Police inaction raises questions

Tracking a passive response . . .

The police response in both Hong Kong’s MTR attacks and the Central Government Liaison Office vandalization are being characterized as both belated and passive. While it’s arguable that police resources were already stretched at the city centre preventing a timely response to the MTR attacks, police were already at the Liaison Office when protesters began egging, spray-painting, and, most conspicuously, splattering black ink on the PRC’s emblem. Only after the vandalism occurred did police disperse the crowds with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Lessons from Tiananmen?

The Hong Kong police may be taking their cues from the actions of Chinese police during the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. At Tiananmen, the police remained largely inactive, permitting students to occupy the square without much interference. That passivity could well have been strategic. The lack of a strong police presence at the onset of the Tiananmen protests may well have emboldened student protesters to heighten disruption and disorder, ultimately swaying immediate public opinion against the protesters.

Balancing public perception . . .

Hong Kong police may be adopting the same tactics. Initial protests against the extradition bill gained broad public support. With the bill now suspended, the level of public support for continued public disruption may well decline. A direct attack on the emblem of the People’s Republic of China at Beijing’s Liaison Office, meanwhile, will likely be publicly perceived as a risky and unwise step, one that will only provoke China and put Hong Kong in political peril. Still, the police eventually did use tear gas and rubber bullets against the protesters, leaving public perception in the balance.