Rear Window | Pepper spray & batons

Severo Portela

…and the occasional downpour of rubber bullets, were found to be the appropriate answer to contain the huge crowds assembled to demand the dumping of the extradition bill and Carrie Lam’s resignation as troubled Chief Executive. The same recipe of soft weaponry, and an updated and upgraded display of police containment tactics, succeeded in outmaneuvering the demonstrators from breaking into the Legislative Council chambers, thus keeping undisturbed the official celebrations of the 22th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong to China.

(Conventional wisdom reminds us of a security police scarcely equipped in the 1989 Tiananmen bloodshed, meaning, no pepper spray, no batons, no rubber bullets, which led officials to resort to military force).

That same night, meeting the press, an utterly composed and icy CE, and a Commissioner of Police hardly disguising his satisfaction with the outcome of the standoff between police and the Legislative Council trespassers, could not but hear the fiery HK press corps all but blurring the line of reporting by shouting trap. Indeed, it looked like police intelligence had been playing with the same features that supported this wave of demonstrations: loosely inorganic, loosely disguised, loosely connected through social media.

Precious footage showed the police force allegedly making room for the hotheaded bunch surrounding Legco offices to break into solid glass with the help of a shopping cart and some traffic piles. Enter they did, to let loose a colorful track of political signs as a self-indictment in vandalism. Yes, it was easily predicted and looked like a staged play on democracy with graffiti, something about electrical boxes, a Bauhinia defaced in black ink, and yes, a mysterious white powder. Believe it or not, even the Union Jack was on display in the House of the Legislature. However as far as politics in the SAR is concerned all begins and ends here.

It begins with the reducing of the so-called “extreme violence,” to “violence,” down to “vandalism,” and the elimination of all political meaning of the signs left on the walls of Legco, and it ends with Carrie Lam’s call for order and stability. On one hand, it points to internal security and the police commissioner’s handling of the non-political hooliganism issues; on another hand, it feeds that murky script of an understandable matter gone astray with the violence of youngsters, soon to be rejected by the wise, sensible and moderate majority.  It is another invitation to a social contract to be based on the dialectic play of moderation and leniency.

The final touch of Carrie Lam´s performance on July 1st would be the candid offer to suspend the extradition bill, allowing it to languish until 2020, to expire quietly; instead of answering to the calls of 2 million people from civil society and withdraw the “evil law!” And the skillful manner with which she denounced the tipping point of the civil request to freeze for good any extradition to the mainland as against the rule of law. The rule of law is the important, likewise it was a matter of simple compliance with few checks and balances. But these would be the red lines Lam has to abide with as former governor Patten has said, “a person who is in post, not in power.”

Contempt, absolute or not, from different opinions, is not the best tool to disengage Hong Kong’s vibrant civil society from reacting against the actual erosion of its autonomy. So much more amid suspicions which warn against the growing power of surveillance technologies.

The year of red flags have not ended yet. Besides the historical 70th anniversary of the founding of the People´s Republic of China on the First of October, Hong Kong goes through District Council Elections on November 24. In September 2020, it will be the Legco Elections.

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