Last weekend, riot police clashed with hundreds of thousands of protestors in Hong Kong as they protested against a new law that will allow extraditions to China, among other jurisdictions. According to the Guardian, this law threatens Hong Kong’s current status as a safe haven for political opponents of the ruling Communist party in mainland China and erodes Hong Kong’s sovereignty. The Wall Street Journal reports that protests have sprung for the second weekend in a row, the third time overall, amassing a crowd of an estimated 2 million protestors. Protestors marched against both the bill itself and the violent treatment of protestors in the previous week, according to reporting by CNN.
The repeated protests have garnered international attention, with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo telling Fox News, “We’re watching the people in Hong Kong speak about the things they value,” and promising that President Donald Trump would discuss the protests with Chinese President Xi Jinping later this month at the Group of 20 summit in Japan. Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, apologised for mishandling the bill and infinitely suspended work on it, but General-Secretary Lee Cheuk-yan of the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions told the Wall Street Journal, “Carrie’s apology is totally insincere when there are no responses to the concrete demands of the people.” Among these demands is an apology from the police, who previously used excessive force against the crowds, and the release of protestors arrested in earlier demonstrations.
Despite being largely peaceful, CNN reports that a protest last week was responded to with tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets to clear participants from the streets surrounding the legislature. Some protesters responded by throwing bricks at police officers. According to the South China Morning Post, at least 80 people were harmed in the violence including 22 officers. So far, neither side has apologized, with protestors doubling down on their complaint and incorporating their demand for an apology into the protest. Any use violence undermines the government’s apology for creating discontent and likewise undermines the peaceful protest in response to a threat against the fair prosecution of arrested individuals within the country.
As a special administrative region of China, Hong Kong operates its own legal system. However, the passage of this bill threatens their independent jurisdiction and puts the fate of people arrested in Hong Kong in the hands of mainland China. China has recently made other moves to remind Hong Kong of its presence among tensions in the region over Taiwan and the South China Sea. CNN reports that last year, China spent $20 billion building the world’s longest sea-crossing bridge between itself and Hong Kong, prompting one lawmaker it call it Hong Kong’s “umbilical cord.” This similar action drew crowds out to protest three times so far: once last Sunday, the following Wednesday and finally again this Sunday. CNN reports it was on Wednesday that police began to use violence to clear protesters from the streets.
It is currently unclear what Hong Kong’s legislature will do to respond to protestors’ demands. They ask for the bill to be dropped, for the police to apologize and for Carrie Lam to resign over her continued support for the bill. If further protest does occur, it is important for the government moving forward to respect the rights of citizens to peacefully protest, and should make an effort to address these concerns, rather than authorizing violence and failing to engage with the core demands.