I just finished watching a powerful video of a street singer in Hong Kong, who is standing on a street corner singing pro-democracy songs (www.youtube.com/watch?v=bhJZav1qQsc).
Some police move in to try to stop him from singing, but the presence of the surrounding crowd, including a number of foreigners, prevents police from acting, although they are pretty menacing and stand right in front of him.
In the end, the singer wins and the police lose.
The 32-minute video is emblematic of the overall situation in Hong Kong: The singer and crowd are representative of the people of Hong Kong, who yearn for a free and an open society, not restrained by the strictures and lack of freedoms that are increasingly filtering in from across the border with China.
The policemen menacing the singer reflect the rigid and uncompromising attitude of the government of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥), which has failed to even take initial steps to resolve the situation. By letting things fester, it will only aggravate the tensions and prevent a real solution.
If Lam and her government were doing their job, they would find creative and constructive ways to end the protests by removing at least some of the irritants that keep them going.
They are not doing so, and are thus failing in their function as a (semi-)representative government.
Of course people know why: Beijing is looking over its shoulder, pulling the strings, infiltrating the Hong Kong police, or worse: letting the Hong Kong police do its dirty work.
Beijing is avoiding a hard crackdown a la Tiananmen, but hopes to (re)gain control through less obvious means such as subversion and infiltration.
Being the leader of the government, Lam needs to have the moral courage to take the first step. If she were serious in her intent to resolve the situation, she would take a closer look at the protesters’ five demands, and see where there is room to maneuver, and where there might be an opening for a compromise.
The five demands are:
One, the full withdrawal of an extradition bill. This was actually done through a formal decision at the Hong Kong Legislative Council on Oct. 23.
Two, the establishment of a commission to investigate alleged police brutality. This is probably one of the most important issues: Over the past months, evidence of unnecessary aggressive behavior and actual brutality by police has been piling up. Lam needs to take strong measures to restrain police and ensure they protect citizens instead of harming them.
Even the pro-establishment base of the Hong Kong government supports such an independent investigation into excessive police behavior, with opinion polls showing at least 80 percent of the overall population feels this is much-needed.
There is also serious concern about the treatment of protesters in prison — particularly the notorious and secretive San Uk Ling Holding Centre, situated near the border with China.
Three, retracting the classification of protesters as “rioters.” A large majority of protesters were peaceful, whose actions were in support of freedom and democracy in Hong Kong. Labeling them as “rioters” is totally unjustified and inflammatory.
Four, amnesty for arrested protesters. Again, a large majority of protesters were peacefully exercising their rights under the Basic Law. In the later stages of the protests, there were some who resorted to violence in response to the aggressive tactics by the police. They should have their day in court, but should be assumed innocent until proven guilty.
Five, dual universal suffrage, for the Legislative Council and the chief executive. This is yet another issue where creative and constructive minds should sit around the table, and see how a structure can be devised to implement universal suffrage.
However, instead of searching for creative solutions, Lam has been digging in and stonewalling.
In a news conference on Monday last week, she referred to the protesters as “enemy of the people,” and said it was “wishful thinking” to believe the government would yield to the protesters’ demands.
Hong Kong and its people have a proud history as a unique place where business, academia and freedom of expression mesh.
By continuing to crack down on the protesters and by refusing to move toward a peaceful resolution of differences, Lam is destroying an opportunity for Hong Kong to become — in the words of US Vice President Mike Pence on Oct. 22 — “a living example of what can happen when China embraces liberty.”
By failing to take the high road, Lam is aiding China’s efforts to turn Hong Kong into yet another example — like Tibet and East Turkestan — of the expansion of Beijing’s repressive and authoritarian rule.
Gerrit van der Wees is a former Dutch diplomat. From 1980 through 2016 he served as the editor of Taiwan Communique.
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