More Than One Kind of People Movement

Weekly column written for Singapore Unbound newsletter. Sign up here

On Sunday more than a million Hong Kongers took to the streets to protest against the passing of a bill that will extradite suspected criminals to China for the first time. The protesters suspect that the bill will be used to target political dissent and so accelerate the erosion of their civil liberties. Pictures of the protest march moved many Singaporean on-line commentators to praise Hong Kongers for their love of their freedoms and to wish that Singaporeans would be just as active and passionate about theirs.

Faced with government intransigence over the extradition bill, Hong Kongers mounted a second, smaller, protest on Wednesday, which was met by police tear gas and rubber bullets. 72 people had been hospitalized by the end of the day. Together with other civil-rights organizations, Singapore Unbound condemns the use of excessive force by the government to suppress a people movement. As expected, the Hong Kong government has already begun to spin the narrative of foreign manipulation of supposedly naive local activists.

In the past, Singaporeans would look at street protests in the West and judged smugly that such actions were not the Asian way. If the 1989 Tiannanmen Square protests had not made such a view untenable, Hong Kong's 2014 pro-democracy Umbrella Movement certainly did. Now, street protests are judged not to be the Singaporean way. This form of Singaporean exceptionalism, and not street protest, is the true danger to the country. If a people's natural desire for political expression is continually suppressed, it will either explode into widespread violence (race, religion or xenophobia would create a flashpoint) or it will wither away, citizens becoming mere automatons. Or, as one commentator laments, Singaporeans will pull up their stakes and leave the country.

Jee Leong Koh
June 13, 2019


Popular posts from this blog

Ruth Pitter's "Collected Poems"

Goh Chok Tong's Visit to FCBC

A Haibun for Turning Forty