"If you want to read a blog to get a sense of what is going on in Hong Kong these days or a blog that would tell you what life was like living in colonial Hong Kong, this blog, WALTER'S BLOG, fits the bill." Hong Kong Blog Review
"Nury's book may prove the defining exposition of why legitimate concerns about the extradition bill spiralled rapidly into wanton violence."
Ever since the Hong Kong protests turned violent last year, I've reflected on whether I misinterpreted the whole messy affair. I listened to all sides, using a critical eye to examine events including the actions of the government and Police. Along the way, I felt some pity for kids caught up in the moment. Many of these youngsters now face serious criminal charges, possible ruin and unsure futures. Meanwhile, the unscrupulous politicians who led them to the streets have either fled or gone silent.
At every turn, I kept coming back to the inescapable conclusion — some unseen entity is manipulating events. Somebody is nudging the well-drilled radicals along, seeking to draw the Police into over-reacting. As a student of social movements, crowd dynamics and how the actions/reactions of the authorities shape outcomes, this all intrigued me. I could see specific patterns emerging.
Of course, being an ex-copper, it's easy for the pundits to dismiss my interpretation as partisan. "He's protecting his former colleagues" was the often-heard refrain. A friend suggested, "You're paranoid". But, it's not so easy to dismiss the conclusions of an ardent government critic, with an in-depth knowledge of Hong Kong.
Like me, journalist and commentator Nury Vittachi is an adopted son of Hong Kong. That's where the similarities end. He made his name taking the mickey out of officials, including the Police. In the past, I was on the receiving end of Nury's barbs. For that reason, I always viewed his musings with a jaundiced eye. Yet, I recognise that every court needs a jester, who can speak truth to power under cover of humour. That's a powerful tool.
Thus, having finished his account of the troubles —"The Other Side of the Story" —I’m stunned we agree on so much. Finally, an account emerges that gives a balanced and insightful framing of events.
Nury's book may prove the defining exposition of why legitimate concerns about the extradition bill spiralled rapidly into wanton violence. And yet when the bill is withdrawn, that violence continued unabated.
In telling the tale, Nury notes that there is plenty of blame to go around. He spares no one. But particular focus lands on the biased coverage by foreign journalists and the unseen 'forces' working behind the scenes.
To get the story across, Nury deploys his trademark humour, the absurd and a 'tongue in cheek' style. You’re lulled into a false sense of ease, before an exceptionally profound point lands in your lap.
Unlike foreign journalists, with their monochromatic views, Nury understands the nuance, the grainy detail of this place. But as he points out in the opening remarks, he's immediately lashed on social media as a Beijing stalwart for addressing truths.
Unfortunately, that's the crazy world we live in. Personal attacks and unthinking bile have replaced sensible discussion. Irrational types engage in this sort of name-calling rather than addressing the issues. All this nonsense is despite Nury's credentials as a robust critic of the Hong Kong Government and Beijing.
In my view, China long sought to give Hong Kong as much freedom as possible after laying down some 'red-lines'. As a consequence, after 1997, despite constant prophecies of doom, Hong Kong boomed. It's the safest city on the planet, while people enjoy the longest life expectancy. We do better than Japan on that score. Yes, we have inequality and pollution, but we are working towards addressing these issues.
Plus, in all the recent noise, often forgotten is that in 2014 our march towards democracy stalled. Why? Well, because the pan-democrats vetoed proposals that incrementally moved us in the right direction. For them, it was 'all or nothin'—this thickheaded decision set in train a course of events that soon spun out of control.
Violent radical elements began testing one of China's 'red-lines' by demanding independence. These people surfaced at the end of the Occupy Movement and in the Mongkok Chinese New Riot of 2016. Then, as Nury documents, the extradition law proposed in 2019, was seized upon by a coalition of local and external forces to incite an insurrection.
Millions of dollars poured into supporting the unrest. The book sets out evidence to suggest some of that money came from the back-channels of the US government.
With an investigators eye for detail, Nury observes the appearance of US flags and such words as 'protect our constitution' on protest banners. This is not Hong Kong's lingo. Also, we don't have a constitution as such. Likewise, he breaks down the deliberate over-reporting of crowd sizes. In truth, a million marchers numbered around 200,000. You have to ask, did Diane Abbott do the counting?
We hear about the tactics adopted for assailing the Police and then taking refuge in the massive press pack. As the Police respond, only images of officers wading into the press emerge, ignoring the build-up. The radicals take this to the next level by dressing up as reporters and first-aid workers.
Also, less visible and not covered by the overseas journalists, an underground campaign to intimidate the Police was underway. Activist teachers bullied their pupil, while firebombing of officer’s homes marked a horrific development.
A whole chapter assesses the ordained narrative that the Hong Kong Police are guilty of widespread brutality. Nury and friends attended the key events, trawled through the photos and videos to conclude the evidence didn't exist of generalised badly-behaved Police Officers. He concludes the opposite: "comparing them with clips of police forces in other places … our local officers are far less violent than many."
Dehumanising the Police is text-book revolutionary theory apparently discussed at the Oslo Freedom Forum, a US-based organisation. This process is curated by circulating doctored or single images that portray the Police as brutal. None of the lead-up, context nor truth is allowed into this 'transmogrification'. Once ready, the media amplify the message.
I have to say that biased reporting, especially from the Western media outlets, is not merely a professional outrage, it's far more sinister. It feeds a sentiment of hate that encourages physical and mental cruelty.
Thanks to wild claims and exaggerations on social media, things went, er, totally batshit. Fake stories of death trains, rapes and torture flashed around the world. Gullible politicians, like Lord Alton in the UK, swallowed these lies wholesale.
However, in the end, the radicals with their violence, intimidation and wanton destruction forged the weapons to be used against them. Good decent Hong Kong people wouldn't stand for the burning and killing of dissenters, or the threatening of children.
I do not doubt that many will disagree with Nury's conclusions, especially those absorbing different information streams and unwilling to contemplate they got it wrong. That's the problem of our age. People see the same event but disagree on what they have just seen.
For now, Covid-19 and the National Security Laws have brought a halt to the violence. Many of the instigators have fled overseas, others are in jail or awaiting trial. Our parliament is functioning without the constant interruptions from hooligan politicians intent of damaging progress. In the meantime, the majority of ordinary folks are trying to get on with their lives.
Simultaneously, the West led by the USA, is imposing sanctions on Beijing and Hong Kong officials, while fretting over Taiwan and the rise of China. In this febrile atmosphere, it’s easy to fall into the doomsday trap; cue another round of ‘it’s all over!’ Yet, as Nury points out, Hong Kong will continue to prosper. Never bet against this place.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.