Antony Dapiran is a seasoned corporate lawyer who has worked in Hong Kong and Beijing for the last two decades. In that time, he’s become a historian of protests in Hong Kong and the author of City of Protest: A Recent History of Dissent in Hong Kong (2017), which explores the idea of protest as an integral part of Hong Kong’s identity. In a conversation with Kaiser and Jeremy, Antony brings a historical perspective to his analysis of the current demonstrations over the highly unpopular extradition bill, the shelving of which has not slaked the anger of demonstrators.
He also wrote this op-ed for us earlier this week:
What to listen for on this week’s Sinica Podcast:
7:46: Reports emerged last week that suggested that the extradition bill, met with fierce opposition in Hong Kong, originated from the office of Chief Executive Carrie Lam, rather than in Beijing. Antony provides his take on this development: “People felt it could only be the hand of Beijing behind this, directing the Hong Kong administration to do it. Otherwise, why would it be done in such a roughshod fashion on such an issue that was clearly going to be of great sensitivity in Hong Kong and potentially against the interest of the Hong Kong community? Notwithstanding how surprising it is, it really does raise questions about the competence of Carrie Lam and her administration.”
12:10: Given the stark pushback against the bill, did Lam and her team see this coming? As a career civil servant, she has never had to undergo a general election, so this fumble could be a result of “cluelessness,” according to Antony. “There are a number of jokes going around Hong Kong that she doesn’t know how to catch the MTR, or that when she first moved into the Chief Executive’s residence, she didn’t know where to buy toilet paper.”
13:57: Is the comparison to the Umbrella Movement of 2015 an apt one? Antony gives us his opinion: “They organized and mobilized themselves rather by way of online chat forums, private messaging groups on Telegram and WhatsApp — it’s even being said that they’re using AirDrop to communicate instructions and messages on the ground. And that is a really strong contrast to the Umbrella Movement of five years ago, which, even as a student movement, had very clear leadership and was very much centrally organized.”
He continues, “I think part of the reason why the protesters, this time around, are avoiding that model is precisely a direct response to the Hong Kong government’s aggressive prosecution and jailing of the Umbrella Movement leaders.”
24:46: What has happened since the Umbrella Movement in 2015? “The Umbrella Movement was regarded as a failure — it didn’t achieve its aims,” Antony states. “And then, in the five years since then, the Hong Kong government has steadily tightened the screws on dissent in the city… Using the cover of the legal system and Hong Kong’s rule of law has resulted in what I call a campaign of ‘lawfare’ for that reason.”
35:57: What of the leadership in Beijing and its take on the protests, and the handling of the protests by the Hong Kong government? Antony explains: “The vacuum that’s likely to be left by the much diminished authority of Carrie Lam in itself presents either an opportunity or a threat.” The opportunity being that, while the Legislative Council has “almost been reduced to rubber stamp function,” this may reinvigorate legislators in Hong Kong — whereas the threat may be that Beijing sees the vacuum as Hong Kong’s inability to govern itself, and “decides that it needs to intervene.”
Antony: The author Dung Kai-cheung, and his masterpiece, Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City.