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Why Hong Kong's protesters must stop now.

Peter Lee

What were once peaceful demonstrations against a Hong Kong Bill that would, incidentally to its main purpose, have facilitated extradition to China for a wide range of offences, have become expensive, disruptive and divisive. Every day seems like a new turning point where protesters increase the lengths they are willing to go to, often seemingly with the specific intent of provoking a reaction from the police which the protesters then claim was unduly harsh. And the UN and the USA aren't helping.

To call for the resignation or removal of Carrie Lam is very short-sighted. First, she really does love Hong Kong and she really does want the best for it within the bounds of the one-country, two systems approach. Yes, she holds a candle for Beijing but that is part of her ability to press for Hong Kong as well as part of her willingness to do, to a point, China's bidding. She is a bridge that sways depending on the amount and speed of traffic. She was not universally approved of when she became Chief Executive because she was China's preferred choice. However, she has guided Hong Kong through some difficult times and has acted as a buffer against China. Now, she is being seen as an agent of China but that is not true, even though she does take account of China's views which, as the CEO of a province, she must do.

The calls for her to go make a false assumption; that her replacement would be tougher with Beijing and stronger for HK. The fact is that, because her replacement will have to be approved by Beijing, a reformist will not be able to take up the post. The CEO is elected by the Election Committee which represents, broadly, the makeup of LegCo. LegCo is partly elected by popular vote (so providing a degree of democracy).

The demands for her removal have little to do with her performance and nothing to do with her desire to have a peaceful, well run, Hong Kong for the benefit of all Hong Kongers. But she has been relatively weak domestically: there are continual problems with immigration with mainlanders seeking the end of the rainbow; property prices have been driven up by foreign money so that already scarce property is now far beyond the reach of those born in HK. The economy has stagnated, social services are close to zero, government coffers are depleted and the list goes on. Real incomes have, people say, fallen in recent years even if one takes out the cost of accommodation. One thing is certain: Hong Kong has long had a rich-poor divide but the poor are now, in relative terms, even poorer. However, she is not solely responsible for these things yet few point fingers at other ministers.

These are legitimate reasons to call for her to take action or take a hike. But these are not the reasons that the protesters are saying. The best option is to make a proper case for addressing the faults and put them to government. Violent street protests will only distract her from fixing problems and will entrench attitudes which means that improvements will be harder to get.

For all of these reasons, the mothers, fathers, uncles and aunties that are out in protest should go home and be pleased with the results they have obtained. They should continue to press for a public inquiry but it should be into the riots in general not only police conduct. The young people who are idealistic should go home and write essays for publication explaining what they want, why they want it and how it might be delivered: currently, the arguments amount to little more than to knock down what is there with no plan on how to get to where they want to be.

But most of all they should stop because this is Hong Kong. It isn't some riot torn part of London or Bristol, it isn't Paris in the 1970s and it isn't any of those places that saw protests turn into riots turn into terrorism. China has already warned that the conduct of the few agitators is, in effect, a pre-cursor to terrorism. Here, too, China is being restrained. If a person puts another in fear of harm in order to cause society to make political change, or causes such harm in furtherance of such a cause, that's squarely within the definition as it is made in almost every country around the world. The responsible many should think that through. Is that really what they want to be associated with?

As one person put it "they've had good wins but they are getting greedy." That's the essence of this article: take the win, don't grab disaster from the jaws of (albeit incomplete) victory. Furthermore, if they don't stop now, after the images of the brutality by the protesters at the airport yesterday, they stand to lose all public support outside HK as they become tarred with the very brush they have been waving at the police.

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