Radicals will harm cause in long run, says veteran activist
Increasingly radical protests may serve the purpose of embarrassing government officials, but they also risk diverting public attention from real policy debates, according to veteran democracy activist Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong.
Political protests in Hong Kong are traditionally peaceful and mild, but in the past few weeks young demonstrators have shown a willingness to take a more confrontational approach.
On Sunday in Central, a young League of Social Democrats member stormed past security and snatched a microphone from Secretary for Transport and Housing Eva Cheng while she was speaking, allegedly to protest against rising railway fares.
At another public event on the same day, Secretary for Food and Health Dr York Chow Yat-ngok was besieged by protesters angry at the Hospital Authority's decision to suspend bookings of obstetrics services for mainland mothers.
On March 1, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was allegedly pushed by a protester from the league during a rowdy demonstration at a public ceremony in TST.
Tsoi said the radical protests suggested that some young people were unhappy with the status quo.
'Obviously the government has not done a good job in many aspects. But I doubt our society has come to the point where you won't get public attention unless you resort to radical actions.'
On the face of it, the activists who took part in those protests could claim victory for their roughhouse approach, Tsoi said, but in the long run it might distract the public from the real substance of the debates.
Tsoi, who is also convenor of pan-democratic group Power for Democracy, said the radical actions were calculated to draw media attention.
'In the short run, they may be able to draw attention from members of the public. But this does not help the debate on the relevant public policies or issues in the long run,' he said.
The young activists and their sympathisers argue that these radical actions are genuine displays of anger against social injustice - such as the runaway wealth gap.
They also claim that they have to turn to more radical forms of expression because normal protests failed to deliver the message to an insensitive government.
League member Raphael Wong Ho-ming, who threw cooked rice at the chief executive during a protest last month, said that nobody would take radical action if peaceful protests could make a difference.
Wong, who is in a master's programme in social policy at Chinese University, said: 'Other parties used to confine their actions to chanting slogans and raising placards.
'Have those protests made any impact?'
Anson Wong Hin-wai, the league member who ambushed Eva Cheng on Sunday, said: 'Each of us was surrounded on Sunday by many security guards. So we had no choice but to change our way of protest, to air our grievances.'
Dr Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a political scientist at Chinese University, said some young people had become impatient with conventional methods of expressing their views.
'They want to get their voices heard and express their grievances against the establishment by resorting to radical tactics,' he said.
Government officials have condemned such protests and said they crossed the line.
Speaking before the Executive Council meeting yesterday, Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen said: 'We totally disagree with individual protesters who use different excuses to rationalise actions which undermine order in society.
'Any behaviour which crosses the line of peaceful demonstration will not be condoned.'
Tang, who warned in January that radical behaviour on the part of the so-called post-80s generation would result in a situation like 'a fatal car crash', said that radical actions would only exacerbate conflicts in society and were not conducive to reconciling differences.
He also said that certain people and parties might use alternative means to seek attention because competition in elections was becoming more intense.