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Hong Kong police have fired rounds of tear gas at demonstrators as the tenth week of protests in the city intensifies, with violent clashes occurring. Reuters News Agency claimed its reporters in the Wan Chai district saw two petrol bombs thrown by protestors – causing small fires – whilst police used tear gas volleys and were seen beating protestors with batons. A more subdued sit-in protest in Hong Kong’s airport also stretches into its third day.
These protests and the political unrest in Hong Kong began with a widespread rejection of an extradition bill that has since been suspended, but has now morphed into a wider call for more political freedoms in the city. The key demands of protestors are the resignation of the city’s leader, Carrie Lam, democratic elections and an investigation into the police’s use of force following violence at various demonstrations.
Despite violent repression, protestors stress their determination and insist they have no plans to back down. Louisa Ho, a woman who took part in the demonstrations, said, “We hope the world knows that Hong Kong is not the Hong Kong it used to be, China is doing more and more to pressure Hong Kong, its people and its organizations.” Meanwhile, a 20 year old added, “There is no chance of [us] retreating, and as a Hongkonger, this is the last hope we see of being able to achieve democracy.” A common chant heard ringing out amongst protestors: “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time.”
However, Carrie Lam – the city’s leader – continues to rule out granting any of the protestors demands arguing that these people are causing the city to suffer, stressing her key priority is to stop the unrest that she claims has hurt the city’s economy. Whilst many in Hong Kong appear to support protestors, with hundreds of thousands of ordinary people turning out for peaceful marches, Lam argues that these protestors are largely violent radicals who have taken advantage of a civil disobedience movement. She says, “Every person who cherishes Hong Kong and loves peace should work hard together and safeguard our beautiful home.” Here, she is calling on people to end the protests for the ‘good’ of Hong Kong.
The strong feelings of anger among protestors over their lack of democratic expression is clear, and police brutality is also reflected in their determination and persistence. Carrie Lam’s reaction continues to fuel anger further, with a failure to recognize any worthy argument the protestors may have. China’s reaction further cements the concern of the demonstrators, warning that it might be losing patience with the ‘colour revolution,’ as they refer to it. They stressed that those who play with fire must not mistake Beijing’s restraint for weakness, and that they will eventually be punished.
A core issue behind the anger of demonstrators that was brought out when initial outrage began over the extradition bill is the supposed ‘one country, two systems’ model in which Hong Kong operates within China. This is meant to secure them various autonomous political and legal systems and is set to last until 2047, but many feel this is under threat – which has perhaps only been confirmed by China’s reactions towards the events in Hong Kong. In addition, in the past few years the Hong Kong government has banned activists from running for office, prohibited a political party and jailed pro-democracy leaders; it seems clear Hong Kong’s independence has entered uncertain times.
With protestors remaining determined in their fight and the Hong Kong government continuing in their refusal to recognize their legitimate demands, the situation in Hong Kong continues to look uncertain. Further, Beijing’s reaction in viewing these protests as a threat to its power – as a ‘colour revolution’ – means it is possible they may even authorize military action, which would lead to a complete degradation of their prior agreement with Hong Kong and would shatter even the minimal amount of independence Hong Kong may have left. The rights of protestors and the lives of the citizens of Hong Kong must be of the utmost concern looking ahead as we, the international community, observes.