Hong Kong violence has to end
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Hong Kong violence has to end

It all began with hundreds of thousands of people marching through the streets of Hong Kong against a proposed extradition law. It was a sight to behold because it was a non-violent protest against a repressive law that would have allowed the Communist Party of China to pursue its political opponents in the self-ruled city, dare I say, country. Then it turned ugly.

If Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam really thought she could quietly pass the bill to please Beijing, she miscalculated badly. "The bill is dead," she finally declared after the protests grew increasingly violent, culminating in scenes of police brutality at government headquarters.

Yet the protests continue, and they have morphed into a sustained cry for democracy. Last Friday the marchers took their case to the Hong Kong International Airport.

I do not support violent protest of any kind, and I condemn those who broke into and defaced the Hong Kong government headquarters and other public property. But I also condemn the use of unnecessary violence on protesters, which has further fuelled tensions.

Some say the young activists should have quit while they were ahead, but now they are dreaming of a bigger outcome: a democratic Hong Kong free of China's grip. How much longer before they awaken the dragon? If they think the Hong Kong police were cruel, the Chinese military would be a different story entirely, with blood on the streets an almost certain result.

But what has really moved me to comment was the behaviour of the gangsters who indiscriminately beat anti-extradition protesters and commuters with wooden batons and metal rods at a train station in Yuen Long, in the north of the territory. This hideous attack, supported by local politicians and police, left 45 people injured. What really shocked me, though, was that one of the thugs involved was a Thai boxer.

Arthit Ruenpech was one of the men in white T-shirts who stormed the Yuen Long station. When Hong Kong media revealed his identity, he admitted his involvement and apologised to the Thai people -- but not to those he had beaten up for money.

The Thai newspaper Khaosod subsequently interviewed a Muay Thai trainer in Hong Kong who said that many retired Thai boxers who had gone there to initially teach the martial art were being recruited by the triads as muscle.

This practice has existed for decades, the source claimed, adding that some fighters were also hired by mafia figures in Macau to collect "protection" money or serve as personal bodyguards for casino owners.

This is unacceptable in so many ways. Muay Thai is a martial art but responsible trainers in Thailand stress it is for self-protection, and not meant to be used to hurt other people, especially those who are weaker and cannot fight back.

Mr Arthit and other hired Muay Thai boxers should be ashamed of themselves for perverting a respected martial art to hurt other people for money.

Sadly, ugliness breeds more ugliness, and it should be noted that after the Yuen Long incident, it was the anti-bill protesters' turn to become the bullies. Some of them blocked the doors of commuter trains, intimidating and inconveniencing thousands of people. This too is wrong.

I have a family and like most family men, we have to work to feed our family. I fully support non-violent protest, but stopping people from going to work because they do not share your zeal is harassment. If the protesters are to win in this uprising against a repressive regime, they will have to change their tactics or risk being called nothing but rioters.

Still, I do wish them well in the sense that none of them should have to die in unnecessary clashes. The whole world is watching and no one wants to see the Chinese military get involved.

It is time for the movement to take a step back, look at and learn from successful non-violent campaigns in the past, and perhaps also heed some wise advice, in this case from John Lennon:

"When it gets down to having to use violence, then you are playing the system's game. The establishment will irritate you -- pull your beard, flick your face -- to make you fight. Because once they've got you violent, then they know how to handle you. The only thing they don't know how to handle is non-violence and humour."

Erich Parpart

Senior Reporter - Asia Focus

Senior Reporter - Asia Focus

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