Thursday, August 29, 2019

Non-Economics Special Report: On the Ground in a Hong Kong Under Siege

Click here to read the original Cautious Optimism Facebook post with comments

7 MIN READ-The Cautious Optimism Correspondent for Economic Affairs and Other Egghead Stuff has thus far limited his writing strictly to economics, but vacationing in Hong Kong he’s learned of developments "on the ground" that oblige him to briefly veer into international politics.... with compelling video.

Vacationing in Hong Kong I’ve been lucky to not yet see one demonstration, riot, or protest up close and personal (evidently the largest riots are a weekend-only excursion).

The extent of the dangers I’ve encountered is eating too much dim sum and enduring the sweltering summer heat and humidity... and being slightly ripped off by a Mong Kok street vendor who could tell I was too hot to bother bargaining. However there is a lot of anti-China and anti-government (Hong Kong) graffiti spray painted on buildings and highway dividers, and I’ve also walked down a breezeway where hundreds of protest posters and fliers adorn the walls with provocative slogans that would never be seen in mainland China.

However my own family members who have lived in Hong Kong nearly their entire lives (multiple aunts and uncles and cousins) have had plenty of opinions to share with me regarding the standoff between the government and the demonstrators.

Note first that the COCEA’s Chinese family fled China in 1949 just as Mao's communist army conquered the country. They have no love for the CCP and they are familiar with the underhanded tricks, tactics, and propaganda ploys that communists routinely play. They are not na├»ve about the nature of Beijing and they oppose both the controversial extradition bill as well as the multiple incursions the communist government has imposed on the freedoms of Hong Kongers since the 1997 handover.

The developments I convey here are from their observations and from the local news. I have confirmed most but not all of it. With the exception of one major television station the Hong Kong media are mostly free and not owned or influenced by mainland investors or the mainland government, and as evidence the local news coverage has been largely pro-demonstrator and anti-government.


-Many Chinese tourists visiting Hong Kong have been fascinated witnessing the marches, riots, graffiti, and anti-government posters and recorded the images with their smartphone cameras. However, when they return to the mainland—via Shenzhen or by air into multiple Chinese cities—customs authorities are inspecting all incoming smartphones for images or videos of civil unrest. If found, they delete them and subject the tourist to a lengthy interrogation. Beijing clearly doesn’t want any images of Hong Kong rebellion entering China for fear it will inspire its own citizens, many of whom don’t like the Communist Party either, to do the same.

-Cathay Pacific Airlines, which is minority owned by Beijing-based Air China, has been ordered to fire a handful of pilots and flight attendants for posting pro-demonstrator comments on their personal social media accounts. The Chinese government threatened Cathay Pacific that if they didn’t fire the workers and provide identification of crews working all flights into China then their flights would not be allowed to enter Chinese airspace. With China providing over 40% of Cathay Pacific's revenue noncompliance would bankrupt the airline.

-Cathay Pacific flights landing in China are now randomly being subjected to crew inspections by mainland customs authorities. The pilot and flight attendant ID’s are being double-checked to make sure none of them are on Beijing’s blacklist of troublemakers. The crew’s smartphones are also being searched to remove any images of civil unrest in Hong Kong. It’s not clear what punishment they’re subject to if the communist government identifies them as a subversive.

-Just yesterday Cathay Pacific, likely bowing to pressure for Beijing again, enacted a policy urging its employees to report coworkers who express anti-government sentiments. The policy echoes of the Stalinist Soviet or Eastern European Bloc days when millions of citizens were acting a secret police informers.

-The Hong Kong police have admitted to using some plainclothes officers dressed in black to blend into crowds of demonstrators and help the authorities weed out the biggest troublemakers.

-Taiwanese political advisor to Pingtung township Morrison Lee visited Hong Kong on August 18th and is now missing. The Taiwanese government is pressing Beijing on his whereabouts.

-Hong Kong residents visiting mainland China are now subject to greater scrutiny and interrogation than visiting Americans despite Hong Kong officially being “part of China.”


On the protester side a more surprising picture develops. My own family has almost unanimously turned against the radical demonstrators. They are against the communist government too, but I’ve been inundated with stories of protesters wreaking havoc on the city and initiating violence against both the police and innocent citizens. The offenses include:

-Among the 1-2 million largely peaceful protesters, a large minority contingent of blackshirts has routinely blocked major roads and highways. When the Hong Kong police attempted to physically pick them up and remove them they were attacked by the blackshirts. The more radical protesters accuse the Hong Kong police of brutalizing them and said they were only defending themselves from barbaric officers. It has become a he-said, she-said.

-The blackshirts have destroyed traffic signals in busy intersections hoping to create huge traffic jams or even accidents.

-Protesters have placed shopping carts on MTR and Express railroad tracks trying to create accidents.

-The protesters famously occupied the airport several weeks ago and got into a melee with police. Now the airport is closed off to anyone who can’t show an outbound ticket and passport or employee/airline credentials.

-Despite claiming to be peaceful victims at the hands of brutal police, blackshirts are routinely targeting police stations by completely surrounding them, besieging their occupants and then throwing eggs, water balloons, pineapples, and bricks at any police who try to step outside. A few weeks ago it was confirmed the protesters had upgraded to throwing petrol bombs.

-The protesters are now engaging in “hit and run” tactics, attacking a police station on one side of the city, disappearing and then attacking another police station on the other side of the city. The hope is to keep the police running around constantly and stretching the police force too thin to be effective. At dinner my cousin wanted to walk me a few blocks to see the wreckage and damage around the local police station but we ran out of time.

Keep in mind that traditionally the Hong Kong police force has not had a reputation for brutality. In fact Hong Kongers have dismissed their police almost as “rent-a-cops” in contrast to mainland China police who nobody in their right mind messes with. But suddenly in 2019 the police are being accused of barbarism. When this sudden contrast is pointed out protesters argue that the police are now being controlled by Beijing and told to carry out atrocities, but no disillusioned officers have blown the whistle or resigned at the prospect of suddenly being ordered to unilaterally brutalize peaceful citizens.

-A few weeks ago protesters surrounded and attacked the Kowloon Park police station and blocked Nathan Road (the major thoroughfare of Kowloon). Buses couldn’t move in either direction all evening. When the police tried to remove them chaos broke out. This is the night that a female demonstrator was famously hit by a police rubber bullet and lost her eyesight in one eye.

-A few nights ago the protesters attacked the Sham Shui Po police station, also blocking the road. A taxi driver got out of his blocked car and complained they were keeping him from his job and was beaten by the blackshirts. When criticized for attacking taxi drivers the common response has been “We’re risking our lives every day fighting for freedom, so beating up a taxi driver here and there is nothing.”

-Earlier this week the blackshirts had announced their intent to surround and attack Cathay Pacific’s headquarters building near the airport as revenge for firing the handful of pilots and flight attendants but called it off at the last minute, likely due to bad weather.

-Blackshirts have also attacked journalists that they felt weren’t reporting about them favorably enough, and also beat a Global Times journalist at Hong Kong airport that they “suspected” was a Chinese spy, at least one tourist who tried to run their airport gauntlet desperate to catch her flight, and beaten several policeman they have isolated.

Please view these brief videos filmed by bystander smart phones. These do not resemble peaceful demonstrators practicing civil disobedience and being victimized by one-sided police brutality:

Disclosure: the next video by CGTN is funded by the Chinese government, but I don’t see how the video isn’t truthful or relevant. The attacks on cars trying to navigate the blackshirt roadblock is a carbon copy of militant “critical mass” bicyclists attacking cars in San Francisco.

-The protesters have also managed to obtain the personal information records (home addresses, family members) of over 1,000 police officers and posted them online.

-Monday, September 2nd is the first day of the school year both for grade level students as well as many college students. Authorities are already predicting many students will walk out in protest against the government and that out in the open they will become targets for recruitment by the blackshirt protesters. However the police are warning students who are the children of police to avoid blackshirts who they fear may target them as retribution against what they say is police brutality.

-I haven’t been able to confirm this, but my cousin says the goal of the most radical blackshirts is to provoke Beijing into sending the People’s Liberation Army into Hong Kong and producing another Tiananmen Square. The strategy is that the consequences on foreign investment and international business will destroy the Hong Kong economy and the Beijing government will back down. The blackshirts are now no longer demanding just withdrawal of the extradition bill, but also universal suffrage, amnesty for rioters, withdrawal of language describing them as rioters, and a commission of inquiry into police brutality.

I have been able to confirm most, but not all, of these developments via the local Hong Kong news. Although I don’t understand Cantonese and my family interprets for me, the images I’m seeing match the stories I’m hearing.

I asked my family if the communists might be planting agent provocateurs into the crowds disguised as blackshirts to orchestrate these attacks. They said it’s always possible, but there’s been no evidence so far because outsiders have a very difficult time speaking the Hong Kong dialect of Cantonese. A native mainland Mandarin speaker is given away as an outsider the moment he opens his mouth, and even a Cantonese speaker from nearby Guangzhou has a difficult time reproducing Hong Kong Cantonese.


Hearing these stories and watching these images, I was personally struck at just how much the radical blackshirt protesters look like Antifa in the United States. In fact, I would not be surprised if they have seen Antifa in action online and are drawing from much of the Antifa playbook to wreak havoc in the city. When I made this observation my relatives had no idea what Antifa is, but either way they are almost unanimously “fed up” (their words) with the radical demonstrators trying to tear the city apart.

I am no longer convinced that the situation in Hong Kong is a clear-cut case of peaceful, flower-carrying demonstrators being beaten up by savage police craving wonton acts of violence. The anti-government movement, which was and remains a just cause, is being hijacked by a sizable group of thugs who are effectively Hong Kong’s Antifa. They now seem to be motivated less by opposition to the extradition bill and more by exacting revenge and even beating up anyone they view as not 100% on their side.

Nevertheless, it’s likely the majority of Hong Kongers are still against the government—proven by the administration’s refusal to conduct public polling on the issue which suggests they know they will lose. The locals still side against the extradition bill and the government, not because they approve of the blackshirt tactics (they don’t and are getting sick of them), but because they hate what the communist mainland government is trying to do even more. Which is sad, because the longer the blackshirts attack and beat taxi drivers, block highways and shut down airports, the more support for the wider movement will falter.

What a shame. The communist government’s tightening grip on Hong Kong is a tragedy that is producing a slow motion death for all the world to see, and Antifa-like blackshirts are hurting the opposition cause.

ps. Most of the protester violence reported by local news is not being widely disseminated by the U.S. media, and images of blackshirts beating taxi drivers and journalists is definitely not getting much airtime in the West. At most the press reports “Police, Demonstrators Clash” or “Violence Erupts” with the same ambiguity they use when Antifa attacks Trump supporters but they don’t want to mention that it was Antifa who attacked first. It’s mindboggling in this age of instant information that the stories and images are being run routinely in Hong Kong but mostly ignored in the USA.

In many ways the reporting mirrors Tiananmen Square coverage in 1989, where western journalists were so in love with the story of unarmed, peaceful students standing up to the Goliath Communist Party machine that it affected their reporting. For example, historians now record that the Tiananmen students attacked the soldiers first, raining down bricks and cement blocks on PLA soldiers from overpasses on the outskirts of Beijing.

While bricks and cement blocks are no justification for PLA soldiers firing indiscriminately into crowds, the western reporting was 100% pro-demonstrator and journalists simply refused to run any story that might indicate the students were committing any wrongs of their own. Years later many journalists admitted they had let their feelings get the better of them and had not reported objectively.

When I contrast the behavior of Hong Kong’s radical blackshirts against the picture the western press paints of emphatic victimhood at the hands of the sadistic Hong Kong police, I believe the media are doing their readers/viewers a disservice. Hong Kong is still a story about a dictatorial communist government trying to subjugate a formerly free and vibrant metropolis, but it’s not about monolithically pacifist pro-democracy activists being wrongly persecuted.

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