’ from Hong Kong is the chanting of protest slogans; the mass hand signaling and finger gesturing; the group singing of protest anthems; the seeking of confrontations with the police; the staging of sit-ins at universities and on busy streets; the erection and attempted destruction of street barricades; the widespread holding aloft of smartphone lights at night — all these and many other actions, have been picked up from Hong Kong’s protesters.

Another Hong Kong protesters’ strategy emulated elsewhere is the last-minute announcements of protest gathering sites via social media, with numerous short-duration protest locations changing as the authorities attempt to catch up with protest gatherings. These guerrilla style protest strategies have been seen in places other than Hong Kong recently.

A comparatively small but dangerous element of the young Hong Kong protesters went out on to the streets with the clear intention of using violence to draw attention to their cause. The throwing of paint, acid, Molotov cocktails, bricks, and more at the police lines — and at any of their fellow-citizens who were brave enough to stand up against them — were all a common sight to be seen during Hong Kong protests. Blocking roads by dropping hefty objects upon them from overpasses; shooting ball bearings and arrows at the police officers on duty; even attacking the police with knives, slingshots, machetes, metal and wooden clubs — all these actions were seen often during those months of violent street protests in Hong Kong.

Thankfully, for the moment at least, such regular street battles seem to have died down in Hong Kong — no doubt thanks to the real danger of contracting COVID-19 when congregating in close quarters during protest and the less tolerant stance adopted by the Hong Kong Police Force following the adoption of the National Security Law.

So, while it matters little if foreign protesters choose to copy the Hong Kong protesters by going out attired completely in black, or blue or yellow costumes with the paraphernalia for that matter, it is just as well that the protesting youngsters in Thailand are for the most part non-violent in nature. Thankfully, they have not widely emulated that viciousness of inter-personal violence, or vandalizing of private and public property, so often seen in Hong Kong in the second half of last year. Nor have we seen in Thailand much of that deliberate disrespect to national symbols, such as flags, which became a common sight on Hong Kong’s beleaguered streets. Clearly this is something Hong Kong protesters can learn from their Thai counterparts. 

The Thai people have the well-founded reputation of being a gracious people, not disposed to using violence against each other. But that seems to be on the verge of changing, after the most recent street protests in Bangkok. Let us hope such level of self-control will not be lost in order to preserve the peace, and facilitate a reconciliation between government and protesters. We in Hong Kong have learned that violence does not advance anyone’s political agenda, nor contribute to finding a solution to political disagreements.

The author is a veteran commentator on Hong Kong social issues, who has often worked in Thailand.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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