What Did Mainland China Learn From The Hong Kong Anti-Riot Police? 

Coverage of the anti-WTO protests in Hong Kong is virtually non-existent within mainland Chinese media.  The major source of information appears to be Phoenix TV, which had live coverage of the Saturday night/Sunday morning actions.  The following is a translation of Beijing Youth Daily forum post written by someone who was watching Phoenix TV.

(Beijing Youth Daily forum via Xici Hutong)

(in translation)

Last week, the WTO MC6 conference in Hong Kong drew the attention of the world.  Actually, many people are not optimistic about the results of the conference.  After all, doing deals and negotiating prices require patience and waiting.  If people cannot reach agreement this time, they can talk again next time.  As in previous WTO conferences, the attention and focus of the media were on the street demonstrations by anti-WTO protest organizations and about how demonstrations can become disturbances.

Last Saturday, the anti-WTO demonstration escalated up to the level of a riot.  This is what the media and even those of us who are spectators in front of the television set have been anticipating for so long.  Phoenix TV showed live broadcasts of the "street battle" between the Korean farmers and the Hong Kong police, and enabled the mainland audience to study how the police of a mature democratic rule-of-law society handle a riot.

The barbarity and physicality of the Korean farmers are known worldwide.  They are the perennial main force against the TWO.  Each year, they put on the farce of "hitting, vandalizing and looting."  But I and many other spectators do not understand why they oppose WTO.  Are they opposed to the benefits that the WTO can bring them?  Perchance, I heard an expert say that the so-called 'protest' by the Korean farmers is actually meaningless, because their demands refer to problems that cannot be solved within the framework of the WTO.

Meanwhile, the so-called "top commentator of Phoenix TV" Yuan Cishan concluded that there must be some groups behind these Korean farmers, because there is no explanation for the financial capital that allowed them to protest continuously over the long term.  Although I disagree with Mr. Yuan's "wise opinions" most of the time, what he said here is worthy for us to think about.  The Korean farmers may be the foot soldiers of certain corporations who hope to obtain some advantages in the WTO negotiations, and their riot shows on the street may be performances that are designed to obtain advantages for certain interest groups.

On the afternoon of Saturday, the Korean marchers approached the WTO conference centre.  The Hong Kong police had already set up barrier with several rows of police holding tall shields in the narrow passageway.  On both sides of the human wall were concrete blocks two meters high, with some police standing on top and observing the demonstrators.

There was a rumor that today was the day when the Korean farmers would escalate the demonstration.  As expected, they pretended to offer flowers to the police in order to divert their attention  Meanwhile, the rioters hiding at the back of the group immediately attacked the police.  They either seized the police shields, or hit the police with wooden poles.  The police did not wilt and immediately used pepper spray.  In a moment, power was everywhere and several Korean demonstrators got caught and fell on the ground crying.

What really impressed me was that in a place like Hong Kong with freedom of press, the police could not prevent the reporters from covering these situations.  The police wore safety helmets and went to the front line between the police and rioters with their cameras and videos.  Just as the television audience were enjoying the scene, a water column suddenly came down from the top of the concrete blocks and directed against the rioters in the forefront.  The rioters did not expect that the police would use the water cannon so they were immediately routed.  The reporters on the side were unlucky, because they also got doused.  Not only were their eyes affected by the chemical stimulant mixed in with the water, but their up-scale digital equipment also got thoroughly wet.

The Korean farmers were prepared.  One protestor wore a raincoat and stood with his back to the police, standing firm against the water column attack.  His colleagues on the side were applauding him.  But we can also see that the Hong Kong police was not using a high-pressured water cannons, because when high-pressured water columns are directed to people, one cannot even stand up and one is more likely swept away for dozens of meters away immediately.  The police official interviewed by the press confirmed that the police did not use a high-pressured water cannon with the reason being that the circumstances on that day made it inappropriate for that type of weaponry.  In looking at the environment, we can understand the difficulties -- this section was near the harbor and using high-pressured water column may sweep people in to sea.  If there were fatalities as a result, the police would be culpable.

But the Hong Kong police did not realize that the Korean rioters had other tricks.  They picked a road on which the police deployment was lighter.  They attacked the police who had no shields but only pepper spray.  The police fought back for a while, but they were quickly overran.  Supposedly, these Korean farmers were former soldiers and they are well-organized and trained for a long time by the brains behind the scene.  Their attacking power cannot be repelled by ordinary police.

The Korean rioters broke through the police line and drove straight close to the WTO conference centre.  Fortunately, the Hong Kong police reacted rapidly and stopped the rioters just one blocks away from the Convention Centre.  By that time, the police could not hold back.  If the rioters entered the Convention Centre, the Hong  Kong government would lose face.  So the tear gas that we expected came on . A few explosions were heard and then there was a white mist over the heads of the Korean rioters.  The tear gas was strong stuff, and the Korean farmers without gas masks quickly dispersed and were incapable of making any more trouble.  By early morning, the Hong Kong police took action to arrest the Korean farmers who were continuing the protests.  After more than 10 hours of resistance, the Korean farmers were now exhausted and surrendered to be arrest.  They were peacefully escorted by the police onto buses and sent to concentration areas to await court hearing.

From the way how the Hong Kong police put down the street riots, mainland China can really learn a great deal.  For example, how to deal with these mass group activities?  How to permit legal demonstrations while resolutely opposing rioters who try to create disturbances?  The Hong Kong police used pepper spray and water cannons that contained stimulating chemicals, and these can be used to disperse the crowds without causing much physical damage.  When the rioters broke through the police line, the Hong Kong police responded quickly and mobilized a large number of anti-riot police officers to form a blockade.  This shows the brilliance and maturity of the Hong Kong police command.

The Saturday riot permitted a large number of non-working local citizens to watch and make the job of the police more difficult.  The Hong Kong government mobilized and coordinated various departments to cut off vehicular traffic into the demonstration areas as well as the harbor tunnel.  They shut down the MTR station in the demonstration area, and they successfully stopped outside masses from rushing in which would escalate the chaos.

There has not been a single word in the mainland Chinese media about the action of the Hong Kong police to put down the riot.  This is obviously understandable.  Based upon the current social conditions in mainland China, if such scenes appeared in the media, it will inspire social malcontents to imitate the example and therefore affect the overall state of "stability" and "harmony."  But I think that the mainland Chinese police and government departments should pay high attention to the anti-WTO protests in Hong Kong.  Every move made by the Hong Kong police should be live educational materials for us.

Actually, certain cities on the mainland have established anti-riot police squads.  As the social conflicts slowly emerge due to the uneven development of the Chinese economy, these squads will soon face the same sort of situations that the Hong Kong police had to confront.  We can use the experience from the empirical practice of others in order to enhance our own ability to fight riots.  Only if we are prepared would we not lose our composure and become an international laughing stock.

[Blogger's comments]

The Beijing Youth Daily forum commentator based his reflections solely on the basis of what he saw and heard on Phoenix TV, since there are no other news sources.  What he saw were video images from the scene, and what he heard was largely the opinions and interpretations of the on-the-scene reporters, the program hosts in the studio and the news directors in the operations center.  That is nice, but it is not good enough.  It fact, this shows why a monolithic source of information is a bad thing.

This is not meant to be an attack on Phoenix TV, which apparently does not receive a great deal of respect in certain circles.  There is the standard joke that Rupert Murdoch could not get broadcast rights in China because there was no market demand for something like Fox News -- Fox News already exists in China and its name is Phoenix TV!

To be fair, I should illustrate what the alternate viewpoints might be if there was an open media landscape in China.

My first piece of documentation is from InMediaHK.  For the readers in China, I have included the relevant excerpt from the original text.  The subject here is the water cannon episode.  This time, this comes from someone (Hu Jinrong 胡金榮) on the receiving end of the water column.  This is obviously a different interpretation on the need for the action.  Given this is the case, what then is the lesson from this episode of the Hong Kong experience?

[in translation] 

As a first-person observer at the Hung Hing Road scene, I can only tell everybody that the police wrongly used the water cannons against the demonstrators, thereby causing extreme discontent among the demonstrators and leading to the disturbance in Wanchai yesterday.

All the people who were at the front line knew very well that the police line consisted of several hundred fully armed officers and there were more than one hundred local and foreign reporters wearning helmets and even gas masks.  The number of South Korean farmers who were really rushing the line could probably be count with the fingers on both hands.  As a matter of fact, the level of "violence" used by the demonstrators was no different from the previous two days.  They used their flag poles to beat on the anti-riot shields of the police and they occasionally threw some plastic water bottles.  These isolated disturbances were easily controlled by the pepper sprays from the police.

But without any prior warning or notification, the police escalated the violence by releasing two rounds of water columns to disperse the very few demonstrators.  This not only infuriated the South Korean farmers, but it was aroused the dissatisfaction of the several hundred reporters and local demonstrators.

Based upon what I observed at the scene, the police continued with two more rounds of water columns.  The targets were not only the South Korean farmers, but they also included the reporters and peaceful demonstrators.  Actually, since there was no prior warning, many reporters did not get away in time and their eqiupment was severely damaged.

At the time, more than 300 local residents used Cantonese to call "stop" and "shame on the police."  But the police ignored them and continued to use the water cannons to chase away the people at the scene and this created even more chaos.

... I believe that the police acted improperly at the Hung Hing Road scene and this directly led to the clash in Wanchai.  When the police used incommensurate force against the small number of demonstrators (there were less than 10 South Korean demonstrators when the water cannon was first used), the people got emotional and this lit up the fuse to the later disturbance.






... 我認為警方在鴻興道的處理失當,是直接導致灣仔衝突的源頭。當警方使用過份且不必要的武力去對付那數名示威者,第一次用水炮去驅散人群(南韓示威者只得少於十名),使民眾的情緒一發不可收拾,成為稍後混亂的導火線。

The second piece of documentation comes from Doug Crets' A man, a chicken, noodles and the cops (Curbside @ WTO/The Standard).  This comes from a reporter at the scene and what he observed clearly belies the claim that the Hong Kong police heroically repelled the rioters one block away from the sacrosanct Convention Centre.  This opens up the question about whether this whole matter was really the usual Hong Kong thing -- prior secret deals made by both sides over the rules of engagement and scope of activity.  If true, then the lesson to be learned is a completely different one.

Walking around the riot zone on Saturday night, it amazed me that we could even call it a riot.  I picked up a used tear gas canister, squishing its rubbery body and wondering just how unreasonable all of this was. 

Maybe it's my imagination, but I think Donald Tsang could have even come down and talked to the Korean protesters. In fact, it would have been interesting if John Tsang, chairman of the World Trade Organization talks, would have come down to talk to the Koreans.

I watched as at least twelve Koreans, armed with boards and iron rods went after police. And yes, I think police were justified to stop it. It was getting out of hand. But just as they got to the convention center, just as they could have launched a fiery attack against the lone black gate that stood between them and the men they wished to ''have a dialogue'' with, they stopped.

I stood in amazement, as tear gas whisped around the street in Central Plaza, and stared at a Korean protester in sunglasses. Standing like a soldier, he had one hand on hip and the other hand clutching a three meter long board. He just stood there. I was two feet in front of him. I could have touched him. And he seemed to have no desire to reach the convention center.

It was a show, plain and simple. I have been over this before. 

Yes, the Chicken Man, Tom Grundy, can get upset at local media coverage. And he's right. Absolutely. But there's something more to this. How did this happen?

Is it the nature of a riot that not ten minutes after tear gas explodes over women and teenagers that everyone is so calm that protesters can walk in and out of the toilets outside Central Plaza? Or, that media can mill around with the Koreans (who are supposed to be so incensed that they are blind with fury)? 

I am not sure. I have never been in a riot. I still haven't been in a riot. This was not a riot. It was what the people were asking for. It was something engineered, but I don't know how engineered it was. It didn't seem real to me.