This last Sunday saw the return of significant numbers to the streets of Hong Kong, in protests that have marked the last six months of civil unrest in the territory. The second half of 2019 has seen tensions between Hong Kong and the mainland Chinese government come to the fore, with some of the most disruptive events experienced by the city this century.
Sunday’s march also marked the first ‘legal’ protest since the end of August, as the police licensed the ‘Civil Human Rights Front’ event to go ahead. Much like the marches in June (which at one point reportedly involved 2 million people), they were peaceful.
March organisers of up to 800,000 were reported to be present on the 8th of December. As ever, police estimates were dramatically less at a lowly 185,000. This has been a theme throughout the last six months of protests, with authorities consistently low-balling march numbers in order to play down their significance.
Protests initially flared up in the northern districts of Hong Kong, near the border with China. The marches have made their way to the central core of the city, creating a juxtaposition of people snaking their way round the corridors of skyscrapers. At times, the notorious hustle and bustle of the concrete jungle was non-existent as the city came to a complete standstill.
The recent unrest in the Special Administrative Region has been well documented. Capturing national attention in the summer with millions marching through the streets, protests actually began back in March this year. This all began as directed resentment towards a Beijing-supported bill allowing easier extradition of Hong Konger political criminals to China; undermining HK’s status as a supposedly protected region. Over the last nine months, protests have grown with a broader message of anti-Beijing and pro-democracy.
The ‘Five Demands’ are synonymous with recent marches. David Wai-tung Cheng, a local Hong Konger, has seen first hand the ongoing destruction of his home city; ‘the only solution will be adding pressure to the government internationally to get it [The Five Demands]’. These objectives relate to independent elections and the resignation of Chief Executive, Carrie Lam (pictured below). Unfortunately, David thinks the Hong Kong government are out of touch, and that violence is bound to continue as a result:
…the government is living in their parallel universe where social injustice does not exist.
These revitalised protests also occur after recent local elections which saw a huge shift toward pro-democracy candidates. Turnout increased to approximately 70% and pro-Beijing candidates saw their numbers reduced by over half. It is said that 17 of 18 councils are now controlled by pro-democratic forces, such is the way the voting system works. Notably, a student from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) was elected in the Kwun Tong district.
Protests have continued every weekend since the beginning of June, with numbers and instances of violence fluctuating. October and November saw the fiercest battles between police and protesters. Subsequently, the MTR (Hong Kong’s underground transport system) was shut down for long durations with schools and universities closed. Police in Hong Kong have been criticised for their brutality, with shots fired at close range and a persistent use of tear gas. Police motorbikes have also been used to disperse crowds by driving directly through them.
HKU has completely closed their operations, with classes moving online and graduation ceremonies cancelled. The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) also became the battleground for a days-long standoff between protestors, mainly students, and police. There were reports of water supplies running out and escape attempts through sewers by the students. Thousands were arrested, with many having their details recorded for future reference.
The University of Southampton quickly demanded the return of all their exchange students in the territory. A return to Hong Kong has been ruled out by the University. Wessex Scene recently highlighted the question whether enough has been done to support and repatriate these returning students.
Gaining international attention since summer, the U.S. government signed a tough democracy bill in relation to the Hong Kong protests. Citizens of the Special Administrative Region reacted to this with celebrations, holding aloft the American flag. This angered top Chinese officials, with fierce rhetoric directed toward Trump’s administration. Universities in the UK, US and even Switzerland have been seen to show their support for the trouble in Hong Kong. SUSU has yet to respond over their official position on the unrest.
What 2020 holds for Hong Kong remains to be seen. With this fresh bout of protests however, the spirit of the city and its people clearly remain strong.