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Mong Kok riot

After the riots in Mong Kok, Hong Kong must come together and say ‘no’ to violence

Paul Yip says only through rational action can the city’s frustrated young people win the support of the community, achieve progress and help heal the rift in society

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 13 February, 2016, 8:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 13 February, 2016, 8:00am

The rioting in Mong Kok on the first day of the Lunar New year was disturbing and unsettling. Reportedly, it stemmed from the mishandling of a crackdown on illegal hawkers which became the catalyst for violence. Yet, protesters wore masks and used bricks, metal rods and broken bottles to target the police and journalists, with no concern about causing serious injury.

READ MORE: Angry Hong Kong police criticise ‘feeble’ senior management over Mong Kok riot arrangements

This was very different from what Hong Kong experienced in the Occupy Central movement in 2014. As a result of the Mong Kok riot, some 130 people were admitted to hospital, with almost 90 police officers and five journalists injured. Neither the police nor the public could have anticipated or been prepared for this sort and level of violence in Hong Kong and it is fortunate that no one was killed. It is disgusting to hear some of the irresponsible comments from a “localist” group, who saw it as only a minor incident.

The rift in the community seems to be getting bigger and trust is a scarce commodity right now. However, there are no circumstances that can justify this sort of irresponsible action, which achieves nothing but, instead, causes unnecessary damage and suffering to the whole community. For those who responded to the calls of some “localist” groups, what exactly have they achieved? If they claim to carry out their actions for the betterment of Hong Kong, what has been changed? There are many effective ways to express one’s views in a rational manner. It is totally unnecessary to resort to violence, attacking police officers and breaking the law, to achieve our aims.

The rift in the community seems to be getting bigger and trust is a scarce commodity right now

If we learned anything from the Occupy movement, it is that a peaceful and orderly manner can earn the respect and support of the community. It should be remembered that it was the violent clashes with police that eroded community support later on. Also, Occupy organisers missed opportunities to engage the government and seek concessions.

To make one’s voice heard, it’s necessary to gather sufficient support from the community to make your case. It’s certain that the Mong Kok riot will do nothing for those who have genuinely been working long and hard for Hong Kong’s progress. They are losing credibility and support from the community because of the violence .

It is the time for the whole community to come together and say a loud and clear “no” to such destructive action, which was in no way meant to protect unlicensed hawkers.

We have taken for granted many features which others can only dream about

Hong Kong is a world-class city, and renowned as a free and safe society. Undoubtedly, we are facing real challenges, but we need to work hard to make Hong Kong more successful than ever. We need to add value to turn the city into a regional education and training hub par excellence, into a research and innovation centre, and a place where high quality and high standards champion our cause. Violent behaviour not only damages our own development, it weakens our bargaining power for political reform, too.

READ MORE: After the Mong Kok riot, it’s time to hit Hong Kong’s radicalised youth hard to show them crime doesn’t pay

Furthermore, we have taken for granted many features which others can only dream about. Our crime rate is one of the lowest in the world, our medical and health services are high quality and very affordable, to name but two examples. Certainly, governance has to be improved and youth mobility further enhanced. There are still many problems to be resolved but a divided society will only make it more difficult to make progress. The government has become an easy target to blame for all our problems. Yes, officials can do better, but then we can all do better.

We can voice our displeasure and disagreement in a rational manner. In the latest elections in Taiwan, some young people who participated in the Sunflower movement chose to stand for seats in the local elections and some got elected. They inject fresh air into the island’s political development. Our young people should do the same.

READ MORE: History repeated – Mong Kok riot similar to deadly Hong Kong unrest of 1966, says former top policeman

Hong Kong is currently on the edge. If we carry on down this route, it will be a lose-lose situation. Hatred breeds hatred, not improvement. As one of the illegal hawkers in Mong Kok said, they simply want to make a living; they don’t want their cause to be hijacked for political reasons.

There is much uncertainty about the coming year, including the slowdown of China’s economy, a possible rise in interest rates and increasing unemployment that will affect the livelihood of Hong Kong people. The Hong Kong government needs to work harder to prepare for these changes and steer the economy in the right direction. It will not be easy. Without the support of legislators, it will be even harder.

In the new year, we should all say “no” to violence. It takes a lot of effort to build up trust. Getting a lucky stick during the Lunar New Year ritual at Che Kung Temple won’t solve our problems – we all need to work hard and contribute our fair share to make Hong Kong a place to be proud of.

Paul Yip is a professor of social work and social administration at the University of Hong Kong