Yesterday's dramatic storming of the LegCo building was hardly “extreme violence”, as Carrie Lam characterised it – few heads were bashed – but it was a hugely dramatic act of targeted symbolic property damage. I know I am not the only one wondering whether Beijing agents were involved in stirring up the action with the aim of discrediting the protest movement - which might help explain why the riot police presence inside the building evaporated as soon as the protesters broke through the glass door.
Be that as it may, over the past few years the Hong Kong government has been systematically narrowing the scope of allowable political discourse. Consider for example:
- LegCo expulsions
- Election candidate disqualifications
- Anti-filibuster rule changes
- Basic Law “reinterpretations”
- Forced “respect” for the symbols of the ruling regime
- The ban on the Hong Kong National Party
- Expulsion of journalists
- Barring entry to Hong Kong by perceived opponents of the government – not just wild-eyed revolutionaries, but sober British Parliamentarians
- Pushing through highly unpopular legislation without adequate scrutiny
- Hysterical over-reaction to minor public order offences during protests (what we might call the fish sandwich syndrome) – contrasted with a completely spineless response to cross-border political kidnappings
- More restrictive conditions for protests
- Reining in of academic freedom
- Declaring various topics off-limits for discussion in schools
- etc. ad nauseam.
The problem with this strategy is this: the more that certain political views are excluded from normal channels of expression, the more their expression will take other – and almost certainly less peaceful and less controllable – forms. Add in unaffordable housing and the totally unacceptable extradition bill, and the inevitable outcome is the shock of yesterday's kerfuffle.
So Carrie Lam, if you really want to get things back to normal, what must you do? The answer is simple: stop it. Everything on my list above, just stop it. Drop the extradition bill completely. Forget about the Lantau white elephant reclamation project, and use the money to give Hong Kong's senior citizens a dignified old age instead. Face up to the vested interests of the property developers and the Heung Yee Kuk and get serious about housing. And if Beijing won't let you do any of this, then at least you can regain the respect of the Hong Kong people for trying, and we can all stop pretending that One Country Two Systems still retains any shred of meaning.