Jake's View

Police can handle Occupy protest, so why the paranoia from Beijing?

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 July, 2014, 3:25am
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 July, 2014, 3:25am

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said yesterday that government operations could break down if Occupy Central brings the main business district to a halt.

South China Morning Post, July 11

There is something missing here. Are we being told that more than 33,000 policemen will be utterly helpless in the face of a few hundred protesters sitting down on the streets of Central?

OK, let's say it will be a few thousand protesters. I very much doubt it, but let's paint the most threatening scenario. The police will still outnumber them 10 to one. Are we being told that the police cannot pick them up, bung them into a holding pen and have the streets clear again in less than half an hour?

Here we have a police force that has known since the mid-1990s that the People's Liberation Army garrison is unwilling to help maintain civil order. The force then established a tactical training school at Fanling specifically to train its members in riot and crowd control.

It has put class after class through all the latest techniques in gradated force. It has armoured command vehicles with handholds charged at 300 volts if any rioter is dumb enough to climb on them. The police have been preparing for this for almost 20 years.

In fact they had a trial run at it the other day, picking up 500 protesting kids after the democracy march. Everything went tickety-tick. More toilets and lunch boxes may be needed next time, perhaps, but that's about it.

If they say they are not yet ready, if they cannot prevent the breakdown of government and business operations in Central, if Occupy Central truly has them cowed, then there is only one thing to do: sack the commissioner and everyone in the next two ranks down. They are obviously complete incompetents. We shall have to start afresh. But I don't think this is actually the case. I think what we actually have here is Beijing's paranoid fantasy.

On the mainland, it would be easy to stop Occupy Central before its supporters could even occupy a bus seat to get there. As soon as they stated their plans they could be thrown in jail for causing trouble and being quarrelsome.

Jurisdictions governed by the rule of law have trouble with this concept, however. Robbery, assault and murder are crimes, but whose rights have been infringed by "trouble"? Who suffers broken bones because someone is "quarrelsome"?

In fact, in most societies it is the troublemakers who bring about the greatest reforms or, at least change. Mao Zedong was a troublemaker and yet his face still graces every banknote in China. Public dispute is essential to social advance. It is how society works out where public effort should go.

But while public security officials in Beijing do not have to put up with such notions at home, it frustrates them enormously that they must still do so in Hong Kong.

And it particularly worries them that, like Falun Gong, Occupy Central appears well organised. They see real danger in this. A spontaneous mob is one thing but organised opposition is a potential threat to the primacy of the Communist Party.

They have thus been active behind the scenes in recent months, drumming up anti-Occupy support from sympathetic businesses and citizens, who make ever more dramatic claims about how ruinous a Central sit-in will be.

It's nonsense, unless the police deliberately let it happen, under instruction.

I don't really blame the banks and accountancy firms that have had to fall for it. They are peculiarly vulnerable to this kind of coercion.

The accountants, for instance, were recently told they would be excluded from audits in China. To do a proper job for their clients they must see this ridiculous edict unwound. They cannot afford to annoy Beijing just now.

It is also notable that the Beijing operatives stirring up this alarmist brew don't dare show their faces over the lip of their cauldron. They sneak about and whisper, hiding themselves from public view. What a wonderful model for good government.

Carrie, you have a police force. Just tell them do their job.