For the tenth weekend in a row, thousands of protesters have come to the streets in Hong Kong to protest against the government. The demonstrations that started at the beginning of June as peaceful demonstrations have repeatedly resulted in violence. What exactly is going on? We answer the five most important questions.
In recent weeks there have been more and more violent confrontations between young demonstrators and the police in Hong Kong. As the demonstrations progress, the demands of the demonstrators also become more diverse and ambitious. Activists were already storming government offices, shutting down public transport and damaging symbols of Chinese authority. The riot police respond with a heavy hand.
What is the relationship between Hong Kong and China?
Hong Kong is part of the People’s Republic of China, but since London renounced the former British Crown Colony in 1997, a separate status within China. The superpower has reigned ever since with the motto “one country, two systems”. This means that Hong Kong enjoys a high degree of autonomy while it belongs to China.
As a result, Hong Kong has its own governmental system (with the exception of foreign affairs and defense), its own laws with a “mini-land law” and its own police force. As a result, Hong Kong residents have more freedoms than mainland Chinese citizens, so they have freedom of expression, unlimited access to the internet and freedom of assembly and demonstration.
In 1997, the Chinese government promised that the semi-autonomous system would remain in force until at least 2047. But many Hong Kong people now feel that Beijing is already limiting autonomy. For example, Hong Kong’s government leader, currently Carrie Lam, is appointed by a pro-Chinese commission.
Why did the residents start protesting?
A bill from the Lam government announced in February should allow Hong Kong to extradite people to countries with which it has not yet signed an extradition agreement, including the Chinese rulers in Beijing. As a result, the Hong Kong people, who have a separate status within China, could now also be tried by the Chinese government.
The immediate cause for the controversial bill is a murder case in Taiwan. A man who allegedly killed his pregnant girlfriend fled to Hong Kong after the facts, avoiding extradition to China. To avoid such things in the future, Lam remains behind her plans. However, critics fear that the bill will open the door for extradition and prosecution of opponents of the Chinese regime.
A large number of Hong Kong people see the intended law as a restriction on their autonomy and liberties. The large-scale protest started on Sunday 9 June. A million people, especially young people but also elderly residents and families with children, expressed their dissatisfaction in a mass demonstration, which was the largest demonstration in Hong Kong since 1997.
Why do the protests continue?
Due to ongoing protest, Lam was forced to declare the law “dead” a week later. However, she refused to suspend the law altogether, which flared up the discontent among Hong Kong demonstrators. The crackdown on the riot police was also a thorn in the eyes of the protesters. The agents use rubber bullets, pepper spray, the bat and tear gas.
Since then, the largely leadership-free protests have turned into a broader movement that now targets the pro-Chinese government and the crackdown on the police forces. The package of demands from the protest movement also sounds more ambitious. They demand democratic reforms and the general protection of Hong Kong freedoms and autonomy.
The protesters want government leader Lam to leave. His or her successor must come to power by means of free elections, arguing the protesters, and not be “designated” by Beijing, which has been in the rule since 1997. They also want an independent investigation into the crackdown on police action and amnesty for the arrested demonstrators.
How are the protests going?
The number of violent confrontations between young protesters and the Hong Kong police has increased sharply since 9 June. In order to nip the protests in the bud, even – according to the protesters, the government hired – fighter teams were deployed. They beat demonstrators in fur and blue, while the riot police let go.
A number of demonstrators have also covered their right eye since this weekend after a demonstrator was hit by a riot from the riot police. She is now probably blind in one eye.
The Chinese government is setting the tone and demanding an immediate stop of the protest. The communist regime says it sees “signs of terrorism” behind the protest movement and a spokesman warned last week that “those who play with fire will perish by fire.”
Given the Sino-US trade war, it is not to be said that the riots are exacerbating the diplomatic tensions between Trump and Xi. Certainly, now that an American government spokesperson has described the Chinese government as a “crook regime”. This happened after a Chinese newspaper had published the name and photo of an American diplomat who had a conversation with demonstrating students in Hong Kong. The United States had previously issued a negative travel recommendation for Hong Kong.
What does this mean for foreigners in Hong Kong?
According to different sources, it is still safe to travel to Hong Kong, but travelers are advised to be careful and follow the instructions of the local government.
To increase international pressure on the Lam government, the demonstrators have also occupied Hong Kong International Airport since Friday. All departing and arriving flights have been canceled until further notice.