Law must be en­forced so HK can move for­ward

China Daily (Canada) - - LIFE -

Ri­ot­ers clashed with the po­lice late at night on Feb 8, the first day of the Lu­nar New Year, and things es­ca­lated and turned bloody in the early morn­ing of the next day, with the ri­ot­ers de­lib­er­ately in­jur­ing close to 100 po­lice­men. In the process, the po­lice had to fire some warn­ing shots. Wor­ry­ingly, fires were started in a num­ber of places.

In all fair­ness, there was noth­ing par­tic­u­larly spe­cial about this riot. Af­ter all, this be­hav­ior is what rad­i­cals do all around the world, and rad­i­cal lo­cal­ists in the spe­cial ad­min­is­tra­tive re­gion have fi­nally caught up with in­ter­na­tional trends.

TheWorld Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion min­is­te­rial con­fer­ence in­Hong Kong in 2005 showed peo­ple how in­ef­fec­tive the pep­per spray used by po­lice could be against pro­tes­tors when farm­ers from the Re­pub­lic of Korea were sprayed and then just cleaned their eyes with bot­tled wa­ter and charged at the po­lice lines again, af­ter less than a minute.

In oth­erWTO-in­spired protests around the world, some demon­stra­tors had gone so far as to burn cars, but in­Hong Kong, the pro­test­ers did not break a sin­gle shop win­dow. TheHong Kong of­fi­cials con­grat­u­lated them­selves and thankedHong Kong res­i­dents for be­ing more civ­i­lized than peo­ple in other coun­tries. To­day, 10 years af­ter theWTO con­fer­ence, they re­al­ize how wrong they were.

There can be no jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for the riot in­Hong Kong. At­tack­ing po­lice of­fi­cers do­ing their duty is wrong, pe­riod. But con­demn­ing such an­tics is not enough; it must be fol­lowed by con­crete ac­tions. The worst re­sponse is to just ver­bally con­demn the ri­ot­ers. In­stead, the ri­ot­ers must be made to suf­fer the con­se­quences of their ac­tions. Most res­i­dents are against the ero­sion of law and or­der in the SAR. There­fore, ev­ery­thing must be done to nip such ex­trem­ism in the bud.

First of all, the ar­gu­ment that the riot is a symp­tom of failed lead­er­ship in the city needs coun­ter­ing. This must be done with con­vic­tion and de­ter­mi­na­tion. Gov­er­nance in­Hong Kong has de­clined, but this is no ex­cuse for vi­o­lence. More im­por­tantly, the govern­ment alone can­not de­liver good gov­er­nance, as it is not an au­thor­i­tar­ian so­ci­ety where the govern­ment con­trols ev­ery­thing.

Good gov­er­nance is the re­spon­si­bil­ity of ev­ery­body— civil so­ci­ety, the courts, the Leg­isla­tive Coun­cil and pro­fes­sional or­ga­ni­za­tions. The govern­ment may have some in­flu­ence over them but it does not have full con­trol. The dis­si­dents want us to be­lieve that sim­ply be­cause there is no uni­ver­sal suf­frage the chief ex­ec­u­tive is re­spon­si­ble for ev­ery­thing which hap­pens in­Hong Kong. But clearly this is not the case; power is still highly de­cen­tral­ized in the SAR.

In re­al­ity, gov­er­nance in­Hong Kong has de­te­ri­o­rated be­cause much-needed re­forms have been stalled by end­less ar­gu­ments and fil­i­busters. Con­sen­sus needs to be built to move for­ward, and con­sen­sus by def­i­ni­tion is not the full re­al­iza­tion of what each party wants. Ev­ery­one has to ac­cept this and make com­pro­mises.

In ad­di­tion, the govern­ment has to take the nec­es­sary ac­tions even though that may lead to fur­ther con­tro­versy. Af­ter this riot, the govern­ment praised the po­lice for their re­straint. This alien­ates the silent ma­jor­ity be­cause what they want is not of­fi­cial re­straint but the firm im­ple­men­ta­tion of the law. The po­lice should use nec­es­sary and ap­pro­pri­ate force to pro­tect peo­ple and prop­erty. Po­lice re­straint alone is mean­ing­less. It is by no means a virtue. Some­times, it has been used merely as a jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for not be­ing more de­ci­sive in the past.

Most Hong Kong peo­ple want the rule of law; they want to see a strong govern­ment will­ing to make tough de­ci­sions. Many of the is­sues which are said to di­vide res­i­dents are in fact not re­ally con­tro­ver­sial at all for most or­di­nary peo­ple. It is the me­dia that plays them up as con­tro­ver­sial. But Hong Kong res­i­dents will not be fooled. Ul­ti­mately, Hong Kong must up­hold law and im­ple­ment ra­tio­nal and sen­si­ble poli­cies.

The au­thor is a vet­eran cur­rent affairs com­men­ta­tor.

LI FENG / CHINA DAILY

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