Protests Continue Unabated in Hong Kong

Mass protests in Hong Kong, initially sparked by the local government’s proposal to allow the extradition of criminal suspects to mainland China, have shown no sign of abating in the third quarter of 2019. Following the city’s largest-ever demonstration on 16 June and the storming of the city’s legislature by an aggressive group of protestors on 1 July, demonstrations started to spread from Hong Kong Island to other parts of the city. On 14 July, tens of thousands of protestors peacefully marched in Sha Tin, a district in the New Territories East, until riot police began to clear demonstrators out of a shopping centre, resulting in violent confrontations. One week later, violence reached new levels as a crowd of white-shirted men assaulted protestors and bystanders in a metro station in Yuen Long, a town close to the border with mainland China. In response to such attacks, on 27 July large numbers of black-shirted protestors rallied in Yuen Long, a gathering that ended in more violence when riot police deployed tear gas and high-pressure water to disperse the crowd. On 7 August, two days after a massive strike paralysed the city, China’s senior officials in charge of Hong Kong affairs convened an urgent meeting in Shenzhen, during which they rejected one of the key demands of the protesters—i.e. an independent inquiry into the police’s use of force. Starting from 9 August, demonstrators began organising large-scale sit-ins at the city’s airport, which eventually led to the cancellation of all flights. However, on its fifth day, the largely peaceful airport sit-in turned violent as demonstrators attacked a Chinese man whom they thought was a security agent from mainland China. Another Chinese man was tied to a luggage cart and was later identified as a reporter for the Global Times—China’s propaganda mouthpiece.

Following 11 consecutive weeks of protests, on 20 August Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, announced that the government would enlist foreign experts to perform a fact-finding study into recent incidents, establish a more robust system to investigate complaints against the police, and create a dialogue platform to directly engage with local communities. However, the announcements did little to placate demonstrators. On 23 August, thousands of protestors formed human chains across the city by holding each other’s hands, with many of them covering one eye to show solidarity with a girl who lost her eyesight in one eye due to a severe injury suffered during a protest on 11 August. The firing of a live warning shot by a police officer on 25 August and the arrest of six prominent activists on 30 August further escalated tensions between demonstrators and the police, with numerous university and high school students choosing to go on strike on the first day of their new semester. On 4 September, as officials in both Hong Kong and Beijing warned that an emergency could be declared to help settle the ongoing protests, in an unexpected turn of events, Carrie Lam announced the formal withdrawal of the extradition bill. This, nevertheless, still failed to bring the demonstrations to an end. Insisting on the fulfilment of their other demands—including an independent investigation into police violence, the retraction of the labelling of protestors as ‘rioters’, amnesties for detained demonstrators, and universal suffrage—protestors continued to confront the police on various occasions while forming human chains across the city, singing an anthem specifically composed for the occasion in public areas, and holding rallies in front of foreign embassies. NLiu

(Sources: BBC News; Bloomberg; China National Radio; China Times; CNN; Hong Kong Free Press; Made in China Journal 2/2019; South China Morning Post)

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