Who let the thugs out in Hong Kong politics?

Stephen Vines sees organised violence against pro-democracy protesters

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 17 August, 2013, 2:52am

Dangerous and ominous developments are occurring in Hong Kong politics, yet not a single senior official has cared to comment on them. They have, though, had a great deal to say about disruption that might be caused during an event which may not occur next year.

Not for the first time, but with greater swagger and clearer evidence of organisation, a bunch of thugs, including triad-linked gangsters, were sent to "deal with" anti-government protesters at the chief executive's public forum in Tin Shui Wai last Sunday.

In case there is a scintilla of doubt as to their intention, Tsang Shu-wo, one of the rural chieftains, proudly admitted that he had mobilised 40 villagers for this event and later said: "It is normal to have bloodshed if we are protecting Yuen Long. Let's see who will shed more blood."

At the demonstration itself, the thugs demanded that the police cease hampering their activities because they were "protecting the government". Fortunately, they were largely ignored and arrests were made, but anyone looking at the many videos of this event will note that the police also stood back while anti-government protesters were attacked. These videos also show it was far from being a spontaneous protest, as those giving the orders were not subtle enough to avoid the cameras.

This is not an isolated incident; I have witnessed an intimidating group of "protesters" outside Broadcasting House who got very angry when, in the spirit of journalism, I asked them what they were protesting about.

There is nothing new about authoritarian governments using gangs to intimidate 

There is nothing new about authoritarian governments using gangs of thugs to intimidate opponents. It was a favoured tactic of the former Kuomintang dictatorship in Taiwan before democracy took hold. Today, it is the hallmark of Robert Mugabe's thuggish government in Zimbabwe; and so on. While these governments sit back and allow the thugs to do their work for them, they have the gall to blame their opponents for the violence.

Does this sound familiar? Barely a day passes without officials and their supporters warning of the potential for violence in the plans to occupy Central, even though the rather mild-mannered organisers are at pains to stress their non-violent stance. It is quite conceivable that thugs could be mobilised to bring violence to this event, thus creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Meanwhile, history is being avidly rewritten as comparisons are drawn between the violence of the 1960s Cultural Revolution spillover in Hong Kong and Occupy Central. One person in a very good position to know the truth of this matter is Tsang Tak-sing, the home affairs secretary, who was jailed during this period (on dubious grounds) alongside numerous other Communist youngsters. Nowadays, these same people are pillars of the establishment and want to paint today's opposition members in the blood-red colours of their past.

More ominously, we see Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying acting as accuser-in-chief by singling out a teacher for a special inquiry over her role in a demonstration where she was seen hot-temperedly swearing at the police for failing to act when Falun Gong activists were being attacked.

Leung, apparently, sees this as a more pressing matter than looking into teachers who have sexually abused pupils or encouraged cheating in exams.

I have been loath to jump to the conclusion that there is an attempt to turn Hong Kong politics in a more violent direction but the evidence is increasingly pointing in that direction.

Fortunately, we have not yet reached the tipping point where thugs hold sway and they are licensed by the government to do their worst - indeed, many frontline police officers are doing their best to prevent this. However, the signs should not be ignored.

Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong-based journalist and entrepreneur