HK Violence: A Military Option for a Military Situation

HK Violence: A Military Option for a Military Situation

So the violence escalated this week following the death of a Hong Kong student. This column has warned about the inevitability of deaths if the violence was allowed to continue and escalate. With arrows, petrol bombs, sabotages of transport infrastructure and mass arson, it would be a real miracle if no one gets killed. In fact, I fear we will soon be getting a mass casualty situation when fire spreads through a building and kills everyone in it. Watch this space.

But today I want to make two points. First, Hong Kong is not equipped to handle the current security situation. With defence left with Beijing under the One Country Two Systems agreement, the Hong Kong police is not equipped and trained to handle what is no longer a simple civilian protest.

The use of water cannons, rubber bullets and tear gas is only effective to quell isolated social unrest or one-off mass protests. What the movement has evolved into is a military operation, well planned and funded. Which can sustain multi-front and long-term attacks. It is guerilla warfare planned with military intent and precision, supported by deadly weapons.

It is no longer a one-off protest but a massive operation mounted from different locations, meant to disrupt a city. It has backing of a financier or financiers, weapon manufacturing capability, communication networks, intelligence collection and more important, thousands of vicious, brave foot soldiers willing to kill. What do you think you should do when the enemy is overpowering you in terms of numbers and weaponry?

So Hong Kong and Beijing leaders have one decision to make – is it time to declare war. This is a military operation that requires military options. We are talking helicopter mounted weapons, tanks, armoured vehicles, snipers, infantry men (Yes live rounds) , intelligence gathering, aerial surveillance ( drones and radar) and disruption of enemy’s telecommunication networks and logistics supply, cutting off the HQ meaning taking out the gang leaders and their backers. And most important, the option to exterminate. Yes, licence to kill. Hongkongers will have to decide if the time has arrived. If you still don’t get what I am talking about, yes, the time for PLA to arrive. Remember, power comes from the barrel of the gun. It is either some deaths now to end the crisis early, or more deaths in a long drawn out conflict. My guess is the unelected Hong Kong civil-servant-trained leadership without a direct mandate does not have the moral authority and courage to do it.

Second, I do feel sad for Hong Kong. It has become one of the most unfortunate and unnecessary political conflicts in recent years. For decades being a pace setter for Singapore economic development, the territory ironically has one of the best governments in the world, in terms of competence, transparency and governance. It is also unfortunate that Hong Kong civil servants are some of the world’s finest, incorruptible, able, eloquent and always looking at what they can do for the people. Year in, year out, they are ranked among the top in the world for economic freedom, rule of law, civil service competence, press freedom, political stability, making them one of the most attractive destinations for investments and tourism. I do not think any of the other liberal democracies including in the USA, Europe or Asia come close to them. So then, what exactly are the freedom fighters asking for if they already have a better Government and freer society than many places?

The only thing they are lacking then is the vote. Self-determination without independence. I say, Beijing, give them universal suffrage. Let them vote for their own Chief Executive and legislature. I bet you to the last dollar, they will still not solve most of their major socioeconomic problems, most which are global in nature. Martin Lee, Joshua Wong, or for that matter anyone in Hong Kong, would not be able to solve anything without the support of the central government and mainlanders. They would not be able to run a highly politicized and divided Hong Kong society. By then, they would have no one but only themselves to blame.

HK: The ugly duckling still thinks she can pick the prince?

HK: The ugly duckling still thinks she can pick the prince?

OK, I have said before that Singaporeans, especially their leaders, have been exceptionally gracious and careful with their public comments so far on Hong Kong. Understandably, it’s not nice capitalising on their current political instability. In any case, it does not serve Singapore any good if Hong Kong does collapse altogether, given how much we have invested in the city.

But I have to respond to this fellow Phil C. W. Chan.

Writing in the South China Morning Post, Chan said he was once a PhD student studying in NUS and understood enough about Singapore to warn Hongkongers looking to flee the Chinese territory that Singapore may not be the “happier, freer land’’ they are looking for. Before they consider emigrating to the republic, consider the fact that Singaporeans do not enjoy the rights and freedom that Hongkongers do, Chan said. So he dishes out his misguided advice on Singapore without much regard to the facts on the ground, the outcomes and how much Singapore had gone way ahead of them with its own brand of effective governance and economic development that has delivered.

First thing first. Let’s get this harsh reality out of the way. Heard of the ugly duckling who somehow thinks she still gets to pick her Prince Charming? Do the Hong Kong youth of today still fit in the mould of what Singapore is looking for in the first place? Ironically, I would imagine Hongkongers should actually be jumping for joy if they do get picked by Singapore immigration recruiters in their search for new citizens. The fact is Hongkongers are no longer the same crop that the Singapore Government was looking for post-Tiananmen – at a time when China was still opening up cautiously.

In a report in 2017 on how well educated students are, the Economist Intelligence Unit warned Hong Kong youth may lose out on jobs because their students are less prepared for a future than their peers in Singapore.  One report even warned Hong Kong was wasting resources in producing so many poor quality graduates that the market did not want. So I was really tickled when one protestor was caught on video trying to spray graffiti with a grammatically incorrect statement.

Hong Kong’s education has not just failed in instilling national identity and patriotism, it has not even educated them well enough in basic skills needed for the economy. Many Hongkongers still have below-par English standards, being more comfortable in Cantonese. Another study found flaws and poor English standards among Hongkongers, describing their English as “barely adequate’’.

In Hong Kong, a degree can no longer guarantee a decent income with one in six graduates taking on low paid unskilled work. Another recent study found that while a Singapore fresh graduate is earning S$S3,500 a month, the equivalent in Hong Kong is S$2,500 a month. What kind of freedom does one have in terms of housing and other key living expenses when you earn that sort of pay in a place where a 284 sq ft apartment can cost HKD $4 million?

It is also here that I would like to point out a misconception that Hongkong offers a low tax environment. Unknowingly, Hongkongers have been paying one of the highest taxes in the world through the Government land premium. The fact is Hongkongers pay half or more than their salary into residential property purchases – the high price being a result of the high land premium collected by the Government when sites are sold to the developers. So effectively, that “tax’’ had been passed to Hongkongers who could be paying the equivalent of astronomical Scandinavian tax rates without the accompanying welfare benefits.

On the other hand, across the border, the mainland Chinese are increasingly fitting in the mould of what Singapore is looking for. Driven, disciplined, eloquent, well educated, proficient in two of Singapore’s official languages: English and Mandarin. And guess what, they are more global as well. Every year, China sends hundreds of thousands overseas to the best universities in Singapore (note we rank way above HK universities), Europe, USA. Many now work in London, Wall Street, Silicon Valley, competing with the best in the world. Thousands of them have made it to Singapore universities, doing their undergraduate degrees, masters, second masters, PhDs in the high-tech sector. These are the ones that Singapore should be picking up. Hongkongers are nowhere near what they can offer us as new citizens.

Now Chan talks about Singapore’s legal system. So Singapore does not have the rights and freedom of what Hongkongers are enjoying today? Freedom to do what? Attack police with petrol bombs, knives, metal poles? Vandalise public property? Block traffic road to disrupt public transport and retail business? Destroy ATM machines? Invade Parliament House and damage it? Burn MTR station and break turnstiles? Burn down PRC-owned shops? Beat up old men on the street who disagree with them? Gladly, we do not need such freedoms. We never planned to take in you guys anyway. In fact, the violence in recent months has added one more negative point to the suitability of Hongkongers in our list on immigrant desirability.

Again, like many of those who write poorly about Singapore, Chan has got his cause and effect wrong. It is exactly the strong laws and enforcement that make Singapore what she is today. For instance, it is because of the effectiveness of the caning deterrence that Singaporeans do not go out there to destroy public property or burn MRT stations and banks. Chan said Singapore would not have allowed demonstrations like in Hong Kong now. Wrong again. I would say we had the foresight to see how such mass demonstrations can go very wrong given the madness and violence that are erupting every weekend and now weekday in Hong Kong today, endangering the lives of so many innocent. Chan would probably say he is fine not being able to go out to the streets now with his family for a nice weekend. But I do want to go out and enjoy my nice weekend here.

On his point about he wouldn’t be able to write any of the stuff about Singapore leaders just like how they are now doing in Hong Kong, my question would be: what exactly do you want to write about Singapore leaders which you think is not allowed? Just about anything that has been written on Carrie Lam would have been allowed here on Singapore leaders or anyone for that matter. Unless Chan believes defamation laws are not necessary and that you are allowed to get away with accusing anyone of anything without proving it.

Ironically, it is the unfettered freedom and irresponsible media and liberal politicians unaccompanied by sound legal, social and economic policies that have led to the violent mess today. While we are still on rule of law, I may want to remind Chan that Singapore ranked in the 95th percentile in World Bank’s ranking for rule of law. We ranked first by World Economic Forum for public trust in politicians, transparency in government and efficiency of legal framework in settling legal disputes. We have beaten Hong Kong in almost every ranking of legal systems, anti-corruption, criminal justice. Just for good measure, Singapore ranked highest in the world in independent rankings on healthcare, education, home ownership and yes, global liveability and quality of life.

While Hongkongers were enjoying their  “rights and freedom’’ quarrelling and fighting among themselves since the handover, Singapore which was only half of Hong Kong’s GDP in 1997 had overtaken them in less than 15 years. And mind you, Hong Kong was backed by a strong hinterland with China growing at high GDP rates. Ironically, it was the protestors themselves who eroded those rights and freedom in the last four months by hurting members of public, blocking traffic, business activities and government proceedings. Not Beijing.

And one more thing – Singapore has the most important rights and freedom that Hongkongers do not get – the vote. We get to decide who runs us every five years. If we think our rights and freedom are infringed and our leaders are not delivering the outcome, we can throw the lot out. Get this right: we have legitimacy and accountability in government.

Despite his training in law with a PhD to boot, Chan appears unable to link policy to good outcomes. The few years of education in Singapore obviously have been wasted on him.

Freedom of speech- but only for some

Freedom of speech- but only for some

In a column in the Straits Times, a local journalist says when the Government responded to Alfian Saat’s involvement in the Yale-NUS saga, it was coming down hard on him and the Government can be deemed to be over-domineering. I guess when the columnist slams the Minister publicly, she is not deemed to be coming down hard on the Government. She even bends backwards to say Alfian was not referring to himself in his poem when he talks about his disdain for Singapore, just like a teapot is not the poet when a poet says “I am a teapot”.

Oh, come on. Either you are really that naïve or you are just plain dumb.

There lies the issue I have with many of these government critics. Alfian can be as offensive as he wants whenever he writes about others, including other races. He once said in a Facebook post, that the word ‘cheena’ could be simply from the Malay word for ‘Chinese’. He said it might not be a slur, it could refer to only “stereotypical” Chineseness. In fact he wrote a play about a ‘cheenah’, which going by the poster is an ah-lian-type character. Just imagine if a Chinese person said, I know where the term ‘keling’ comes from, it refers to only those very stereotypical Indians, you Indians shouldn’t get offended by it!

But when these people get called out, suddenly it is about oppression, ruling party over domineering, dictatorship, end of the civilised world as we know it. Otherwise it is mere creative licence, oh you country bumpkins don’t get it. This literature is too sophisticated for you.

But aren’t these the same people who preached a Western style democracy where it is everything goes for public debate? Kirsten Han was the one who went publicly to say offensive cartoons of Muslims raping Buddhists should not be taken down and everyone should be able to handle all kind of robust debate and satire, no matter how offensive. These critics are the ones who claim freedom of speech overrides everything, including serious social consequences like racial or religious riots.

Yet they are the one seen boasting publicly on Facebook that they are deleting comments by those who disagree with them on social media. And what is this business with this allegation that every time someone disagrees with them, immediately they are labelled as pro-Government or pro-PAP running dogs. People are not allowed to have their own views. As my friend once told me, the liberals are the most dictatorial people on earth because only their liberal views, no matter how offensive they are, are entitled to freedom of speech provisions. Any other views are quickly dismissed as hardline, right wing, fascist, racist, homophobic (I happen to support abolition of 377A incidentally).

My advice to them is this: Be intellectually honest. You want to debate, you want to have robust public discourse, you want freedom of speech, be more thick skinned. Do not be too quick to cry baby like Kirsten or other self-anointed freedom fighters. Ministers and Government officials are entitled to their freedom of speech. In fact, they are and should be entitled to “coming down hard” too if they can back up their case in their debate on public policy. I wonder if these critics ever watch how American and British politicians attack each other and the media?

Those who are prepared to dish out good ones must be prepared to take in the chin as well. That includes the Straits Times reporter too.

What’s so good about a strong mandate?

What’s so good about a strong mandate?

(cover image: Donald Trump at an event organised by the National Rifle Association)

I mentioned in my earlier post that the HK government needs a strong mandate from the people to govern better. A strong legitimacy, that is, from the real electorate. Not some college of delegates who select a leader for the whole territory. Some readers messaged me on Facebook to ask, but what about the Western countries? Their leaders are usually elected with the support of just over half the voting population, and sometimes when it is a coalition less than a quarter of the total population.

That’s precisely the problem.

Why hasn’t America banned semi-automatic weapons? Why is the UK hell-bent on destroying its economy and together with it its revolving door governments? Why can’t the UK government stand up to the unelected media which has gone crazy? Why can’t the Indonesians stop the haze? Because these countries have to pander to their voter base which have small margins over their opponents. It gets even more complicated if they have to work with a coalition partner. That’s what happens when you rely on a quarter of the country to elect you – you put your voter base above the interests of the country as a whole.

We could see this in Singapore. Every election, the Opposition take a neither-here-nor-there stance: “Don’t elect us as government, but give us more seats in Parliament.” They call it the by-election strategy. Just the fact that they take this stance tells you how few Singaporeans want them as government. So it is a dangerous strategy, for Singaporeans. If enough people listen to them and think it is safe to vote for Opposition since PAP will be the government, we may just wake up next year with a coalition government led by Workers’ Party and SDP. As compared to 2011, we only need 1 in every 10 votes to switch for this to happen. Even if PAP doesn’t lose power, it could lose a two-thirds majority.

It is easy to talk about checks and balances in a democracy. In fact, I think it is absolutely necessary to have an effective and genuine Opposition run by honest people to check on any abuse of powers. That in theory makes sense. But we should also not forget how we got here. Singapore has been able to achieve what it did in the last 60 years or so, because the Government with more than two thirds in the House has been able to respond fast and effectively in all major policy actions, especially during major crises.

If LKY had had to worry about passing controversial bills through Parliament, he might never have acquired private land for redistribution. He would never have introduced National Service to safeguard our very existence. He wouldn’t have been able to use detention without trial to break the triads. He wouldn’t have expanded the CPF scheme to help Singaporeans with housing and medical expenses. During the economic crises of 1986, 1997 and 2009, the Government wouldn’t be able to quickly move government resources and even reserves to set a recovery course for the country. Think of the pledge of our reserves to protect our deposits during the financial crisis in 2008-9 and the Job Credits to salvage employment then.

All these moves were made for the good of Singapore as a whole. LKY wasn’t held hostage by the businessmen or other groups, because he had broad support. Contrast this to the governments we talked about at the start.

Robust, rational debate is good for a country. We already have it online, during dialogues, to a certain extent in the press, and in Parliament. The Constitution ensures that even if all opposition candidates lose, we will still have 9 NCMPs and 9 NMPs to provide alternative voices.

But when it comes time to act, government should not be held back by political considerations. More importantly, we should never tempt politicians to divide us for cheap votes.

Media and liberals love to talk about strong Government as if it is always a bad thing. They often confuse strong government with bad dictatorship. What we have and what we want is an effective and responsive Government with a strong democratic mandate.

HK chaos: Xi Jinping has reached his Bruce Lee moment

HK chaos: Xi Jinping has reached his Bruce Lee moment

Hong Kong violent protestors have been invoking Bruce Lee’s famous “Be Water’’ mantra in the last few months. The late martial artist preached a fluid but brutal style of street combat Jeet Kun Do that adapts and changes with different challenges. It was an eclectic style modified from all the different martial art manoeuvres that had worked. It aimed at hurting the opponent in the shortest and most painful manner.

Interestingly, in Bruce Lee’s first hit movie The Big Boss, the lead character was given a jade pendant by his mother. It served as a reminder to the young man not to get into trouble. Never get into a fight. Full restraint at all costs. At the early part of the movie, the village boy would look at his pendant and stayed out of fights even when they were taking place around him. Despite all the taunting and allegations of cowardice, Lee stayed out of the fray. Finally in the classic factory brawl scene, one of the thugs accidentally broke his pendant. With the pendant gone, the disciplinary shackles were removed and it was open season. The world was introduced to a new mega star as the explosive Bruce Lee declares “Whoever wants to fight, fight with me.’’ The rest, as they say, is history.

I can’t help thinking of that classic Bruce Lee scene when I watched how Hong Kong violent protestors appeared to be making all kinds of attempts to draw Beijing into the fight in the last few months. Since June, they had been taunting Xi Jinping to pull the trigger. The idea is to draw China into the fight, a la Tiananmen Massacre. So they can now declare “You see China is interfering with Hong Kong affairs. It is a brutal communist regime that kills innocent people.’’ The young protestors see themselves as making history. They want to go down as Wang Dan, Wu’er Kaixi and Chai Ling, the legendary student leaders who led the Tiananmen protest 30 years ago.

So far, Beijing’s restraint is almost admirable. Despite the high profile anti-Beijing acts – display of British and American flags during the protests, the sacking of the parliament house and the desecration of the Chinese flag, Beijing has not moved. Other than some psychological tactics by mobilising armoured vehicles and troops in Shenzhen to stand by for emergency. To be fair, any leader would want the military response as a ready option that can be called upon when needed, when everything else fails.

As of now, the PLA troops are still safely kept in the barracks, safe for the protestors, not the troops. Because if and when the PLA do get called up, it has to be total victory or nothing. The PLA has prided itself on never losing a war and, after the humiliating stalemate at the Vietnamese border in 1979, it went through massive upgrading and any next major battle would always be a decisive one. (One could say the Tiananmen crushing was a military success.)

As long as Chinese domestic interests are not threatened, Beijing is unlikely to make that move. As long as Xi Jinping’s position is not threatened, that is.

Until the last couple weeks. What we are now witnessing is worrying, if not, dangerous. First, we now have open confrontation between PRC supporters and the young protestors at highly visible public areas. Clashes are beginning to happen. Second, young protestors are beginning to openly and violently attack PRC citizens in the territory. When a young PRC corporate executive from JP Morgan was harassed outside a commercial building, he proudly retorted “We are all Chinese people!’’ One of the protestors beat him up. Anyone who speaks up for China now gets beaten up on the streets.

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Third, and more cynical, the violent protestors are now openly attacking Chinese business interests. Branches of Bank of China, China Construction Bank have been severely damaged. They set fire to a Chinese smartphone shop Xiaomi, trashed a Fulum restaurant linked to a Fujian clan and vandalised offices of pro-Beijing lawmakers. A supermarket was looted. It is now plain daylight robbery. Full anarchy. On Sunday, they want to raise their stakes further – circling around the PLA barracks and shooting lasers into the building.

If this violence had taken place in Xinjiang or Tibet, it would have been brutally crushed in a few days, tanks, armoured vehicles, machine guns and all. The last time they crushed the Tiananmen Square protest, it never happened again for 30 years and life goes on.

So the more critical question is this: with such open attacks on Chinese business interests and citizens overseas, wouldn’t it be time for Beijing to step in. Imagine if Chinese business interests and citizens are hurt and held hostage in say, in a third world country, Xi Jinping would come under enormous pressure to show his leadership to defend China’s honour. In most cases, it is likely war. Afterall, the Communist Party’s legitimacy has always been underpinned not by democracy but by a nationalistic, strong and proud China narrative. Whenever Beijing wants to justify its actions in international disputes such as the South China Sea territorial claims, it would trot out its classic “1.3 billion Chinese have been hurt’’.

In the early days of talks between Deng Xiaoping and Margaret Thatcher, the paramount leader found it necessary to invoke the dark part of Chinese history in the 1800s when foreign powers were grabbing territories bit by bit. He told the Iron Lady that if China does not take back Hong Kong and the rest of the territories, it would be no different from the weak Qing government. The Chinese leaders would have to step down. China would therefore take back Hong Kong one way or another. Deng was also talking to his domestic hardline enemies circling around him.

Xi Jinping will now have to take some lessons from Deng Xiaoping. If he is seen as weak in not defending Chinese overseas, his political standing will come under attack and his enemies will emerge to have a go at him. How can he convince his people he is the leader of substance when they are confronted with other greater evils such as Trump and Putin. With Trump already running rings around him on trade and Huawei, he would be seen as weak if he fails to stand up to a few thousand students and allow fellow Chinese citizens to come under attack.

As I have said many times, politics is about life and death in China. Xi would have to act, and decisively soon. Beijing has reached its Bruce Lee broken pendant moment.

HK riots: Shooting rioters may be only way to peace

HK riots: Shooting rioters may be only way to peace

So finally, we have one direct gunshot, which got a young Hong Kong protestor. I warned earlier it is only a matter of time something catastrophic happened, what with the weekly, now almost daily, deadly clashes on the streets. As the attacks get more vicious and weapons get more deadly, there were bound to be incidents where the police under fire had to shoot beyond the early warning shots.

Of course, should the protestor die from the wound, we will see another big turn-out of protestors decrying police brutality, never mind the facts on the ground that led to the shooting by an overpowered police officer surrounded and outnumbered by violent attackers with deadly weapons. Indeed, it is already quite a miracle that no one has died yet from both sides, given the brutal beatings and exchanges from both sides.  Just picture this: you are cornered and outnumbered by a dozen of violent protestors coming at you with all kinds of weapons. You are doing battle. You and your buddy are already brutally beaten with metal poles, bars, batons, acids, you are fearing for your lives and they are coming non-stop all within matters of seconds, do you still have time to be rational and think of police protocols?

How can we end this madness? Does the Hong Kong leadership want the violence and destruction to end? Do they want more deaths, whether it’s from the Police or the rioters? While the Government deals with the politics at the policy level, it is time for something radical to end this cycle of violence.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. The Hong Kong government has one simple decision to make.

I say take a leaf from a leader of the Free World, George W Bush. In the wake of the Sep 11 attacks, the US President issued the Bush doctrine.

Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists. And we will make no distinction between the terrorists and those who harbour them.

With that stark black and white declaration, Bush was able to complete the rest of his eight years of presidency without another attack on mainland USA. The rapid overthrow of the Osama network and its Taleban sponsors within two months served as warning to those who want to cross the line.

It is overly simplistic. It is brutal. It doesn’t allow for grey areas or complexities. But it works. In military terms, that is. The rationale and effectiveness of Bush geopolitics is a separate matter altogether.

What the Hong Kong police needs to decide now is this. You are either a peaceful protestor or you are with the terrorists. Those who do daily battles with the police will no longer be considered civilians.

So the decision is a simple one: you turn up without a mask, any weapon, petrol bombs, knives, metal bars, bricks, gas mask, protection gear, bow and arrows, stunt guns, pole, lasers, acid, you are a peaceful protestor. We leave you alone. By all means, go shout and protest all you want.

But if you turn up by the hundreds in full battle order, meaning protective gear, gas mask, facial mask, helmet, petrol bombs, air guns, knives, poles, metal bars, batons, and, most importantly, attack police unprovoked, meaning you are there to do battle, we shoot. I say it again, shoot. No questions asked.

You may think the measure is brutal, draconian. True, shooting live rounds at offenders or suspects should never be a first response in any police standard field operations in a civilised society. But this is no longer the usual day-to-day police engagement with civilians. Law and order has broken down. We are dealing with a small organised group of highly dangerous, violent criminals.

How can the police shoot civilians, you may argue. Well, simply because they are no longer unarmed peaceful civilians merely expressing their views. Given what has happened in the last few months, it is obvious they no longer should be allowed to hide under the cover of lawful peaceful demonstrations to brutally attack the police and dissenting innocent members of the public. Not to mention damage, burn key infrastructure such as MTR stations, rail tracks, airport, government buildings.
If you are a peaceful demonstrator, why do you need to wear a mask to cover your identity, put on full battle order, bring deadly weapons? And attack police on duty unprovoked? You can just join the rest of the peaceful demonstrators.

I am sorry my Hong Kong friends. It is time for some real strong leadership. We are talking about real deterrence here. There are good reasons why police everywhere around the world are allowed to be armed with guns and other more deadly weapons and the ordinary members of public are not. That’s because you need stronger weapons to handle public disorder and ensure that security is maintained when an unruly deadly situation calls upon the use of it. We have reached a stage where the vicious protestors are outnumbering, and in some case, outpowering the police in terms of weapons. The current revolving door tactic of tear gas, water guns, arrest-and-release no longer works.

It no longer serves as a deterrence to a well-organised group coming at you at different locations in large numbers fully geared and armed to the hilt to do hand-to-hand combat.

In fact, I can bet you that the shooting of the youth, if unfortunately fatal, will now serve as an effective chilling deterrent to others. While the police will understandably express regret and pledge investigations to it, secretly many in Hong Kong must be happy that one of their men under fire has finally done something that they all have been wanting to do for a while to quell the violence. For those who want to go out and do battles again now know what can happen to them.

At our clinic this morning, one of the toddlers came in with a deep cut on his forehead, after jumping off a chair and landing on the wrong side of the door. The poor kid was in pain. But he told his mum that he would never do it again. That’s a primeval response to pain. Simple logic.

It is about time the Hong Kong government takes some real leadership and deal with the crisis decisively. With the Bush doctrine, the anarchy and street battles perpetuated by a minority of violent criminals will end immediately.

Our country, we decide!

Our country, we decide!

I was watching TV the other day. Saw an American journalist saying the media does not usually report on the mundane day-to-day issues that are important and brewing but unspectacular in visual terms. Rather they are consumed by a single event or incident; single Big Bang, stuff that are more sensational. Can’t blame them, they need to sell newspapers. People love to read human interest and sensational news. Sexy and juicy news, my journalist friends love to tell me.

Therefore, it didn’t surprise me that the media and the online community appeared to be more caught up with the mere mention of Kirsten Han, PJ Thum and The Online Citizen in the Law Minister’s latest speech about foreign interference in domestic politics. The narrative? Mr Shanmugam slammed the activists again over their links with foreigners to attack Singapore.

I read the speech. He covered a lot of ground, from history to current political and legislative developments. But in a few paragraphs, the minister had singled out Thum and Han for taking foreign money to try to influence politics in Singapore. Ms Han had apparently tried to promote a movement to get 500,000 people into Singapore streets to protest, a la Hong Kong now. Funny, she is now denying she said that. Her friend Andrew Loh confirmed it by quoting her speech in full which included a line “a social movement is all the work that go into potentially one day having 500,000 people on the streets’’. Ms Han had concluded Singapore would have failed compared to Hong Kong if we couldn’t get that number out. I think that “sexy, newsy’’ portion makes up like 5 percent of the speech?

I digress.

In today’s piece, I think it is more important to highlight to Singaporeans the increasing risks of sophisticated foreign interference through online and offline manoeuvres. It is frightening and it’s real. And I suspect it has arrived. Do not be distracted by small fry and useful idiots like Kirsten Han. Let’s not lose sight of the real dangers. There are larger issues at stake. I think it is important Singaporeans read the latest speech in full.

Put it this way – would you want Dr Mahathir to decide for you who should be your MP and Prime Minister? Should Anwar decide for you how we shape our laws on drugs and death sentence? Would you want Putin to decide for you who should be governing our country? Or Xi Jinping to decide for you that only Chinese should be running our country and minorities should not be accorded equal rights?  Or Chinese intelligence manipulating our Chinese community to support China in South China Sea territorial disputes? Or America to decide for you that you should send our sons and daughters to help them fight in the Middle East?

Well, now they could. Because, as the Government said, the pervasive penetration of the Internet and social media has given “bad state actors’’ many effective tools to manipulate information and advance their own interests. Singapore is not immune to such manipulation.

The examples cited by the Government makes scary reading. During the US elections, foreign operatives spent only US$100,000 to spread Facebook advertisements to 126 million American votes to influence the outcome. Almost 2,000 ads used interest-based targeting, of which 800 were geographically targeted including at swing states where Hillary lost. In those areas, the margins were just thousands, enough to swing delegates to Trump (who actually lost on total vote counts but won more state delegates). Another widely cited example is Brexit, where fake news went from internet to mass media and frightened people into voting a certain way.

In Ukraine, the Russians are known to have made use of “useful idiots’’ enlisting opinion leaders, academicians, think tanks, politicians and community leaders to control and sway public narrative. From what I can see the last few years, Singapore now has enough useful idiots.

Bad actors can now prey on fault lines and hot button issues to exploit local sentiments – say Chinese versus Indians, Christians versus Muslims, Chinese voters against minority candidates, using fake news which is allowed to travel online and into mainstream media. There are no shortage of useful idiots in Singapore who are willing to pass on the manipulative messages to destroy others. Within nine days of hustings, enough damage can be brought to bear on voters who may be swung by fake news into voting a certain way. This is a really scary thought.

It would be plain stupid not to do anything about it. So far, liberals have argued media literacy should be the main weapon to fight off fake news and information manipulation. You know what, from the recent fiasco, even the Media Literacy Council can get its information wrong – so what hope do the rest of us have? As the Government has said, we should never outsource national interests and security to the private sector. The elected Government should do something about it.

And we won’t be the only one doing it. Let’s be smart about it. Have enough confidence in ourselves to say, we have a problem, let’s solve it together. Germany has passed laws to track and remove illegal online content. France has introduced information manipulation laws to target fake news three months ahead of elections. Australia passed a package of laws to tackle foreign interference, restrict foreign donations and require greater transparency on political campaigners and entities. The US, after the 2016 election fiasco, is looking at how it could stamp out another Putin raid aimed at keeping Trump in office. Thanks to the fallout from the Russian interference, Americans have become so divided – playing right into what Putin wanted.

So amazingly, if you think our laws on foreign interference are draconian, it looks to me we are actually behind the curve.