It can be said that the ongoing turmoil symbolizes the deepening of divisions in Hong Kong society. The Hong Kong government should correct its strong-arm methods and pursue a path to resolving the chaos through dialogue.
The Legislative Council, which is equivalent to a parliament in Hong Kong, opened its session but had to be suspended due to protests by pro-democracy lawmakers. Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the head of the Hong Kong government, canceled her policy speech and instead released her address on a prerecorded video.
The council hall had been closed for repairs of the damage caused during protests in July. The government intended to make Lam’s policy speech a starting point for normalizing the situation, but things did not go according to plan.
Clashes between protesters and police, which have continued since June, show no signs of subsiding. The chief executive cannot evade responsibility for the confusion.
Lam invoked the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, which gives the chief executive legal authority to establish laws without having to go through the legislature, and thereby enforced rules to ban wearing face masks. She asserted that the legal step was intended to deal with demonstrators who have been escalating their protests while covering their faces with masks and other items.
By using the emergency ordinance, it is possible to unilaterally tighten controls, including imposing a curfew and breaking lines of communication. Lam said she would seek to resolve the turmoil through dialogue, but she cannot build credibility if she resorts to such a policy of strengthening controls. She should withdraw legislative steps that were enforced based on the emergency ordinance, and work toward dispelling the distrust toward her administration.
Peaceful solution urged
The number of tourists to Hong Kong has declined sharply due to the prolonged turmoil. Moves have been emerging for investors to transfer their assets to Singapore and other countries, and for residents to emigrate. Hong Kong’s position as an international financial hub will unavoidably decline.
Hong Kong District Council elections to select legislators of local assemblies are scheduled to be held in late November. Polls should be held fairly to mark a first step toward restoring order. If pro-democracy elements make gains, it will accelerate the momentum for reforming the current chief executive election system under which only pro-China candidates can be elected.
It has been decided to withdraw an ordinance-revision bill that would have made it possible to extradite to mainland China suspects detained in Hong Kong. It was this bill that sparked the protests. However, protesters’ demands have expanded to include pursuing police responsibility for acts of violence and reforming election systems.
The Hong Kong government has not complied with these demands, causing protest movements to become more radical. A series of incidents have occurred in which protesters attacked police officers in groups and vandalized subway systems, Chinese-affiliated banks and other places. Handmade bombs exploded near police vehicles, according to police.
The high-handed police crackdown is problematic but such acts of violence by protesters cannot be justified. Self-restraint is called for on their part.
If China mobilizes military troops and armed police to Hong Kong, it will only drag the turmoil into a quagmire and expose itself to international criticism. Beijing should call for the Hong Kong government and residents to pursue a peaceful solution.