Fishball Hardball: Hitting hard on fishballers will bounce back

The CE and Beijing have unleashed a war of  tough words on Fishball Revolutionaries, branding them rioters, separatists and terrorists. But their hardball tactics will cause a backlash instead of winning more support.

Hours after the end of the ugly clashes between police and protesters in Mongkok on the first and second day of the Lunar New Year, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying came out to condemn the violence. He branded the confrontation a “riot.” It did not take long for the Chinese Foreign Ministry to give their official verdict. A spokesman claimed the riot was instigated by “separatist organisations.” On Sunday, Beijing’s top official in Hong Kong Zhang Xiaoming (張曉明) has likened the violence of the alleged rioters as an act of terrorism.

Nominally triggered by a dispute over illegal fishball hawking, the police-civilian standoff was underpinned by a host of deep-rooted socio-political conflicts in the society that has sent fresh shockwaves to the already-strained mainland-Hong Kong relations.

In the near term, the hardline stance of Beijing towards Hong Kong has set the direction of the State Council’s white paper on “one country, two systems” policy, published in 2014, will continue to prevail. It has been toughened, at least on the propaganda front, as reflected in the communist-speak of separatism and terrorism. But it is still early to tell whether or not harsher rhetoric will be followed soon by tougher policies with substance such as an enactment of national security law.


Into the fire…Monkey

The Mongkok “riot” does not bode well for the Year of the Monkey, which has already been rightly tipped to be an eventful year. The 2016 Legislative Council election, scheduled for September, looks set to mark a speedier generational-change among political parties, in particular in the pan-democratic camp.

The rise of radical politics and localism has and will no doubt shape Beijing’s thinking about its policy and strategy towards Hong Kong and, importantly, its choice of the next chief executive. Whether Beijing will give five more years or say “thank you, goodbye” to Leung when his terms ends on June 30 next year will in turn have an immense impact on the city’s governance and the mainland-Hong Kong relations.

“still early to tell whether or not harsher rhetoric will be followed soon by tougher policies

Shocked and awed by the 79-day Occupy Central movement that was ended in late 2014, Beijing may not yet have enough time for enough soul-searching and deep thinking about what and how it happened, what went wrong and how it can be remedied. The only certainty of the post-Occupy era is that the Hong Kong scene is getting even more uncertain and volatile, creating enormous difficulties for Beijing to handle its Hong Kong policy.

First mooted as an experimental approach with the bigger goal of unification with Taiwan, Beijing’s decision to preserve Hong Kong’s lifestyles and systems under the “one country, two systems” framework for 50 years after 1997 has served practical needs. Hong Kong had been likened to a goose that lays golden eggs. Keeping an economically vibrant Hong Kong could give a big help to China’s open and reform drive began in 1979.

This has been proven to be the case. Investments from Hong Kong have played a significant role in turning the poorly developed country in the 1980s into the world’s second-largest economy. Mainland companies have quickened the pace of “coming out” through Hong Kong in the past decade.


What have you done for me lately?

37 years on, China’s phenomenal rise to become the world’s second-largest economy and the relative slowdown of economic growth of Hong Kong have raised questions about the economic value of the city to the nation. After coming to power, President Xi Jinping has taken a more sceptical worldview and tougher stance on national security on both global and domestic fronts. Against the background, Beijing leaders feel increasingly jittery about what they perceive as threats emanating from Hong Kong to jeopardise the nation’s security and sovereignty.

Chinese officials and their propaganda mouthpieces have stepped up their attacks against alleged foreign meddling with Hong Kong’s internal affairs, including universal suffrage, in recent years. Unnamed foreign forces were alleged to have masterminded the Occupy Central movement. Beijing has vehemently opposed comments made by foreign governments on such cases as missing bookseller Lee Po that have implications on “one country, two systems” policy.

Closer to home, the eruption of violence on the New Year’s day has provided a convenient case for hardliners in the central and SAR government to justify their advocacy for a tougher approach towards political dissent.

Some scenes of excessive violence by the alleged rioters against police officers have shaped public opinion. Although many people are unhappy with the central and Hong Kong governments, they are adamant violence is just not right, and not the solution.

The lack of public sympathy and support for violent protests has emboldened the Leung government to speak and act tough. In a rare move, officials have invoked provisions relating to rioting in the Public Order Ordinance to charge the alleged instigators. It is aimed to deter radicals, so they moderate future acts of protest. In the same vein, the officials’ references to separatism and terrorism are intended to prompt radicals to restrain their acts – at least for now – and pressure moderate pan-democrats to keep distance from them.

communist-speak of separatism and terrorism.

With key figures of the Hong Kong Indigenous involved in the mayhem facing rioting charges and the violence condemned by the majority of the society, activists will find it difficult to organise and mobilise their supporters and sympathisers to put up a new fight with a good cause.

It is clear, however, the sea of political and social grievances embedded and culminated among people in different strata of the society has prevailed and indeed become more intense. As the Mongkok clash shows, it could explode from a seemingly petty dispute about illegal hawking.

It may sound politically naive and wishful thinking to expect a rethink by Beijing about its Hong Kong policy any time soon. Beijing’s policy is a significant factor in their selection of the chief executive and his/her team, their style of governance and policy-making, which have emerged as the root cause of the increasingly fierce political agitation against the authorities.

In the short run, there is no denying the Mongkok violence will result in a tougher approach by Beijing towards the city.

But as the saying goes, violence begets violence. Beijing will have to reassess their hardball tactics in to avoid a backlash of growing resistance by people, in their hearts, if not in their acts.

the author

Chris Yeung is a respected senior veteran journalist and editor in Hong Kong. His storied career includes having served as the Editor-at-Large at the South China Morning Post and more recently as the Deputy Chief Editor of the Hong Kong Economic Journal. He writes on Greater China issues.

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  1. HK Bookseller on February 19, 2016

    “When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

    We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are:

    Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.

    –That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among people, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

    –That whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience has shown, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government, and to provide new guards for their future security.

    –Such has been the patient sufferance of the People of Hong Kong; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their current Systems of Government. The history of the Communist Party of China is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over Hong Kong.

    In every stage of these oppressions, the people of Hong Kong have petitioned for redress in the most humble terms: our repeated petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. The Communist Party of China, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

    Nor have we been wanting in attentions to our mainland Chinese brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their Communist Party to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of their previous promises to the people of Hong Kong. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity.

    We therefore, appealing to the Great Creator and Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the name, and by authority of the good people of Hong Kong, solemnly publish and declare:

    That we, the people of Hong Kong, are and of our rights, ought to be free and independent of the People’s Republic of China;

    That we are absolved from all allegiance to the Communist Party, and that all political connection between us and the People’s republic of China, is and ought to be totally dissolved;

    And that as free and Independent people, we have full power to levy for our defense, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent states may of right do.

    And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.

    God bless the Independent Nation of Hong Kong.”