Chinese media is working overtime to paint the Hong Kong protest movement as a gang of violent radicals driven mad by Western propaganda. The latest round of editorial broadsides was fired over charges brought against four protesters for carrying “offensive weapons” to Saturday’s protest at the Yuen Long train station.
Yuen Long was the site of an attack by pro-Chinese forces against protesters, bystanders, and reporters the previous weekend. The white-clad mob most certainly was armed with offensive weapons, ranging from bamboo poles to metal rods, and they were employed with gusto, sending dozens of people to the hospital.
The four individuals charged with bringing weapons to the Yuen Long protest ranged from 18 to 25 years of age. They were denied bail on Tuesday and will appear in court again on September 3.
According to Hong Kong media reports, the four were arrested on Saturday morning wearing “masks, eye shields, and helmets” and carrying “weapons such as a retractable baton, a catapult, a multi-tool pocket knife, and an air gun.” One of them was also packing a “Captain America-style shield,” but it was unclear if he was skilled at throwing it hard enough to knock people out, so it might not have qualified as an offensive weapon in his hands.
Lawyers for the four defendants said they had good reasons for carrying the items, but the prosecution was unmoved, even though it could not even convincingly demonstrate that the four intended to participate in the Yuen Long protest at all. According to reports:
The lawyer for Chu Chun-hoi, who had the air gun, said that its energy was lower than the legal limit of two joules. The lawyer said Chu intended to join a war game after work, but went to Yuen Long to help with first aid, after hearing cases of protesters being injured there. Chu’s defence argued that he did not intend to join the protest or attack anyone with the air gun.
The lawyer for Liu, who was arrested with the multi-tool pocket knife, said it was a common type of knife and the prosecution has no evidence to suggest that he was going to use the knife to cause any unlawful usage.
But Acting Principal Magistrate Don So said the four were carrying tools that could be used as weapons, and their intention to join the protests was “almost certain.” He said they could have used the weapons to attack others. Thus, So denied the bail application for all four as the case was serious and they could flee Hong Kong.
China’s state-run Global Times on Monday dismissed all of the protesters as rioters and separatist extremists manipulated by sinister “Western forces” and warned that Beijing is reaching the limits of its patience, saying:
Officials from the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council expressed their firm support to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government, Hong Kong police and Chief Executive Carrie Lam at a press conference on Monday. This shows the riots that have lasted over 50 days in Hong Kong failed to waver Beijing’s position and shake the “one country, two systems” principle.
Hong Kong opposition responded rapidly, calling the conference a “waste of time” and accused Beijing of misjudging the situation.
But the extreme opposition and demonstrators in Hong Kong have misunderstood the geopolitical factors and the current era. It is they who completely miscalculated the situation.
The riots were sparked by resistance to amending the Fugitives Offenders Ordinance. Despite the HKSAR government declaring the extradition bill “dead,” violence continued to escalate and radical protesters have become more vehement. They want to paralyze the HKSAR government, challenge the authority of the police and ultimately establish an opposition-dominated political structure manipulated by the US and Western forces.
All of their actions have touched the bottom line of the “one country, two systems” principle.
The problem, as always in the eyes of Chinese Communists, is that Hong Kongers have too much freedom. According to the Global Times:
“One country, two systems” principle has ensured Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy while preventing turmoil in Hong Kong from spreading to the mainland. Whatever the mobs did on the streets is ruining Hong Kong. The mainlanders are very sympathetic to this. But the mobs cannot affect the attitude of mainland society, nor can they cause a sense of crisis in the whole country.
The riots in Hong Kong have provided the mainland with a negative example, demonstrating how fragile social solidarity is under the Western system.
A high degree of autonomy requires Hong Kong society to be responsible for its internal order, and the core lever to fulfill this responsibility is the rule of law that Hong Kong has long been proud of. As the rule of law is severely damaged, unprecedented chaos has appeared in Hong Kong.
“U.S. and Western forces might suffice to incite extreme opposition, but they are by no means capable of reshaping Hong Kong politically. What they are trying to do is to throw Hong Kong into chaos and thus contain Beijing,” the Global Times asserted.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Monday accused Europeans and Americans of using “double standards” to protect rioters in Hong Kong while passing laws in their own countries to prevent demonstrations from getting out of hand.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying railed against U.S. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY) for charging that “allegations of police violence over the past weeks have tarnished Hong Kong’s international reputation for good governance and the fair administration of justice.”
Hua went back to the Occupy Wall Street fracas of 2011 to find an example of American police restraining a violent demonstration, and pushed Beijing’s allegations that Hong Kong police are simply defending themselves against protesters armed with “lethal weapons.” Xinhuanet reports:
Hua expressed her doubts on Engel’s comments and said he has “turned white to black” and “confused right and wrong.”
“How can some Americans use the words ‘peaceful protests’ when seeing violent protesters storm the Legislative Council Complex and besiege the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the HKSAR, not to mention the organized assault on police by lethal weapons?” Hua asked.
She recalled a resolution passed by the European Parliament earlier this year which stressed that demonstrations and freedom of expression, which are not without limits, must be exercised within the law and subject to police enforcement restrictions.
Hua also said during the Occupy Wall Street movement in 2011, the New York authorities intensified police by gathering policemen from eight cities, deploying explosion-proof vehicle, riot squads, snipers and horse teams and using weapons such as electric batons and taser guns.
Saying the U.S. police have repeatedly mentioned force must be used when there is any threat to the lives of the officers, Hua wonders if officers in Washington D.C. and New York were assaulted in the same way as those in the HKSAR, what the U.S. police would do.
China’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office on Tuesday warned the “violent” protesters are threatening to wreck Hong Kong’s economy.
“As a small, globally linked economy like Hong Kong in the complex and volatile international economic environment, if the business environment and business confidence decline, it will naturally increase the external risks faced by its financial sector,” spokeswoman Xu Luying said.
“Therefore, the top priority for Hong Kong now is to punish the violent acts, restore social order as soon as possible and maintain a sound business environment,” she recommended.
Some of China’s comments seem designed to enrage the protesters, whose top demands include thorough investigations of police brutality and the mob attack in Yuen Long. Their core demand is the permanent withdrawal of a bill that would make it easier for Hong Kong residents and visitors to be extradited to China.
Over the past week, Chinese Communist officials began aggressively pushing the idea that protesters never really understood the extradition bill or the Chinese communist legal system, or that Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam did a poor job of selling it, which suggests the bill might make a comeback.
Many Hong Kongers remain supportive of the protest movement, even as the latest round of demonstrations causes substantial delays in rail service. “I think my work and meeting could wait,” one commuter told the BBC. “But our freedom, safety [and] human rights are being taken away and that can’t wait – so I’m OK with it,” one commuter told the BBC on Tuesday.
The UK Guardian on Tuesday saw Beijing and its allies in Hong Kong government attempting to buy off the protest movement with social spending, beginning with a proposal to hand out modest cash grants to all school children. This approach would recontextualize the protests as an expression of economic anxiety, creating an alternate narrative in which Hong Kongers were never really upset about the extradition bill or their diminishing autonomy. The Guardian suspected protesters would only be offended by this effort to tell them what they truly want.
The South China Morning Post noted previous attempts at mass cash handouts have fizzled due to Hong Kong bureaucracy, and the specific notion of giving money to children at the beginning of the academic session was floated last year before the protests began.
According to polls cited by the SCMP, Carrie Lam is now the least popular chief executive since China took control of Hong Kong 22 years ago, with a 30 percent approval rating and only 21 percent public support for remaining in office. Beijing has nevertheless restated its support for Lam, mixed with a bit of strategic chiding about how she could have done a better job with the extradition bill.