When enemies start to resemble each other

Both sides of the political divide in Hong Kong are pursuing the same goal ruthlessly, and with the same unseemly self-righteousness

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 April, 2018, 6:40am
UPDATED : Monday, 23 April, 2018, 6:40am

As they say, the longer you fight monsters, the more you become like one. The longer you observe the tactics used against enemies by both the pro-establishment and anti-establishment blocs in local politics, the more alike you will find them.

The opposition blogosphere is ablaze with anger against the police, who have decided not to prosecute Beijing-friendly lawmaker Junius Ho Kwan-yiu for supposedly calling for the merciless killing of people who advocated Hong Kong independence. The reason given was insufficient proof.

Ever since Ho made the remarks in September, opposition lawmakers have called for an official censure by the Legislative Council, while their allies have made numerous reports to the police against Ho for making what they claimed was a death threat.

Ho’s allies, however, have defended him, saying his remarks were taken out of context.

Critics of free speech restrictions in Hong Kong defy logic

Now consider a more recent case, that of Benny Tai Yiu-ting, the controversial University of Hong Kong law lecturer and co-founder of the Occupy Central protest movement. Speaking at a forum organised by a pro-Taiwan independence group in Taipei, Tai asked his audience to consider the circumstances under which Hong Kong could declare independence.

He has been denounced by state media, the Hong Kong government, and practically every key Beijing-friendly politician in town.

Tai has subsequently clarified that he doesn’t advocate Hong Kong independence, and that he was only discussing the possibility from a hypothetical or academic perspective. His defenders have claimed he was quoted out of context, and that even if he did advocate independence, which he didn’t, he was exercising his right of free speech and/or academic freedom.

Some of Tai’s critics, including Ho, have demanded HKU fire him. It must be added that Ho has been making that demand long before Tai went to Taipei.

I have watched both events on YouTube from beginning to end, so let me confess my own biases. By “kill without mercy”, I don’t think Ho meant murder, execution, extermination or assassination at all. It was clear he meant it figuratively, that is, secessionists should be punished severely, “without mercy”.

Benny Tai faces court action to revoke passport over comments

As for Tai, I think he went further than merely examining a hypothetical question on Hong Kong independence, though he didn’t actually say the city should become independent now.

But of course, when you go after an enemy, you don’t want nuances; you want sound bites. Both sides are pursuing the same goal ruthlessly, and with the same unseemly self-righteousness.