Radicals clashed with the police late on the night of the first day of the Year of the Monkey. Things escalated and turned bloody in the early morning of the

next day, with radicals deliberately injuring close to 100 policemen. In the process, the police had to fire some warning shots. Worryingly, fires were started in a number of places. The level of violence was probably the worst that most of the participants had experienced in their lives.

In all fairness, there was nothing particularly special about this riot. After all, this behavior is what radicals do all around the world, and radical youth in our city have finally caught up with international trends. For most of them, the World Trade Organization (WTO) ministerial conference in Hong Kong was significant. Those protests in 2005 taught them a lot about organized resistance to the police.

Before the WTO conference in 2005, pepper spray was rarely used by local police. The WTO protests showed Hong Kong people how ineffective this really is. We saw how the Korean farmers were sprayed and then just cleaned their eyes with bottled water and charged at the police lines again - after less than a minute. This gave some Hong Kong people an idea: They realized that they could defy warnings from officers and also resist pepper spray and other things done to them by the police.

In other WTO-inspired protests around the world, some demonstrators even went so far as to burn cars. But in Hong Kong, protesters had not broken a single shop window. Our officials congratulated themselves and thanked us for being more civilized than people in other countries. Today, 10 years after the WTO conference, we realize how wrong we were.

There can be no justification for this recent riot in Hong Kong. Throwing rocks at the police is wrong, period. But condemning such antics must be followed by concrete actions. The worst response is to just verbally condemn the rioters. The radicals instead must be made to suffer the consequences. The rest of us are against the erosion of law and order in this city. Therefore, we must do everything we can to nip such extremism in the bud.

First of all, we must counter the argument that the riot is a symptom of failed leadership in the city. This must be done with conviction and determination. Governance in Hong Kong has declined significantly, but this is no excuse for violence. More importantly, the government alone cannot deliver good governance to the city. Ours is not an authoritarian society where the government controls everything.

Good governance is the responsibility of everybody - civil society, the courts, the Legislative Council and professional organizations. The government may have some influence on them but it does not have full control. The dissidents want us to believe that our Chief Executive is responsible for everything which happens in Hong Kong simply because we do not have universal suffrage. But clearly this is not the case. Power is still highly decentralized in the SAR.

In reality, governance in Hong Kong has deteriorated because much-needed reforms have been stalled by endless arguments and filibusters. We need to build consensus to move forward, and consensus by definition is not the full realization of what each party wants. Everyone has to accept this and make compromises.

In addition, the government has to take the necessary action even though that may lead to further controversy. After this riot, the government praised the police for their restraint. This alienates the silent majority because what we want is not official restraint but the firm implementation of the rule of law. The police should use necessary and appropriate force to protect us and our property. But police restraint alone is meaningless. It is by no means a virtue. Sometimes, it has been used merely as a justification for not being more decisive in the past.

And we should not listen to the mainstream media. They are biased and do not represent mainstream opinion. Most Hong Kong people want the rule of law; they want to see a strong government willing to make tough decisions. Many issues which divide us are in fact not really controversial at all for ordinary people. We think they are controversial only because the media tell us so. But do not be fooled. Ultimately, Hong Kong must maintain the rule of law and implement rational and sensible policies.

(HK Edition 02/16/2016 page10)

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