Fishball Hardball: Hitting hard on fishballers will bounce back

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The CE and Beijing have unleashed a war of  tough words on Fishball Revolutionaries, branding them rioters, separatists and terrorists. But their hardball tactics will cause a backlash instead of winning more support.

Hours after the end of the ugly clashes between police and protesters in Mongkok on the first and second day of the Lunar New Year, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying came out to condemn the violence. He branded the confrontation a “riot.” It did not take long for the Chinese Foreign Ministry to give their official verdict. A spokesman claimed the riot was instigated by “separatist organisations.” On Sunday, Beijing’s top official in Hong Kong Zhang Xiaoming (張曉明) has likened the violence of the alleged rioters as an act of terrorism.

Nominally triggered by a dispute over illegal fishball hawking, the police-civilian standoff was underpinned by a host of deep-rooted socio-political conflicts in the society that has sent fresh shockwaves to the already-strained mainland-Hong Kong relations.

In the near term, the hardline stance of Beijing towards Hong Kong has set the direction of the State Council’s white paper on “one country, two systems” policy, published in 2014, will continue to prevail. It has been toughened, at least on the propaganda front, as reflected in the communist-speak of separatism and terrorism. But it is still early to tell whether or not harsher rhetoric will be followed soon by tougher policies with substance such as an enactment of national security law.


Into the fire…Monkey

The Mongkok “riot” does not bode well for the Year of the Monkey, which has already been rightly tipped to be an eventful year. The 2016 Legislative Council election, scheduled for September, looks set to mark a speedier generational-change among political parties, in particular in the pan-democratic camp.

The rise of radical politics and localism has and will no doubt shape Beijing’s thinking about its policy and strategy towards Hong Kong and, importantly, its choice of the next chief executive. Whether Beijing will give five more years or say “thank you, goodbye” to Leung when his terms ends on June 30 next year will in turn have an immense impact on the city’s governance and the mainland-Hong Kong relations.

“still early to tell whether or not harsher rhetoric will be followed soon by tougher policies

Shocked and awed by the 79-day Occupy Central movement that was ended in late 2014, Beijing may not yet have enough time for enough soul-searching and deep thinking about what and how it happened, what went wrong and how it can be remedied. The only certainty of the post-Occupy era is that the Hong Kong scene is getting even more uncertain and volatile, creating enormous difficulties for Beijing to handle its Hong Kong policy.

First mooted as an experimental approach with the bigger goal of unification with Taiwan, Beijing’s decision to preserve Hong Kong’s lifestyles and systems under the “one country, two systems” framework for 50 years after 1997 has served practical needs. Hong Kong had been likened to a goose that lays golden eggs. Keeping an economically vibrant Hong Kong could give a big help to China’s open and reform drive began in 1979.

This has been proven to be the case. Investments from Hong Kong have played a significant role in turning the poorly developed country in the 1980s into the world’s second-largest economy. Mainland companies have quickened the pace of “coming out” through Hong Kong in the past decade.


What have you done for me lately?

37 years on, China’s phenomenal rise to become the world’s second-largest economy and the relative slowdown of economic growth of Hong Kong have raised questions about the economic value of the city to the nation. After coming to power, President Xi Jinping has taken a more sceptical worldview and tougher stance on national security on both global and domestic fronts. Against the background, Beijing leaders feel increasingly jittery about what they perceive as threats emanating from Hong Kong to jeopardise the nation’s security and sovereignty.

Chinese officials and their propaganda mouthpieces have stepped up their attacks against alleged foreign meddling with Hong Kong’s internal affairs, including universal suffrage, in recent years. Unnamed foreign forces were alleged to have masterminded the Occupy Central movement. Beijing has vehemently opposed comments made by foreign governments on such cases as missing bookseller Lee Po that have implications on “one country, two systems” policy.

Closer to home, the eruption of violence on the New Year’s day has provided a convenient case for hardliners in the central and SAR government to justify their advocacy for a tougher approach towards political dissent.

Some scenes of excessive violence by the alleged rioters against police officers have shaped public opinion. Although many people are unhappy with the central and Hong Kong governments, they are adamant violence is just not right, and not the solution.

The lack of public sympathy and support for violent protests has emboldened the Leung government to speak and act tough. In a rare move, officials have invoked provisions relating to rioting in the Public Order Ordinance to charge the alleged instigators. It is aimed to deter radicals, so they moderate future acts of protest. In the same vein, the officials’ references to separatism and terrorism are intended to prompt radicals to restrain their acts – at least for now – and pressure moderate pan-democrats to keep distance from them.

communist-speak of separatism and terrorism.

With key figures of the Hong Kong Indigenous involved in the mayhem facing rioting charges and the violence condemned by the majority of the society, activists will find it difficult to organise and mobilise their supporters and sympathisers to put up a new fight with a good cause.

It is clear, however, the sea of political and social grievances embedded and culminated among people in different strata of the society has prevailed and indeed become more intense. As the Mongkok clash shows, it could explode from a seemingly petty dispute about illegal hawking.

It may sound politically naive and wishful thinking to expect a rethink by Beijing about its Hong Kong policy any time soon. Beijing’s policy is a significant factor in their selection of the chief executive and his/her team, their style of governance and policy-making, which have emerged as the root cause of the increasingly fierce political agitation against the authorities.

In the short run, there is no denying the Mongkok violence will result in a tougher approach by Beijing towards the city.

But as the saying goes, violence begets violence. Beijing will have to reassess their hardball tactics in to avoid a backlash of growing resistance by people, in their hearts, if not in their acts.