Hong Kong Protests Continue, Paralyzing Transportation And Economy

As the Hong Kong protests continue unabated into their tenth week and beyond, the city’s transportation and economy have taken weighty blows. Bloomberg reports that the MSCI Hong Kong Index has experienced its longest loss streak since the 1980s, while aviation worker strikes cancelled over 200 flights and protesters consistently block trains by holding open the doors. The police and governmental response has remained unbending; around 420 protesters have been arrested since the protests’ June inception, well over 100 of these on August 5th alone, according to the Hong Kong police. Protesters and other civilians frequently encounter tear gas deployed by the police and roving anti-protest groups wielding bamboo, much to the implicit approval of a government that hopes the public approval and momentum of the unrest will wane. The incendiary protests, which have started fires and trashed government buildings, rely on a decentralization and attrition by sheer numbers. There is no central governing body controlling disruptive activities; the operational philosophy is to “be water”, a Bruce Lee quote modified to entail that protests should flow and adapt without hierarchy. Most recently, protesters have initiated a sit-in at the Hong Kong International Airport, occupying public sections of the airport.

Both China and the Hong Kong government have remained adamant in the face of the protests. Carrie Lam said of the violence of the protests, “This is something that we should seriously condemn because nothing is more important than the rule of law in Hong Kong.” China has been more threatening, its spokesman Yang Guang saying of the protesters, “We would like to make it clear to the very small group of unscrupulous and violent criminals and the dirty forces behind them: Those who play with fire will perish by it”. Guang has strongly insinuated a possible Chinese response to the protests.

The intended outcome of the Hong Kong government’s strategy, reliant on the protests naturally running out of steam, has not yet come to fruition, suggesting that some compromise is warranted. The protesters have generally rallied around five central demands, none of which have been fully fulfilled in their eyes, and several of which have been fully rejected. These main demands are: the resignation of Chief Executive Carrie Lam, the exculpation of all arrested protesters, an independent inquiry into governmental and police conduct, the complete elimination of all consideration of the extradition bill, which would have allowed China to extradite suspected criminals that had fled to Hong Kong, and the cessation of government references to the protests as riots. The Hong Kong government has tabled the extradition bill – Carrie Lam considers it “dead” – although protesters evidently do not believe this to be sufficient. As for the other demands, Carrie Lam remains in office, and the police have not absolved the arrested or ceased referring to the protests as riots. Perhaps most controversially, the Chinese government abnegated any possibility of an independent inquiry. This last demand possesses the most widespread support, including from other nations, and would constitute a productive first step towards a civil reconciliation.

The protests originally began on June 9th when Hong Kong unveiled the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Bill, perceived by residents of Hong Kong as a violation of the standing “one country, two system” principle behind the relationship of the two entities. Chinese advocates argued that the bill would ensure the rule of law, since criminals could not then flee the Chinese mainland and take shelter in Hong Kong.  Even after the bill was tabled merely days later following widespread outrage, the protests continued to balloon outwards into a general expression of negative sentiment towards Chinese rule.

Mainstream media depictions of the Hong Kong protests have largely provided little specificity regarding the motives of the many protesters themselves. Whether this is because the entire affair is a demonstration of ineffable rage without an exact goal or because the protesters have concrete aims that have been stifled or ignored by the outside world, hopefully the protests can yield some clear, tangible, and actionable aims. One can only imagine what other nations could produce with a citizenry so heavily invested in its politics. Those outside of Hong Kong should remain vigilant; these protests deserve attention and a proper response.