HK protests’ endgame comes into sight

Scenes from Hong Kong yesterday were shocking for observers accustomed to thinking of the city as a bastion of community harmony. For them, Hong Kong’s image as a safe place policed by “Asia finest” was greatly tarnished by videos showing gangsters attacking protesters on their way home. White-clothed, tattooed heavies wielding sticks, chasing protesters inside subway trains and around the station in Yuen Long, were disturbing, to say the least. 

For those who understand how the city’s triads have always played a major role in enforcing the city’s apparent community harmony, or stoking disharmony when called upon to do so, these scenes come as less of a shock. More interesting was how restrained most of the white-clothed troops were. Sergeants and lieutenants were clearly running the show, and many of the videos show frontline soldiers swiping the air or smashing umbrellas rather than striking protesters. If the intention had been to maim rather than scare, nurses and doctors at Hong Kong’s hospitals would have been working overtime shifts last night.

We would not go so far as to say these triads were ordered into the fray by anyone who may or may not be overseeing the government’s reaction to the protests. But readers who understand how the United Front Department works would not be surprised if that was what happened.

We personally feel sorry for the protesters. Most were, and continue to be, dedicated to peaceful protests. But it is becoming clearer that an endgame is now being put into motion by the forces aligned against them. More aggressive deterrent action is likely to continue to rise, whether that be by triads in short spells before the police show up, or by police using teargas, then rubber bullets, then the nastier stuff.

The specifics of what comes next will likely depend on what the people enjoying their summers at Beidaihe this month decide. We would place an educated guess on a firm stance continuing. Whether that results in further tightening of protesters’ right to free speech and association seems unlikely. But tolerance of those straying outside the bounds placed on their physical movements, as well as people who think throwing eggs at national symbols is harmless, is going to zero, from what we can see. We continue to hope and pray that none of these protesters are carrying the idea of becoming martyrs, such as those, if proved true, who have been caught in an alleged bomb plot.

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