The paralysis of urban functions is advancing in Hong Kong as clashes between police and protesters have intensified. That a starting point for the recovery of stability cannot be found is a serious matter.
Police pointed handguns with live ammunition at protesters during a clash in which a student was shot, falling into critical condition. Police also fired tear gas bombs in large quantities on the campus of a university and detained students and other demonstrators.
Demonstrators fought back against the police by hurling Molotov cocktails and other objects. Public transportation services were forced to be suspended one after another as objects were thrown onto railway tracks and roads. The Hong Kong government has announced that all schools from kindergartens to senior high schools would be closed temporarily.
If protesters simply resort to radical violence, it will only be used by the Hong Kong authorities as justification for enforcing greater control and crackdowns.
The authorities are trying to fix the situation by tightening a police clampdown. They are most likely taking the intentions of the Chinese government into consideration.
Chinese President Xi Jinping, giving a speech in Brazil at a summit of the BRICS group of five emerging economies — Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa — called for a tighter crackdown, saying that he “firmly supports the Hong Kong police’s strict law enforcement and punishments by its judicial institutions.”
It is very rare for the top leader of China to make remarks at an international meeting on Hong Kong affairs, which it regards as “internal political issues.” It seems that Xi has been increasingly irritated by the protracted turmoil in Hong Kong. He likely also aimed to emphasize Beijing’s stance of not allowing foreign intervention.
During his meeting with Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam early this month, Xi strongly asked her to resolve the turmoil. It has been noted that the standards for the use of firearms by Hong Kong police have been relaxed.
The problematic point is that China misjudged the will of Hong Kong residents and believed it would be possible to suppress protests by force. Protesters have been making such demands as holding police accountable for violence, but the Hong Kong government has not complied with the demands at all.
While promising high levels of autonomy for Hong Kong based on the “one country, two systems” principle, China has been strengthening the Communist Party’s governance of Hong Kong. A sense of crisis felt by Hong Kong residents that the identity of Hong Kong will be lost underlies the long and protracted protests that have continued since June and have attracted wide-ranging support.
Hong Kong District Council elections are scheduled for Nov. 24. The polls will provide a precious opportunity for voters to cast votes directly. Pro-China members occupy a majority of seats in district councils, but many pro-democracy elements are expected to run in the elections and can be expected to make progress.
Lam referred to the possibility of postponing elections, saying that utmost efforts will be made to carry out the elections but it is necessary to ensure security and order.
Seeking the people’s judgment directly amid the continued turmoil is all the more significant. It is imperative for both the Hong Kong authorities and protesters to exercise self-restraint and work toward preparing the environment in which elections can be held fairly and smoothly.