Tommy Koh: Objectives of Hong Kong protests are 'political, not socio-economic'

He didn't group the SAR together with Chile and Lebanon where protests have erupted over socio-economic issues.

Kayla Wong| January 15, 09:31 AM

The objectives of the protest movement in Hong Kong are "primarily political and not socio-economic", Singaporean Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh wrote in an op-ed published Tuesday, Jan. 14, in The Straits Times.

Koh: Not exactly the same as other protests sparked by socio-economic concerns

Koh's brief remarks on Hong Kong was part of his third point on a negative global trend of protest movements.

He touched on the point, along with some others, at a speech given at the annual Bank of Singapore conference on Monday, Jan. 13.

Koh had not included the Chinese Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong in the group of areas where he opined that protests have broken out due to socio-economic causes.

Socio-economic causes include "high cost of living", and the massive wealth inequality between the top earners and the ordinary citizens.

The protesters in places such as France, Chile, Lebanon and Iran are united by grievances towards the "unfairness of the system under which they live", he wrote.

Not first comments on Hong Kong

This was not the first time that Koh had commented on the situation in Hong Kong.

Speaking on Hong Kong at the 32nd Tembusu Forum held on Oct. 20, Koh talked about the unique political structure in Hong Kong, as well as what the protesters want to achieve through their protest movement.

He added that while there is room for compromise, the window to do so is rapidly closing.

In addition, he agreed with critics who support the setting up of an independent inquiry to look into allegations of police brutality.

Koh's remarks versus Singaporean leaders' take on Hong Kong

Koh's comments seemed to differ slightly from other prominent figures in Singapore who have talked about the seven-month-long protests in Hong Kong.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong remarked in October 2019 that the five demands raised by the protesters are meant to "humiliate and bring down" the Hong Kong government, adding that he does not see an easy way forward as protesters refuse to compromise on their demands.

Home Affairs and Law Minister K. Shanmugam also said in an interview with South China Morning Post in August 2019 that there was no easy way forward when people are in such "entrenched positions".

He added that a clear approach that deals with both the political and the socio-economic problems are needed.

Shanmugam further mentioned the political root causes of the protests in September 2019, when he said that Hong Kong's problems "start from politics, and the fundamental socio-economic issues", The Straits Times reported.

Singaporean leaders, such as Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, have been consistent on their stance that the unrest in Hong Kong does not benefit Singapore, nor the region.

While pundits have tried to suss out the root causes of the protests that erupted in Hong Kong over a highly unpopular extradition bill, protesters themselves say the political crisis could be traced back to the government's incompetence.

Top image via Tommy Koh's Facebook & Philip Fong/AFP