Key figures from the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement were arrested on Friday, in the latest sign that China is increasingly determined to clamp down on demonstrations, ahead of a thirteenth straight week of protests. Among the 28 people who were arrested, was 23-year-old Joshua Wong, a key leader of the “umbrella movement’ in 2014, and Agnes Chow, both members of the Demosisto party in Hong Kong, which advocates for self-determination. Speaking to the media after his release on bail, Wong stated that until the Chinese authorities adhered to the demands of protesters, which are focused on the withdrawal of the extradition treaty, an end to police brutality, and free and fair elections, “we shall keep on our fight. We shall not surrender.”
The arrests of the two high profile individuals, who have not played a prominent role in the demonstrations as of yet, is being seen as an attempt by the Chinese authorities to dissuade Hong Kong citizens from attending further demonstrations being held this coming Saturday, which mark the five-year anniversary since China began to dismantle democratic reforms in the region. In a discussion with the Guardian, Professor Kenneth Chan of Hong Kong Baptist University said the arrests of the key figures, on “unlawful assembly” charges, was aimed at intimidation, and that they were “part and parcel of a new round of oppression against the movement.”
Whilst this tactic, arresting high-profile suspects, may prove effective in the short term, there is no escaping that it is only a makeshift solution. The arrests may succeed in scaring people away from attending the protests, but they will likely only ingrain an already entrenched feeling of disillusionment with the Chinese government. Speaking to the Guardian, Claudia Mo, a member of the Hong Kong legislative council, stated that the government’s heavy-handed reaction could be “adding more fuel to the fire.” She is certainly right, in that the arrests pose serious questions over the future of the freedom of expression in Hong Kong, a freedom which the region has long been able to cherish. Although in this case, the arrests can be construed as being a political tactic by the Hong Kong authorities, they still nonetheless serve as a dangerous precedent and are a tactic which the citizens of Hong Kong are unlikely to take kindly to.
The news of the arrests came just hours before it was reported by Reuters, that the Chinese government had rejected Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam’s requests to drop the extradition bill, and had told her to not give in to any of the protesters demands. Although China’s influence on Hong Kong’s affairs had been widely acknowledged before the story broke, the extent to which the policies pursued by the Hong Kong authorities are in effect due to the decisions made in Beijing is likely to lead to further calls for Lam’s resignation.
Hong Kong’s relationship with mainland China has been strained in the last few years, with the Umbrella movement in 2014, occurring after Beijing announced they would be vetting all the candidates for the 2017 elections. The latest string of protests began as a result of the unpopularity of the extradition bill, which would have allowed those suspected of crimes against the mainland to be extradited, a policy which critics argued disregarded Hong Kong’s independent judiciary system. Since then, the protests have morphed into a much broader dissatisfaction at the Chinese government’s growing presence in the region.
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