Scare tactics from Beijing will only strengthen the resolve of Hong Kong protesters

South China Morning Post 發布於 2019年08月22日03:08 • Michael Chugani
  • Beijing is mistaken if it thinks Hong Kong can be ruled with a communist mindset. To rule and win over Hong Kong, it needs to think like Hongkongers; going after core values can only backfire
Young activists hold up posters with messages supporting the protest movement and informing passers-by about upcoming events, in Hong Kong on August 20. Photo: EPA-EFE

Do Hong Kong people scare easily? We got the answer on Sunday, when an estimated 1.7 million defiantly took to the streets in driving rain, unfazed by threats from Beijing, and by the police declaring the march illegal.

A day before the mass protest, state media released a video of a Shenzhen police drill against rioters made to look like Hong Kong protesters. It was one of several threatening videos showing paramilitary forces firing tear gas and even using Cantonese to warn rioters.

Before the latest drill, the military ominously said it would take soldiers just 10 minutes to reach Hong Kong. And last week, Beijing extracted a pound of flesh from Cathay Pacific for what it said was the airline's lenient treatment of staff who supported protests.

These clenched-fist acts were intended to send a single message: stop the anti-government protests or we'll show you who's boss. Did Hongkongers buckle? No. I could have told Beijing that. It baffles me how little China's leaders understand the resolve of Hong Kong people when it comes to defending their freedoms.

I say this not as criticism of the country's leaders but to point out that, even though most Hong Kong people reject independence, they have reached a stage where they feel their autonomy has eroded so much that only radical action can stop the slide.

Reunification's biggest failure is Beijing's mistaken belief that it can rule Hong Kong with a communist mindset. Surely, after 22 years, it should understand that to rule Hong Kong, it needs to think like Hongkongers. That is a prerequisite for winning hearts and minds.

Like a Greek tragedy, it now appears Beijing no longer cares about winning hearts and minds. It just wants to control hearts and minds. That is wishful thinking. Hong Kong is not the mainland where a heavily censored internet, state-controlled media and propaganda combine to brainwash minds and enforce patriotism in hearts.

Yet, Beijing blatantly moved to at least control minds last week when it forced heads to roll at Cathay. It was as if an Arctic blast had swept across Hong Kong when news broke that the airline's chief executive Rupert Hogg and his deputy Paul Loo Kar-pui had both resigned.

In the space of two weeks Cathay has gone from having a chairman stating he wouldn't dream of telling 27,000 employees what to think… to this.
Beijing is making it clear that one country, two systems no longer exists in HK boardrooms. https://t.co/prKGVgpPYn

" Jerome Taylor (@JeromeTaylor) August 18, 2019

Let it not be lost that the first to break the news, before an official Cathay or stock exchange announcement, was the state-controlled CCTV " which is known more as a Beijing mouthpiece than for its news-breaking journalism.

Was Hogg forced to resign or did he do so voluntarily? We'll never know, unless he tells us. But social media was abuzz with claims he chose to resign rather than accede to Beijing's demand for a list of staff who joined anti-extradition protests.

Cathay feels the heat of new era of political risk in China

Cathay had already fired four staff involved in the anti-extradition issue and dutifully complied with Beijing's demand that the airline provide personal details of crew flying into Chinese airspace. But Beijing wanted more blood. It got it with the exit of Hogg and Loo.

A Cathay internal memo even urged staff to exercise restraint, saying they were still associated with the airline even during their own time. State media wanted yet more blood, forcing the city's four big accounting firms to condemn the protests. Our property tycoons tumbled over each other to attend a pro-government rally last week after state media attacked them for having remained silent.

Full-page advertisements placed by Hong Kong's top tycoon Li Ka-shing in leading newspapers on August 16 urge a halt to the unrest in the name of love. Photo: Bloomberg

To me, such kowtowing has a chilling effect. A huge chunk of Hong Kong's labour force works for these big firms, especially the tycoons, whose businesses stretch well beyond property development. Are staff members of these companies expected to avoid even peaceful protests and support the government?

What you do on your own time is your business, as long as you don't break the law. It's the Hong Kong way. Beijing is now going after that core value.

My friendly advice to Beijing is, the scare tactics it has used won't work. Instead, they will strengthen the resolve of Hongkongers.

Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong journalist and TV show host

Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

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