Hong Kong - Protest 2019
In mid-2019, months of protests, at times violent, against what many here sawas the gradual erosion by Beijing of the freedoms that have allowed Hong Kong to become a magnet for foreign investment, raised the prospects of intervention by China's People's Liberation Army (PLA). "The end is coming for those attempting to disrupt Hong Kong and antagonize China," the state-controlled Xinhua News agency said in a commentary on 01 September 2019.
The situtation in Hong Kong in 2019 reminded many observers of the situation in Beijing's Tianamen Square in 1989. Both represented direct challenges to the authoritity and legitimacy of a regime that has no tolerance for dissent and even less tolerance of outright opposition. Other comparisons and contrasts might be evoked. But from a narrow military perspective, the two situations are polar opposites. Measuring 880 meters x 500 meters [nearly 45 hectares], Tiananmen Square is the largest city center square in the world. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region has an area of 111,000 hectares, roughly 250 times the area of Tiananmen. The surface of Tiananmen was flat, covered by paving stones, whereas that of Hong Kong is a congested builtup urban area with numerous narrow side streets. This is precisely the sort of unpromising terrain that prompted Haussmann's reconstruction of Paris with broad and long “cannon-shot boulevards”.
The desired end state at Tiananmen was little more than to clear the square of protesters, and to disperes the assembled throng, with straggling protesters to be subsequently rounded up. While the crowds in Hong Kong have at times equaled the million or so that gathered in Tiananmen, the more annoying manifestations have consisted of smaller protests, springing up at various locations all around the city.
China has warned newly elected lawmakers against backing independence for the semi-autonomous city. Several anti-Beijing lawmakers have gained seats in Hong Kong's legislative elections that took place on 05 September 2016. "The mainland underscored its 'resolute opposition' against any form of 'Hong Kong independence' activities inside or outside of the special administrative region's (SAR) Legislative Council (LegCo)," Chinese state news agency Xinhua said in a statement on 06 September 2016, quoting a spokesperson of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council.
Polls for Hong Kong's legislative assembly were held on 05 September 2016, with 30 anti-establishment parties winning seats in the 70-member LegCo. A record 58 percent of voters elected their leaders. Five of the winning candidates were student leaders, including Nathan Law of Demosisto party and Yau Wai-ching of Youngspiration, and had protested in the pro-democracy "Umbrella Revolution" in 2014.
In order to win the support of the international communities, both the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law, Hong Kong's mini-constitution, envision a gradual process of democratization with a full democracy as the defined ultimate goal. Both article 45 and article 68 of the Basic Law provide for the direct election for both the Chief Executive and all of its Legislative Council from 2007, without a specific time table being spelled out.
Article 45 states that " The ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures." Under recently approved rules, all of Hong Kong's five million eligible voters will get a vote in the 2017 race for chief executive, but anyone seeking election must first be approved by a Beijing-backed committee. This vetting process for candidates makes the nomination of anyone from the city's vocal pan-democratic camp highly unlikely.
Some people refer to the current largest civil disobedience movement in Hong Kong's history as the 2.0 version of Umbrella Sports. The five main demands of protesters: to formally withdraw proposed amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance that would allow extradition to mainland China; to grant an amnesty for all arrested protesters; to withdraw official accusations of rioting; to set up an independent inquiry into police behavior during the crisis; and fully democratic elections.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party is moving ahead with greater integration between the former colonial cities of Hong Kong and Macau and the rest of China. China's cabinet, the State Council, published a lengthy blueprint on 18 February 2019 setting out its plans to integrate 11 major cities in the Pearl River Delta region, including Hong Kong, Macau, Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Zhuhai. "The development of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Greater Bay Area is a national strategy personally devised, personally planned and personally driven by President Xi Jinping," the city's government said in a statement. "It is a key development strategy in the country's reform and opening up in the new era."
The city's government was mulling plans to allow the executive rendition of criminal suspects to China at Beijing's request. Pro-democracy group Demosisto said the changes were an attempt to make it easier for China to "entrap" Hong Kong citizens who raised their voices in dissent against Beijing's policies. "The Hong Kong government’s proposition to change a current law is an attempt to prepare to entrap oppositional voices for China, and is a step towards judicial integration and eroding Hong Kong’s legal system, allowing Hong Kong citizens to be subjected to an autocratic Court," the group said in a Feb. 17 statement.
Critics cited the cross-border detentions of five booksellers -- including a Swedish and a U.K. national -- wanted for selling books banned in mainland China to customers there, despite the fact that their actions were entirely legal in Hong Kong. Currently, suspects must be wanted for a crime that is an offense in both jurisdictions, and to a list of 46 serious crimes including murder, assault and sex offenses. More than 1 million protesters gathered in the streets of Hong Kong on 09 June 2019 to protest the bill that would allow China to extradite fugitives or suspects from the city. Protesters chanted "no China extradition, no evil law", carrying signs reading "Carry off Carrie" in reference to Hong Kong's Chief Executive, Carrie Lam. And what started as a peaceful protest descended into clashes with the police as a few hundred protesters tried to break into the Legislative Council.
The council is where debates resumed over whether to pass the bill that would allow suspects to be sent across the border to Taiwan, Macau, and mainland China. The group that organized the protests, Civil Human Rights Front, estimates that the march has drawn around 1.03 million people, which is almost one seventh of the city's whole population. That would make it Hong Kong's biggest rally since 1997, since the city was handed back to China.
Chief Executive Lam had pushed forward with the controversial legislation saying it's aimed at closing legal loopholes and that human rights safeguards are in place. But opponents fear the amendments would allow China to take people for political reasons and undermine Hong Kong's semi-autonomous legal system. Meanwhile, Chinese state media said that "foreign forces" are behind the protest to "hurt China", possibly pointing the finger at the US.
Amid huge protests over a controversial extradition bill, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam announced 15 June 2019 that the legislation would be postponed indefinitely. Speaking to reporters, Lam said that the bill had caused a lot of division in society. She also said that the legislative process would be put on hold without any deadline and that she hopes to restore public order. The the LegCo will halt its work in relation to the bill until the HKSAR government completes its work in communication, explanation and listening to opinions, Lam said. will halt its work in relation to the bill until the HKSAR government completes its work in communication, explanation and listening to opinions, Lam said. "We have no intention to set a deadline for this work and promise to report to and consult members of the legislative council panel on security before we decide on the next step forward," she said. But the Hong Kong government insisted that it would not scrap the bill.
Western countries are using Hong Kong opposition forces to start a "color revolution" in Hong Kong, trying to make Hong Kong a vassal of Western countries, Kennedy Wong Ying-ho, a renowned Hong Kong lawyer and convener of Safeguard HK, Support the Surrender of Fugitive Offenders Legislation, told the Global Times. Hong Kong opposition forces colluded with Western forces to create a vicious cycle of social conflicts and violence in Hong Kong aimed at using external forces to sway Hong Kong and turn Hong Kong against its motherland, Wong said. Since early June 2019, radical Hong Kong forces have incited and participated in a number of riots in the name of opposition to the extradition bill. And in the last few days of July, they escalated their radical protests from using umbrellas, planks and bricks to corrosive liquids, toxic chemicals and gasoline bombs.
On 21 July 2019, Hong Kong residents who were returning from protests were attacked by organized triads in Yuen Long, causing dozens of injuries. the gangsters attacked not only the marchers but also the people who went home after a large-scale rally on Hong Kong Island. The police said that there were members of the underworld who attacked the public at the subway station, and some were villagers in the Yuen Long area. Nobody was arrested at the time, and police took around 40 minutes to move in on the attackers, who left dozens of people hospitalized, one in a critical condition.
On 26 July 2019, visitors arriving in Hong Kong from all over the world receive unusual “courtesy” at one of the busiest airports in the world. “Welcome to Hong Kong – a city run by police and thugs,” wrote a slogan by a demonstrator. Some people wear masks and yellow helmets that gradually become the symbol of this sport. Some people on Twitter began to define the movement with the label "Helmet Revolution." Demonstrators called for the withdrawal of the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, the withdrawal of the definition of riots, the withdrawal of all the contestants’ charges, the establishment of an independent investigation committee, and the immediate implementation of double popular suffrage.
In late July 2019, a spokesperson for China's defense ministry suggested that People's Liberation Army forces stationed in Hong Kong can be deployed to maintain public order in the territory. There had been a deployment of a large number of mainland police officers in Hong Kong, after Beijing decided the protests were a color revolution at the beginning of June. The ranks of the Hong Kong riot police now include anti-riot police from the north, who are wearing the uniforms of the Hong Kong police. The commander of the Chinese People's Liberation Army (PLA) Garrison in Hong Kong on 31 July 2019 condemned recent violence on the streets of Hong Kong and vowed to firmly safeguard China's sovereignty and national security. In what appeared to be his first public comments on the Hong Kong situation, Chen Daoxiang said that a series of violent incidents have seriously disrupted the Special Administrative Region (SAR)'s prosperity and stability and touched the bottom line of the "one country, two systems" principle. Bloomberg News, citing a US official, reported that the PLA or armed police had been gathering on the Hong Kong border and that the White House was monitoring the situation.
Thousands of Hong Kong citizens, despite the opposition of the police, continued their demonstrations in Yuen Long, New Territories on 27 July 2019, during which serious clashes broke out between the police and the demonstrators. When the police cleared the scene, they fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the demonstrators, and the demonstrators threw bricks and other debris into the police.
On 03 August 2019 an estimated tens of thousands of people once again filled the streets to protest the government’s mishandling of its ongoing political crisis that has turned much of the city against leader Carrie Lam. Protesters marched across Mong Kok and Sham Shui Po on Hong Kong’s Kowloon peninsula on Saturday afternoon before converging in Tsim Sha Tsui, a waterfront shopping district popular with tourists from China, where they briefly barricaded a cross-harbor tunnel.
Tens of thousands of people joined a rally of civil servants in downtown Hong Kong to call on the city's government to meet the five demands of anti-extradition protests that have gripped the city since June 6. Chanting "Go Hongkongers!", the rallying cry of the anti-extradition movement, the civil servants met to send a clear message to the administration of chief executive Carrie Lam, who has become increasingly sequestered from public view in recent weeks. Hong Kong's usually discreet and neutral civil servants are the latest group to come out strongly in favor of protesters, after lawyers, healthcare and medical professionals, financial sector workers, social workers and general trade unions.
US Senator Tom Cotton released a statement 06 August 2019 warning Beijing against launching "a violent crackdown" on protesters in Hong Kong. He urged the US government to prepare sanctions against China. Other US lawmakers expressed a similar view. Before Cotton's statement, Beijing had never said it would resort to force to quell riots in Hong Kong. Instead, it had been offering support to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government and police, and backing them to take resolute measures to safeguard the city's rule of law. When asked by media about whether the People's Liberation Army (PLA)'s Hong Kong garrison would intervene in Hong Kong, almost all officials in Beijing referred to the Basic Law provisions that regulate the duties and responsibilities of the garrison.
A senior Chinese official said Beijing will never sit idly by should the situation in Hong Kong spiral out of the control of the territory's government. The remarks by the head of the Chinese State Council's Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office may signal that Beijing could intervene in the protests sparked by a controversial extradition bill. On 07 August 2019, Zhang Xiaoming was in a meeting in Shenzhen to discuss the situation in Hong Kong. The state-run Xinhua News Agency quoted Zhang as warning that the territory is facing its worst crisis since its return from Britain to Chinese rule in 1997. Zhang reportedly said the Chinese government has massive power to promptly quell any potential unrest through various means.
At a press briefing in Beijing 07 August 2019, Yang Guang, spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, said the "radical protests ... have severely impacted Hong Kong's prosperity and stability, pushing it into a dangerous abyss." Yang said the government still "firmly supports" both the Hong Kong police force — which has been criticised for its handling of the protests — and Carrie Lam, the city's pro-Beijing leader who protesters want to resign. "We would like to make it clear to the very small group of unscrupulous and violent criminals and the dirty forces behind them: Those who play with fire will perish by it," Yang said. "Don't ever misjudge the situation and mistake our restraint for weakness ... Don't ever underestimate the firm resolve and immense strength of the central government."
By early August, some observers believed Xi Jinping would not consider sending in the PLA before the 01 October 2019 National Day celebrations. October first marks the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, and President Xi has already arranged for the biggest ever display of military strength on Tiananmen Square. Any deployment of the PLA in Hong Kong before that date would spoil the festive atmosphere, because it would signal the end of the framework of one country, two systems. It would also diminish China in the eyes of the world, and be a loss of face for President Xi.
The People's Armed Police began assembling in Shenzhen, a city bordering Hong Kong, in advance of apparent large-scale exercises, videos obtained by the Global Times showed 10 August 2019. Numerous armored personnel carriers (APC), trucks and other vehicles of the Armed Police were seen on expressways heading in the direction of Shenzhen and assembling there.
Satellite images depicted dozens [not "more than 500"] Chinese military vehicles stationed in and around a soccer stadium close to the Hong Kong border in what is believed to be a response to days of violent protests. The images, acquired by Maxar's WorldView spacecraft on 12 August 2019 show the vehicles inside Shenzhen Bay Sports Center, a multi-use stadium normally used for table tennis, football and swimming, in Shenzhen, across the harbor from Hong Kong. It is believed to be part of China's reponse to months of unrest which had recently seen dozens of protesters shut down all flights at Hong Kong International Airport, one of the worlds' busiest. Chinese media disputes the claim, insisting the exercises had been planned beforehand. Flights at Hong Kong airport resumed on 14 August 2019 after violent clashes between protestors and police forced a two-day period of closure.
Shenzhen, neighboring city and China's "Silicon Valley", 2018 gross domestic product surpassed that of Hong Kong, calculated by the annual average exchange rate, for the first time in history. Shenzhen is less than an hour from Hong Kong by train or ferry yet it is still off the radar for many international tourists who go no further than the shops on the border. Less than 40 years ago it was just a small fishing village but since then it has become one of the largest and wealthiest cities in China and home to more than 12 million people.
In August, Beijing moved thousands of troops across the border into Hong Kong. They came in on trucks and armored cars, by bus and by ship. Xinhua news agency described the operation as a routine “rotation” of the Garrison force. Seven envoys who spoke to Reuters said they did not detect any significant number of existing forces in Hong Kong returning to the mainland in the days before or after the announcement. Three of the envoys said the contingent of Chinese military personnel in Hong Kong had more than doubled in size since the protests began. They estimated the number of military personnel is now between 10,000 and 12,000, up from 3,000 to 5,000 in the months before the reinforcement.
Consultations between Russian representatives with the Chinese authorities regarding “color revolution efforts” by the Washington-led establishment will take place “either before the end of summer or at the beginning of autumn,” said Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told RBC on 12 August 2019. Consultations will be held through the press services of the ministries of foreign affairs, but “we are also open to other cooperation,” Zakharova added. “During the consultations that we are currently planning with the Chinese side, we will discuss the use of the information environment to intervene in the internal affairs. Which the Western countries are currently doing,” Zakharova said. At a briefing on August 9th, the Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said the Russian authorities would invite China to jointly identify foreign countries involved in organizing protests in Moscow and Hong Kong, as well as establish an exchange “through the relevant services.”
More than a million people took to the streets of Hong Kong on 19 August 2019 in another mass protest against plans to allow extradition to mainland China. Wielding umbrellas against the heavy rain, protesters packed out the city's Victoria Park and spilled out to fill several major highways in the surrounding area, with many marching as far as government headquarters in spite of a police ban, raising the now-familiar chant of "Go Hongkongers!" Rally organizers the Civil Human Rights Front said an estimated 1.7 million people turned out.
A march to mark the fifth anniversary of China's decision against fully democratic elections in Hong Kong was not permitted by police, but protesters took to the streets anyway in the 13th straight weekend of demonstrations. On 31 August 2019 Hong Kong police fired a blue-dyed liquid from water cannons and tear gas in a standoff with protesters outside government headquarters. While other protesters marched back and forth elsewhere in the city, a large crowd wearing helmets and gas masks gathered outside the city government building. Some approached barriers that had been set up to keep protesters away and appeared to throw objects at the police on the other side. Others shone laser lights at the officers.
On 04 September 2019, Hong Kong's Chief Executive Carrie Lam withdrew the bill that triggered mass protests. "The government will formally withdraw the bill in order to fully allay public concerns," Lam said in a video statement released via her office. The bill, which sparked months of violent protests, would have allowed individuals from Hong Kong accused of having committed crimes in mainland China to be extradited and tried there.
Hong Kong's anti-extradition bill movement was three months old on 09 September 2019. In the past few months, the mass protests in the city had undergone a transformation — from peaceful demonstrations to violent clashes between the protesters and Hong Kong police. The police crackdown in Hong Kong intensified over the course of the past three months. Now violent clashes between protesters and police occur on a weekly basis. The use of force by Hong Kong's police has tarnished their image and enraged protesters.
In a strong show of support for the three-month-old anti-extradition and pro-democracy movement, the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representives, Nancy Pelosi, pledged to move ahead speedily with the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act that could see sanctions imposed on officials found to have deprived the city's residents of their human rights. Speaking 18 September 2019 in Washington after hearing from a delegation of Hong Kong pro-democracy campaigners including Joshua Wong and Cantopop star Denise Ho, Pelosi said that US government policy shouldn't be driven by commercial interests alone. "If we do not speak up because of commercial interests in support of human rights in China, we lose all moral authority to speak up for them in any other place in the world," Pelosi told journalists after the hearing.
Thousands of protesters flooded Hong Kong's city center and several neighborhoods to express their opposition to a new ban on wearing masks during demonstrations. By invoking the colonial-era Emergency Regulations Ordinance, embattled Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam bypassed the territory's independent legislature to put the ban into effect on 04 October 2019. This was Lam's latest move in a desperate bid to deter violent clashes between police and demonstrators who are often masked. "As a responsible government, we have a duty to use all available means," Lam said. "The decision to invoke the ordinance a difficult, but also necessary, one for public interest."
A student at a Hong Kong university who fell during protests at the weekend died on 08 November 2019, the first student death in months of anti-government demonstrations in the Chinese-ruled city that is likely to be a trigger for fresh unrest. Chow Tsz-lok, 22, an undergraduate student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, died of injuries sustained early on 04 November 2019. The circumstances of how he was injured were unclear but authorities said he was believed to have fallen from the third to the second floor in a parking lot when police dispersed crowds in a district east of the Kowloon peninsula.
Dozens of People's Liberation Army members stationed in the territory left their base on 16 November 2019 to remove bricks and rubble from major roads and around university campuses. They all wore the same T-shirts. This was the first time military personnel had worked outside their base since the protests began. Pro-democracy legislators released a statement denouncing the PLA for breaching the law.
On 16 November 2019 the daily prime-time news program in China that delivers the most important political signals to the public spent one third of its time broadcasting four separate pieces that are related to President Xi Jinping's remarks on the current situation in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. Observers said it was very unusual and proved that the central government had sent a strongest signal over ending violence in the city and sternest warning to rioters and their overseas backers. Xinwen Lianbo, the news program broadcast by China Central Television (CCTV), spent about 10 minutes focusing on Hong Kong affairs after Xi said on Thursday the most pressing task for Hong Kong at present is to bring violence and chaos to an end and restore order. The anchors also read an editorial article published by the People's Daily and an editorial by CCTV stressing that Xi's remarks are the strongest voice from the central government on the work of stopping violence and chaos in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong is set to hold district council elections on 24 November 2019, amid a period of relative calm following violent clashes between police and anti-government protesters. People directly vote for 452 members among 18 district councils. The police chief said officers will be present at all polling stations. Authorities warned the elections could be postponed if safety could not be ensured. But no major clashes have occurred over the past few days.
Hong Kong's High Court has decided to let the government enforce a ban on face masks for one week through November 29. The court previously ruled that the ban, which targets protesters, violates the territory's constitution. Beijing rebuked the ruling, saying the Hong Kong courts have no authority to make such a judgment.
Hong Kong's pro-democracy camp won a landslide victory 24 November 2019 in local district council elections, which come amid ongoing political unrest. Local media outlets said pro-democracy candidates secured nearly 90% of the 452 total seats. Preliminary results of the election reported by local broadcaster RTHK suggest that about 390 seats out of 452 that were up for grabs in 18 district councils had been claimed by the anti-government candidates.
The unprecedented win effectively reversed the positions of the two sides. District councils play a limited role in running the territory, but some of the representatives help choose Hong Kong's chief executive. Prior to the election, the pro-Beijing candidates held 292 seats in the district legislatures. Now, according to the local media reports, they won only 42 seats and likely lost control over all councils but one.
The territory saw an all-time high for voter turnout with nearly 3 million people, or more than 70 percent of registered voters, casting a ballot (versus only 47 percent back in 2015). The election saw many young voters taking to the polls for the first time.
Outgoing pro-Beijing councilor Horace Cheung did not blame his defeat on a lack of supporters. He received more votes than he did when he won the last election, but they were not enough to compete with an influx of new voters. And pro-Beijing lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-su, who lost his seat at the Tsuen Wan District Council, said that while he gained the same number of votes as in the previous elections, it was not enough this time – all because of the first-time voters, he suspected. “If that’s true, it means young people are no longer insensitive to politics,” he said, adding that he would “respect the electorate’s decision.”
Some of the winners in this election had previously made news as demonstrators. That includes Jimmy Sham, a newly-elected councilor and high-profile protest organizer who was reportedly beaten with hammers more than a month ago. "Pro-democracy protests have changed the voting into a de facto referendum," Sham said, while leaning on his crutches. "It's a victory for people in Hong Kong. I hope Chief Executive Carrie Lam will accept the people's will and meet the protesters' key demands."
Observers said the pro-democracy camp's victory will give future protests even more momentum and push leader Carrie Lam to act. The election was framed as a referendum on ongoing and increasingly violent protests. Voters peacefully waited in long, snaking lines.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that regardless of the outcome, Hong Kong will remain an unalienable part of the Chinese state. “It's not the final result yet. Let's wait for the final result, OK? However, it is clear that no matter what happens, Hong Kong is a part of China and a special administrative region of China," he said.
The only way the councils might influence politics is through voting for the next Hong Kong chief executive in 2022 as part of the 1,200 – member election committee. However, the councils send a maximum of 117 delegates to the panel, which is hardly enough to sway the vote, even taking into account that opposition already controls some 400 seats.
Donald Trump on 27 November 2019 signed a bill which requires an annual review of Hong Kong’s human rights situation and related trade status, and would apply sanctions against officials linked to rights abuses in the city. Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act a week after the legislation cleared the House of Representatives 417-1 in a show of support for Hong Kong after months of pro-democracy protests. “I signed these bills out of respect for President Xi, China, and the people of Hong Kong,” Trump said in a statement.
Following coordinated arrests on 06 January 2021 targeting more than 50 Hong Kong opposition figures under a security law, local civil society observers said that an atmosphere of fear and uncertainty had descended upon the pro-democracy movement in the territory. More than 90 pro-democracy politicians or activists have been arrested for violating the law's vague criteria. Four of them have been formally charged, including Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai and former student activist Tony Chung. Space for dissent quickly disappeared.
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