Rumbling PLA carriers in Hong Kong set minds rolling
Moving armoured carriers on the streets of HK could have sent wrong signal to the people
If there is one issue sure to make the business community nervous about the future of Hong Kong, it is the prospect of the leaders in Beijing miscalculating the political situation in the city.
This looms as a larger concern for business figures than the direct impact of the pro-democracy Occupy Central movement.
Against this backdrop, it came as a surprise to many when at least four People's Liberation Army armoured personnel carriers - with guns mounted on turrets - were seen moving through the busy streets of Jordan and Yau Ma Tei on Thursday, according to media reports.
Videos and pictures of the PLA vehicles spread rapidly on the internet, prompting concern and speculation across the region, including from analysts and media in Singapore and Taiwan.
Our pro-Beijing friends may try to counter that such PLA vehicle movements should be considered uneventful, in the realm of basic transport matters for the military. But let's not forget the timing: Hongkongers saw those armoured vehicles on the streets just days before Beijing's announcement of landmark electoral reform for universal suffrage in the 2017 chief executive election. Just what signal is Beijing sending to Hong Kong's seven million residents?
Here's my advice to Beijing: the role of PLA in Hong Kong should be strictly limited to national defence. It was completely unnecessary to move armoured vehicles around the city at such a politically sensitive time. We all know that such an action can be easily misinterpreted by different stakeholders in the city, including the general public and business community.
The political situation in Hong Kong is already so complicated that it is testing many top scholars and senior diplomats. With the scenes of the armoured vehicles on the city's streets, the risks that both the leaders in Beijing and pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong may miscalculate each side's intentions are growing.
As for Occupy Central, some business leaders in the city apparently are not taking the threat too seriously.
"There is always something political going on," said Robert Partridge, an Asia-Pacific private equity leader at EY - one of the Big Four global accounting firms - at the South China Morning Post's Redefining Hong Kong debate on Friday.
"Business always goes on. Is it changing the course of Hong Kong? No," said the long-time resident.
The Occupy Central movement is certainly not a desirable situation and it will be a lose-lose outcome for Beijing and Hong Kong if things get out of hand. At such a sensitive time, let's at least keep the door open for communications - and please, avoid miscalculations.