Covid things have put a bit of a damper on the unrest, but the situation has evolved significantly since the original protests in June 2019. I figure it’s a good time to update for anyone with an interest in how things are going over there. Various notable events came and went, but I’m going to be as factual as I can, clearly labelling my personal opinions.
To recap, the original protests were against an extradition amendment to take care of a murder suspect who killed his preggo girlfriend—while they were on holiday in Taiwan. The amendment would cover both Taiwan and China, and it triggered some of Hong Kong’s biggest protests ever. People were concerned with extraditing to judicial systems that are not as transparent as Hong Kong’s, and I certainly shared that concern.
After several *mostly peaceful* protests, the bill was suspended in late June, and its complete withdrawal was announced in September 2019. But the protests continued and flared into riots, even after the goal was achieved.
(BEGIN DISCLAIMER) This is when I stopped identifying with or supporting the protest movement. (END DISCLAIMER)
The protest movement have “Five Demands.” My opinion in parentheses:
1. Withdrawal of the extradition amendment (done)
2. Inquiry into police brutality during the protests (the kind of brutality where nobody dies in over a year?)
3. Police retraction of the “riot” label (in the face of countless videos of people assaulting and ambushing officers with weapons? You want to call it a picnic?)
4. Amnesty for arrested protesters (see #3. Those are the ones in jail, not the normal protesters)
5. Expanded direct elections (for the uninitiated, Hong Kong is a partial democracy. OK, fair, but not even related)
As the sporadic (mostly weekends) violence took over Hong Kong, the mainstream protest crowd faded back into normal life, and the movement became dominated by students. Unsurprisingly, their actions became more controversial.
Online, laughably obvious fake news proliferated on my Facebook feed, about police killing and raping thousands, randomly kidnapping students to send to “China,” spies posing as cops, you name it, they can’t identify a single victim. The protesters also doxxed several cops, resulting in harassment to officers’ families at home and their kids at school.
On the streets, people get assaulted by getting into disagreements with protest groups, or by attempting to pass a roadblock. The attackers shield themselves with umbrellas while beating the victim until they hear cops. Protesters dress up as journalists (with vests and fake passes) to harass police and provoke an “assault on journalists.”
The protesters issued another demand, this time of the public, including you and me. Unless you read the local news, you may not know about the “Yellow Economic Circle”:
Basically, they compiled a list of businesses that have declared “support” for the protesters. This list was spread on social media, asking people to only patronise “yellow” businesses. Meanwhile, they sent vandals out to wreck any business they perceive to be non-yellow, or even any chains with mainland Chinese investment (because hating China is now officially in, bruh). This includes major foreign brands such as Starbucks and Yoshinoya, many branches of whom were broken into and torched. In many cases, attacks occur in broad daylight, with customers inside. They also sometimes hit the wrong guys, so their Terrorist Level is not quite 9000.
This was the single most abhorrent thing I have ever seen the protest movement do—they spent all year telling us that “China is plotting to take away our freedoms,” while assaulting those very freedoms as we speak.
Another notable incident was the “siege” of two universities, which occurred in November when students barricaded themselves for weeks and claimed that they would be killed (the melodrama). They launched projectiles and firebombs at the cops, but eventually starved themselves into surrender, leaving a burnt wreck of a campus. Minors were let go with an ID recording (opinion: kid gloves, so brutal).
Fast-forward to 2020 and new slogans began to appear. “Hong Kong Independence” is now in style. The Tiananmen Square memorial on June 4th was hijacked by independence flags and slogans. Personally, I was disgusted by the lack of respect for those who lost their lives in Beijing. This is the only place in China where commemorating the event is allowed, and they made it about themselves.
In late May, China surprised everyone by announcing new National Security laws for Hong Kong, to officially ban treason, secession, collusion with foreign governments and political terrorism. It would be inserted per Article 3 of Hong Kong’s constitution as an item of “defence and foreign affairs,” which is an area reserved by Beijing. Several overtly secessionist political parties immediately disbanded to avoid disqualification in future elections.
This shocked the protest movement and even the Hong Kong government itself. The laws took effect on July 1st. The same day, a motorcyclist waving a “Liberate Hong Kong” flag rammed a group of police officers during a protest. This glorious example of cannon fodder became the first person to be charged with the new laws.
My analysis: “They done played themselves”
Chinese officials let on that they began work on the new laws in November, when the university sieges showed Hong Kong’s inability to address the unrest even after the extradition bill was killed. The decision was reaffirmed by the appearance of secession slogans in 2020. It appears that the protest movement made a strategic mistake and gambled too hard when they could have claimed victory in 2019.
In hindsight, people really should’ve stopped rioting when the extradition bill was withdrawn. Now all they have to show for it is a National Security Law that specifically targets them.
What it means to me, personally:
In a move that surprised even myself, numerous businesses have renounced their membership of the “Yellow Economic Circle.” Once Covid-19 is in better shape, I can finally plan my next trip and not have to worry about where to eat. I still have to watch my mouth in public, but hopefully that changes soon too.
I’m not a fan of new laws, and I’m sure none of you are either. But they are just tools that I hope will be used sparingly and for the greater good of a traumatised community.
I know that American and European news present a very different, simplified narrative of the events in Hong Kong. Even if you don’t agree with my take, I hope you can at least see that it comes from honest thought that I put, every day, into a place that I hold dear.
Let Hong Kong heal.