Six Months In, No End to Hong Kong Protests in Sight
A recent election victory by Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp led to hundreds of thousands of protestors to take to the city’s streets on Sunday. The largest march in weeks signaled to China’s leader, Xi Jinping, that the protests against his authoritarian policies enjoyed broad support in Hong Kong as the economy weakened and violent clashes between protesters and police made headlines.
In Hong Kong, which is a semi-autonomous territory, pro-democracy advocates won a local election two weeks ago. Sunday’s protesters denounced Mr. Xi’s government, criticized police brutality, and continued their demands for greater civil liberties, such as universal suffrage.
“Fight for freedom” and “Stand with Hong Kong,” they chanted, beating drums, etc.,
They also chanted, “five demands, not one less.”
Some demonstrators soured the mostly peaceful march by vandalizing shops and restaurants and setting a fire outside the high court.
“We want Hong Kong to continue being Hong Kong,” said Alice Wong. “We don’t want to become like China.”
The advocacy group, Civil Human Rights Front, said as many as 800,000 people attended the march.
As evening fell on Hong Kong, police stood opposite protesters with tear gas canisters.
“If the government still refuses to acknowledge our demands after today, we should and will escalate our protests,” said Tamara Wong, 33. Beijing was unlikely to heed Hong Kong protester demands.
“Hong Kong is condemned to live in a permanent political crisis as long as China is ruled by the Communist Party,” said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a professor of political science at Hong Kong Baptist University.
Protestors don’t plan to relent.
“If the government thinks that we will give up,” said Adam Wong, 23, “today’s turnout will prove them delusional.”
The protestors have not enjoyed many victories since early June, when a bill to enable extradition to mainland China sparked the demonstrations. A million people marched through the financial center to demonstrate opposition, and one week later 2 million marched.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam ultimately retracted the bill, fulfilling one of protestors five demands, social unrest has morphed into a broader anti-government sentiment.
“The government hasn’t actually responded, so a lot of people think they just cannot give up on the protest,” Ma Ngok, associate professor in the department of government and public administration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Police have reportedly arrested 4,319 people between June 9 and Nov 14. The government reported that between June 9 and Nov. 26, 2,600 injured people were treated at public hospitals.
Police shot a 21-year old demonstrator in November, and protesters set a man on fire in an unrelated incident. A student who fell from a parking lot near a protest site succumbed to his injuries.
The city entered into a recession in the third quarter, enduring a year-over-year decline of 2.9%. Hong Kong government injected 25 billion Hong Kong dollars ($3.19 billion) into the economy, which most expect will go to tourism and retail sectors. That spending will lead the city to post its first budget deficit in 15 years.
“We hope that, well with the easing of the social unrest, law and order back to normal. Then I think we’re heading towards a rebound,” Edward Yau, Hong Kong’s secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, told CNBC. “But more importantly, I think we also need to tackle the wider picture, which I think Hong Kong and our neighboring region also suffer, which is U.S.-China trade war.”