Hong Kong’s slide into chaos seems irreversible

Central, Hong Kong, ce mercredi 13 novembre 2019.
Central, Hong Kong, ce mercredi 13 novembre 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

Hong Kong police said today that the city’s rule of law was on "the brink of total collapse", while Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong says the city is “sliding into the abyss of terrorism” and a harsher crackdown is needed to end the unrest and restore order. RFI talks to French political scientist and long-term Hong Kong resident Jean-Pierre Cabestan, who teaches at Hong Kong ‘s Baptist University.


On Monday, businesses were braced for another day of chaos, with the transport system partially closed and businesses shuttering and sporadic fighting breaking out.

Cabestan: “I went to the campus of my university, and there was almost no one because classes have been suspended and it was very hard for those people to reach university. So the university decided to ask everyone to work from home.

“People are divided. But the students are still very determined. I saw on the campus some girls taking out empty bottles from a trashcan in order to prepare some Molotov cocktails for the next action. A lot of students are still very much on the offensive and they don’t want to give up.

RFI: Is there any sign of police or government trying to influence universities at management level to prevent pupils from going to the demonstrations?

Cabestan: “They’ve been unable to do so in the university management teams. Every university is sandwiched between the protesters and the students on the one hand and the police on the other hand.


“The incidents which occurred [on Sunday 11 November] at the Chinese University in Sha Tin is a good illustration of that, because the President of the university tried to go to the site of the confrontation in order to negotiate with the police to end that confrontation.

“To be fair, students were throwing racks on the rail tracks and on the highway which is adjacent to the university and of course the police have to take action. So that’s where we are. The lack of negotiations, lack of solutions is a cause of the level of violence we see now in Hong Kong.

RFI: Hong Kong police said today that “the rule of law is on the brink of total collapse.” Are they right or is it just a warning?

Military intervention

“It is a warning because the next step may be sending the People’s Liberation Army to Hong Kong. If the police don’t restore order, they will have to rely on Beijing.

“So more and more people are worried that the protesters are continuing to push the limits and challenge the police and destroy public property, like they have done the last three days, that there will be a military intervention from China. And that is maybe what some of the protesters would like to trigger, but that is a nightmare scenario for Hong Kong.

On the 24th of November there are District Council elections, entities in charge of grassroots civic and social responsibilities. What do you expect from them?

“I hope that the elections won’t be postponed. Because it will be a factor of de-escalating the tensions in Hong Kong. We can expect some progress of the pan-Democrats (politicians who are not blindly toeing the Beijing line).

Out of touch

But he fears that the “pan-Democrats,” representing an older generation of pro-democracy fighters, is out of touch with the younger generation that is mainly involved in the recent protest movement.

Cabestan: “I don’t think we should be hoping that the pan-Democrats who have been able to run and register for elections are going to dominate the District Council.

“They may be out of touch with the protesters, they’ve not been able to guide them, they’ve not been able to been listened to by the protesters, and refrain the protesters from becoming violent. So you see that distance, clearly, between the protest movement and the old, more moderate pan-Democrats.

RFI: The protesters have five demands. Only one of them was met by the government: the withdrawal of the Extradition law. The others: investigate police violence, release all who have been detained because of the protests, retraction of the official characterization of the protest movement as “riots and direct elections under universal suffrage. Is there any chance that the others will be honored by the Hong Kong government?

“Out of the remaining four there are two that really stick out. One is the setting up of an independent commission on inquiry in police brutality. For the time being, (Chief Executive) Carrie Lam and her government have resisted that decision, maybe as a result of pressure by Beijing.”

Universal suffrage

“Whether they can accommodate that remains to be seen, but the pressure form the community has intensified very much.

“The last one is on political reform in Hong Kong in order to make Hong Kong really fully democratic and see someone who is really chosen by the Hong Kong people under universal suffrage.

“But I don’t think that is going to materialise. Beijing has stuck to its old proposal of introducing universal suffrage, but choosing the candidates and limiting the number of candidates for the Chief Executive elections.

"And also to keep a semi democratic parliament where nearly half of the seats are occupied by professional constituencies and not democratically elected. Beijing doesn’t want to move from that system, because they are afraid of losing control over Hong Kong.

Bottom line: “It is a stalemate. And more repression and perhaps an intervention by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army in Hong Kong.”

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