Hong Kong Legco explosion: there should be zero tolerance for extremist violence in our city

A bomb, a bin, a symbol of escalation in Hong Kong’s factional politics

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 December, 2015, 9:53pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 December, 2015, 4:54pm

A fire and small explosion in a garbage bin may not seem especially serious. But it is the location, not the crime, that is worrying: Outside the Legislative Council building in a public area designated for protests. It is an unprecedented incident and police are hunting two men seen on security cameras; until they are identified, we can only speculate as to the motive. Whatever it may be, the occurrence can only be condemned, for the sake of Hong Kong’s freedoms, values and stability.

Our city has a well-deserved reputation for being peaceful, tolerant and law abiding. But differences over political views have led to the radicalization of a small number of people. Unwilling to reasonably discuss and debate issues, they have turned to extreme means of protest. With the controversial copyright law before lawmakers and a protest demonstration planned, it is not unreasonable to connect the impending vote with the blast.

Tempers have flared from time to time over government decisions, notably in recent memory over funding for the high-speed rail and Beijing’s ruling on political reform. The latter sparked the Occupy protest movement that was focused on the Central Government Complex and adjacent Legco building in Admiralty. But for all the inconvenience that was caused, those protests were largely peaceful and trouble-free. Setting off a bomb, no matter how small or crudely made it may have been, in a place so important administratively, politically and symbolically, takes events to a dangerous new level.

The explosion cannot be classified as a terrorist attack; that is a term reserved for those with the worst intentions towards society at heart. But nor, even if it involves a teenage prank or game of dare, can it be taken lightly. The culprits have to be caught and an example made of their actions. The case has to be thoroughly investigated to prevent copycats and the possibility of escalation.

Security was stepped up around government headquarters in the wake of the Occupy protests. Before that, there was relatively little oversight over those going in and out of the complex and public areas of Legco. There is now X-ray scanning of the possessions of people at Legco. But the explosion raises concerns that radicalization has taken a new twist and authorities have to respond with greater surveillance and tougher security measures.

Hong Kong cannot afford to let an extremist minority dictate terms through threats and force. Authorities have to be prepared and vigilant. The blast outside Legco is intolerable and incidents of its type have to be prevented.