Norwegian sociologist Johan Galtung, founder of the Peace Research Institute Oslo, is the doyen of peace and conflict studies. Resolving conflict by peaceful means recognises two parties – victim and perpetrator. It has four possible outcomes: A wins, B loses; B wins, A loses; postponement because neither are ready; and confused compromise in which neither are happy. This “cross” has two parties on the horizontal axis and peace or conflict on the vertical. To find a win-win peace solution, Galtung suggests a conciliator or mechanism must persuade both sides to expect peace is the only viable way forward.
Hong Kong was admired for its huge, peaceful protests. Until last year, most outsiders thought these non-violent protests were a sign of civility and maturity. But once violence began, polarisation rapidly escalated with both protesters and police feeling victimised, accusing each other of excessive violence. Even the courts cannot be neutral because the issue is not just one of law and evidence, but a political and constitutional divide requiring a political solution.
The real issue is under “one country, two systems”, a substantial number of Hong Kong residents believe two systems override one country, while the reality is two systems are constitutionally subsidiary to one country. It would be simple if Hong Kong was just a domestic city, but as an international financial centre, the global dimension is inextricably entangled.
Furthermore, Beijing will not want to see Hong Kong caught in the crossfire of a US-China contest. If Hong Kong became a political chess piece, it would seriously threaten Hong Kong’s international financial centre status and jobs. Indeed, if the US proposes to delist Chinese companies listed in the US, Hong Kong’s stock market would get a boost from returning Chinese listings.
As the blame game over the pandemic shows, verbal attacks accomplish nothing. If we are responsible stakeholders in global peace and survival, we must find the right framework for healing and reconciliation. The pandemic shows individual freedoms cannot come at the expense of society. Just as the pandemic is destroying the old order, the good news is that at the scientific, medical and people levels, there is cooperation and goodwill.
Every journey towards peace and community begins with a first step. No journey is too difficult, nor any crosses too hard to bear together. A violent road has no good endings. The pandemic has taught us to accept humility because arrogance has brought down the old order. That is the real burden of history – crisis and opportunity are not binary but one.
Andrew Sheng writes on global issues from an Asian perspective. The views expressed are solely those of the author