The two days of virtual shutdown of Hong Kong International Airport on Aug 12 and Aug 13 leading to the cancellation of almost 1,000 flights shows the extent to which the city was held to ransom by “protesters” over the extradition bill.
Hong Kong is a small city with a huge population: some 7.5 million people crowded into 1,100 square kilometers. Hong Kong cannot possibly survive without international trade, because we depend on imports which must be paid for by our exports for virtually everything that we need. Trade, therefore, is crucial to our survival.
Over the years, air transport has contributed to an increasing share of Hong Kong’s international trade. In 2016, 38 percent and 43 percent of Hong Kong’s total exports and imports were conducted through air transport, up from 26 percent and 19 percent respectively in 1980. I cannot find more recent data, but I would not be surprised if air-borne exports now account for more than 40 percent of our total exports.
Air transportation is also crucial to business contacts and cross-border investment. In particular, trade fairs and business conferences that are directly affected by an airport shutdown could cost Hong Kong billions of dollars of business. Uncertainty over the reliability of our airport could bring even greater costs over the longer term. Those who want to shut down the airport have the mentality of people who commit extortion. That is, they want to inflict the greatest damage in order to force the SAR government and Beijing to give in to their demands.
Prior to Aug 12, the protesters at the airport had been more civil. They had merely occupied the arrival halls and tried to show their signboards to publicize their demands to international travelers. But the peaceful demonstration turned really nasty on Aug 12 and 13. Protesters decided to shut down the airport with brute force and the sheer massiveness of their numbers. In the course of doing this, they blocked the movement of passengers and even detained them. They also saw fit to beat up people they suspected of spying on them.
The mob scene at the airport testified to the unbecoming and uncivilized behavior especially among the young. They say they are fighting for freedom. But they are taking away other people’s freedoms. They perform acts of violence, but they deny they are violent, and they then allege the police of committing violence
A reporter of Global Times named Fu Guohao, was beaten, tied up, and searched by protesters, who then alleged that he was a security officer from the mainland. When paramedics finally arrived and tried to take him away on a stretcher, the protesters tried to block the way, and one protester, carrying a Union Jack, even chased after him and hit him once. The Hong Kong Journalists Association later issued a statement saying that the reporter should have stated and displayed his identity as a reporter. Fu explained that in saying he was a tourist he “wanted to protect himself”. One may wonder why he had to hide his identity as a reporter in order to protect himself. Perhaps an incident a few days earlier might shed light on this puzzle. Another reporter from the mainland was surrounded by rioters and was harassed into erasing the pictures she had taken. Strangely enough, an RTHK reporter was on the scene and, instead of defending press freedom, sided with the mob to help erase her pictures. Strangely enough, the Hong Kong Journalists Association never condemned the erosion of press freedom by the mob.
Going back to the two tumultuous days in Hong Kong International Airport, I have seen quite a few videos showing travelers desperately pleading the protesters to give them access to their flights. Some of them were old and frail. Some of them were with children. Some were in need of medication. But the desperation of these travelers who were at the mercy of the mob does not easily show up in a search on the internet. A search for “protesters blocking passengers at Hong Kong International Airport” only turned up videos from Channel News Asia, CGTN, and Guardian News. I am sure some Western press may cover this, but the dominant theme among the Western press is police brutality and the “demand for freedom and democracy” by the protesters. The talk about police brutality is truly ironic, given what we know about police brutality in the Western world.
The mob scene at the airport testified to the unbecoming and uncivilized behavior especially among the young. They say they are fighting for freedom. But they are taking away other people’s freedoms. They perform acts of violence, but they deny they are violent, and they then allege the police of committing violence. They use the most insulting and abusive language at the police, and expect them to tolerate it. They have harassed the families of police officers and damaged property. A slogan of the mob is: “There are no rioters; there is only a tyrannical policy”. One wonders what tyrannical policy they are talking about. Today, Hong Kong people enjoy many freedoms - definitely much more than what we had during the colonial days. If one looks up Hong Kong’s rating under the World Bank Worldwide Governance Indicators, one readily discovers that our rule of law index has never been higher. Sadly the protesters’ fight for “freedom” and “the rule of law” has ironically undermined Hong Kong’s freedom and the rule of law.
The author is the dean of business at Chu Hai College of Higher Education.
HONG KONG NEWS