Continuing HK turmoil a cause for concern - GulfToday

Continuing HK turmoil a cause for concern

Hong Kong

People wave flashlights of their mobile phones during a protest in Hong Kong. Reuters

The situation in Hong Kong is turning from bad to worse and that’s a huge cause for worry.

The Chinese official responsible for Hong Kong, Zhang Xiaoming, has also acknowledged that the territory is facing its “most severe situation” since the handover from British rule in 1997.

The protests that were sparked by a proposed extradition law have since broadened into demands for democratic reform.

Adding to the concern is the fact that the demonstrations are getting increasingly violent and having a deep impact on society, with people’s normal life being affected.

The anger is mounting as more than 500 people have been arrested since the protests began in June and dozens have already been charged with rioting, which carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.

There seems to be no respite.

On Saturday, demonstrators erected barricades in the tourist district of Tsim Sha Tsui prompting riot police to use tear gas.

The next day police fired tear gas again in the luxury shopping district of Causeway Bay, where thousands of protesters seized roads and put up barricades.

On Monday, a city-wide strike followed with activists disrupting the subway system, paralysing much of the city and delaying scores of international flights. For a third consecutive night, police had to confront hardcore protesters.

The clashes turned out to be the most widespread so far, breaking out at more than a dozen locations. Police claimed 148 people were arrested, the largest daily number since the protests kicked off.

On Tuesday, China issued a stern warning that that “those who play with fire will perish by it,” and not to mistake its restraint so far for weakness.

On Wednesday, more than 1,000 lawyers marched through Hong Kong’s business district urging authorities to “stop political persecution” and to form an independent inquiry commission into events triggered by the now-shelved extradition bill.

Hong Kong’s crucial tourism industry too is suffering as tourists are putting off their visits. Australia became the latest country to issue a travel safety warning to its citizens.

Australians should exercise a high degree of caution in Hong Kong, the notice said. It indicated there was a risk of violent confrontation between protesters and police, or criminally linked individuals, and visitors should avoid large gatherings, especially at night and on weekends.

Ireland, Britain, and Japan have already issued Hong Kong travel warnings.

City leader Carrie Lam has shown little appetite for compromise. Beyond agreeing to postpone the extradition bill, she has resisted calls for her resignation, an amnesty for those arrested or an independent inquiry.

On Monday, in her most forceful comments yet, Lam condemned the protesters and said their new revolutionary chant showed they were “trying to destroy Hong Kong.”

The disappearance into mainland custody of dissident booksellers, the disqualification of prominent politicians, the de facto expulsion of a foreign journalist and the jailing of democracy protest leaders are among several issues that sparked anxiety.

In the absence of a definite formula to solve the issue, further clashes seem inevitable.

Indications that Beijing will take a hard line against the demonstrators and has no plans to negotiate over their demands for political reforms are compounding the problem.

Continuing turbulence is not good for Hong Kong. The best way out is to hold a sincere dialogue with both sides keeping an open mind. The administration should do its best to address all genuine grievances of the protesters and the latter should show flexibility.