Monday, 23 December 2019

What are the upsides of the protests?

I wrote recently about the costs of the Hong Kong protests. They’re pretty easy to calculate. At least the economic costs. There are other costs, like mental health and international trust, hard to quantify but acknowledged and real.
The economic costs alone are plenty. Tens of $billions in shop closures, increased unemployment, visitor numbers sharply down, real estate slowdown. Worst: charities and the least advantaged have been hard hit.
A restaurateur we know told us his June to August business had been the worst since he opened twelve years ago. People are simply not spending.
But what are the upsides? What are the benefits of the protests? Surely there are some?
So far, I can think of only one. The extradition bill was withdrawn. It was withdrawn by the government pretty quickly after the first, peaceful, protests. Given that it was the only “Demand” of the protests at the beginning, in June, and given that it was withdrawn quickly, you’d have to say that (a) the protests were effective and (b) the government was responsive.

But instead of heading home happy, some protesters kept going, and are still going to this day.
What extra have they achieved?
Well, for a start they added four extra “Demands” which have become the rallying cry.: “Five Demands and not one Less” (五大訴求 缺一不可).
Thing is, three of the five demands are there only because of the protests. When you protest it’s usually for something or against something. It’s pretty unusual to have demands that result only from your own actions. I call these three the “self-centred demands”.
These three are:
1. Stop calling us “rioters”.
2. Give us all Amnesty, and …
3. Investigate the police.

Taking these One-by-one, it seems to me that:
1. You can’t stop calling rioters “rioters” if in fact they are… well,… rioters. Not all of them, of course. But the ones that are, are. It does violence to the English (and Chinese) language to demand otherwise.
2.  If the first demand does violence to language, the second demand does violence to the rule of law, which the protesters claim to champion. How can a law abiding society give blanket amnesty to people who have, amongst all the vandalism, killed bystanders and set people on fire? (ADDED: I’m in favour of some leniency to younger ones and to those who’ve not done much; they should not have a lifelong stain. But you can’t make it a blanket amnesty. Some of the rioters have got seriously out of control and been wildly destructive. There has to be a penalty for that.
3.  Investigate the police… but don’t investigate any of the illegal, vandalistic, dangerous actions of the protesters? This one does violence to the concept of fairness. Doesn’t it?

That leaves only the last “Demand”,  number Five, which is for universal suffrage. I think this one was tacked on at the end, almost as an afterthought, perhaps to show the demands were not all purely self-centred. Had this suffrage issue been forethought, it may have occurred to them that rioting and vandalism, burning the Chinese flag, reviling China, insulting mainlanders etc, etc, is not the way to go about it. It would have been better to go back to the 2014 proposals for a step forward and work from there. Behind the scenes! To build some trust and confidence. Sadly, the way things have gone has ruined any trust with Beijing.
For those who maintain that a “promise” is being broken by Beijing, think again. Read the Basic Law.
Which rather means, if you accept my analysis, that what has been achieved by the protests is and will be: zero.
It’s put us in the map, sure.
And that’s it?
Meantime: I’ve said elsewhere the protests are more nativist than pro-democracy. Alex Lo says today they are more populist than pro-democracy. There’s lots of crossover in our views.

I would love to hear of any upsides to the protests. Email me.