Does Beijing Have an Answer to Hong Kong’s Molotov Cocktails?

Civil disorder in Hong Kong has been ongoing for four months and has in fact turned into some kind of permanent training ground where some are practicing the technique of organising a controlled mass riot, and others – its suppression without the use of extreme force.

In the past such events always led to one of two results. If the authorities weren’t sufficiently strong enough, then the result was Ukraine (or any other country where a colour revolution won). Otherwise, the result was a Tiananmen Square.

With Hong Kong matters are complicated by the process of integrating the former British colony into the Chinese state, whose effective technologies do not exist anywhere else in the world today. The European Union, with the formal consent of all its members, remains to this day a very loose formation, although more than three decades have passed since the launch of the Union. What can be said here about the Hong Kong version of “one country – two systems”.

In short, Beijing can’t resort to simple force to suppress the disorder, because of the unacceptably high foreign policy cost of such a step. It has to improvise. By the way, it does so with success, and also significantly adding to international experience. Usually it was sought to disperse mutineers with truncheons. The Chinese authorities showed how this can be done rather effectively and less noticeably without the direct use of force, by cutting off the oxygen supply to those who organise, ensure, and finance the processes.

However, even with indisputable clear success at the tactical level, it is impossible to liquidate the phenomenon in general. There are several reasons for this. The most important is the active reluctance of external actors to quietly watch China absorb Hong Kong in 2047. Losing their leading position in Europe, the British need Hong Kong as their last controlled global financial platform. For Washington, the unrest there serves as one of the tools of putting geopolitical pressure on Beijing in the third year of the ongoing US-China trade war.

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Plus a whole list of different, less public forces and their own local specifics, from ethnic to cultural and even urbanistic. In an area smaller than St. Petersburg (1104 sq.km) lives one and a half times the population (7.4 million people). Moreover, high prices, an in general expensive life, and strict penalties for the slightest misstep, up to and including paper thrown under your feet. And this is not a joke. In Hong Kong one can be seriously fined even for the presence of water under a flower pot stand.

As a result, the standoff between the authorities and the raging crowd has entered into a kind of clinch, when there are some successes in counteraction, but the general level of the protests increases, albeit slowly. For example, protesters started to practice arson and throwing Molotov cocktails at police officers. Sometimes forcing the police into taking very tough action. The other day a video appeared on the Internet showing a police officer shooting with a pistol a protester who was trying to fight with him.

So the introduction of a state of emergency in Hong Kong from October 4th 2019 by the head of administration of the city Carrie Lam can be considered as a quite natural step. Another question is: then what?

At the moment the authorities and the press focus their attention only on one aspect – the official total ban on protesters wearing any masks during demonstrations and public actions. Violators can expecty an administrative fine of $3,200 (25,000 Hong Kong dollars). At the same time, it remains unclear how the authorities will be able to enforce the norm in conditions when the wearing of medical masks is an element of everyday life there.

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But the right of the city administration to apply almost any measures in order to ensure public safety without the need for them to be coordinated with the city council or for the adoption of any direct law stays behind scenes. However, it is impossible to exclude that a combination of the former with the latter is the main goal. If before the introduction of the state of emergency it was possible to detain mutineers only for any obvious illegal act, and even with its obligatory confirmation by a solid evidence base, then now it becomes possible to simply arrest any violator for the fact that they have a mask.

But whether or not this will help to suppress the phenomenon so far remains unclear. As is said, we will see. At the same time, it is clear that in any country the police have the right to use maximal force if Molotov cocktails are thrown. The example of “Berkut” on Maidan serves as confirmation of this.


Aleksandr Zapolskis

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