Hong Kong mob protesters rule the streets

Hong Kong mob protesters rule the streets, by Hedley Thomas.

A Hong Kong-based lawyer friend and long-time contact yelled at me on Monday while echoing the sentiments of many here, furious at what they see as “appalling bias” in reporting which has glossed over the violence and vandalism of the protesters.

My friend is a fearless defence lawyer but he won’t go on the ­record. “There’s mob rule and people who speak out against it risk getting their heads kicked in.” …

Teenagers are running away from home to join the protests. Schools are closed and children as young as 10 are joining front lines.

There’s a multitude of catalysts for the mayhem — anger over the number of mainland Chinese coming in and burdening the health system and lengthening the public housing queues; anger among the young that they’re not as prosperous as their parents; anger at the ineptitude and arrogance of the Hong Kong government, a bureaucratic, overly privileged and pale shadow of its former self; and anger that this city is and always was part of China and will one day be completely enveloped with the likely loss of fundamental freedoms.

But the anger has become uncontrolled and dangerous to such an extreme that it threatens to do worse long-term damage.

A mainland Chinese man who had already been beaten up by protesters was splashed with lighter fluid and ignited last week, resulting in horrific burns, for daring to demand the mob put down their weapons and make peace.

The iPhone video of this callous, permanently disfiguring ­attack has been widely shared, but the attacker remains free and the protesters have suffered little damage to their brand.

An elderly man was killed last week by a brick thrown by one of the protesters. But any recriminations over this unlawful killing are drowned out by the protesters’ claims of police brutality. …

The hapless police are in a no-win situation. Molotov cocktails, bricks prised from the pavement, iron bars — anything with the potential to cause injury or death to police — are hurled at police who surround the protesters. …

The masked protesters give placid interviews to international and local journalists and speak of their determination to achieve democracy in Hong Kong. Yet despite their violence and escalating aggression, they’re invariably depicted as brave freedom fighters standing up for democracy. …

Yonden Lhatoo, the South China Morning Post’s chief news editor and a former colleague, wrote bravely: “… The ­reality is there are thousands of youngsters on the streets who have tasted blood and become intoxicated by the success of mob rule. They are supported by a massive demographic that includes lawyers, teachers, doctors and other professionals who constantly gloss over and find excuses for all the outrageous excesses on the front lines of the anti-government movement.” He fears for the police “because you can already see discipline among frontline officers unravelling as they reach the end of their tether”. …

One of the world’s miracle economies and financial centres is reeling. Its well-resourced and highly disciplined police force has been cast by the protesters and influential sections of the local and international media as a public enemy. The protesters are Hong Kong’s enemy right now, but few dare say it.

The Chinese state has vastly superior physical force, and a record of using it. Only their notion of two systems within one country is persuading them not to employ it. Challenging the government with physical force in this day and age is a huge mistake, unless the loyalty of the armed forces in question. In this case it is not. The protestors have made a strategic blunder.

Too often protests that do not gain what they want escalate out of control, to the point where frustrations cause young hotheads and violence to drown out everything else. Clearly Hong Kong has reached that point.

The concept of “keep protesting until you get your way” is increasingly resulting in violence around the world (including leftists in the West). It needs to be tempered by realism.

It’s as if the world is going mad. The successful cultures and arrangements that got us this far are being challenged by craziness. Like the 1930s all over again. It’s as if lot of people have become unrealistically confident of themselves and their causes. Is there something in the water? Smartphones perhaps? (Just kidding.)