HONG KONG PROTEST MONITOR 13 November 2020
THE SITUATION NOW
The amount of significant protests over the previous monitoring cycle (6-12 November) saw eight incidents take place, marking a continuation in incident numbers from the previous period (30 October-5 November). Protests and related activities also broadly kept with familiar thematic trends over the previous four cycles, mainly commemorating significant dates in the activist calendar. This cycle saw activist focus on the remembrance of the deaths of two pro-democracy activists.
On Sunday (8 November), more than 100 activists gathered at the Popcorn Shopping Mall, Tseung Kwan O, New Territories, where they commemorated the deaths of two pro-democracy activists, who passed away in 2019. A similar memorial gathering was held at the Sheung Tak Car Park, Tseung Kwan O, New Territories.
Both of these events were to commemorate the deaths of Chan Yin-lam and Chow Tzs-lok. The former’s corpse was found on 22 September 2019. Activists accuse the Hong Kong police of murdering her for taking part in demonstrations in 2019. The other commemoration was for Chow, who passed away on 8 November 2019 in Tseung Kwan O. Chow is believed to be the first casualty linked to pro-democracy demonstrations. Though a police investigation concluded that the police could not have pushed Chow off the Sheung Tak Car Park from which he fell to his death, the claim alleging police involvement gained significant traction among activists. The outcome of the upcoming coroner’s inquest into the cause of Chow’s death on 16 November is likely to be closely followed by activists, who may protest if results are deemed inaccurate or biased in favour of the police.
Similar commemoration events occurred in Aberdeen and at the University of Science and Technology, which was Chow’s alma mater, though the latter event was only open to staff and students. Additionally, student group Student Politicism created a street stand in Causeway Bay to accumulate symbolic paper cranes made by residents, bringing approximately 600 to the carpark in the Sunday evening.
Hong Kong police on Monday (9 November) arrested the former assistant of a Sha Tin district councillor on suspicion of aiding Tony Chung in an attempt to flee after Chung was arrested under the national security law (NSL). Chung is an ex-member of the disbanded pro-independence group Student Localism. Activist members on social media announced that national security officers arrested another ex-member named Tim Luk.
Continued actions against Student Localism and their associates are likely to intensify concerns over freedoms in Hong Kong under the NSL. Chung’s recent arrest was condemned by Washington, and the arrest of the former assistant of the district councillor is likely to trigger further condemnation, as well as potential street-level protest activities by pro-democracy activists in solidarity with Chung.
Also on 9 November, 19 Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers threatened mass resignations after reports in local media revealed that Beijing intends to disqualify four opposition legislators accused by pro-Beijing politicians of filibustering meetings potentially in breach of their oaths of office.
Pro-democracy lawmakers hold 19 seats in the territory’s 70-seat legislature. Their threats underscore concerns that the local government, supported by Beijing, is campaigning against those in the Legislative Council (LegCo) that are supportive of the pro-democracy movement. The development comes after eight well-known pro-democracy lawmakers were on 1-2 November arrested over their alleged role in a demonstration in the LegCo in May 2020. A disqualification of the four opposition politicians, as well as any signs that the cases against the eight pro-democracy lawmakers undermine the judiciary’s impartiality or reveal pressure from Beijing will intensify already high levels of concern over the future of Hong Kong’s legal environment and its suitability for local and foreign commercial interests.
On Wednesday (11 November), the local activist known as ‘David’ appeared at The Cenotaph (Hong Kong) in Central district and at the Sai Wan Ho Lennon Wall on Hong Kong Island, where he read copies of the Apple Daily newspaper. There were no reports of any arrests or localised travel disruption. Later in the afternoon, David appeared at another solo protest at the Chinese University of Hong Kong bus stop, Sha Tin district, New Territories. He read a copy of the Apple Daily newspaper. There were no reports of any arrests or localised travel disruption at the abovementioned venues. Separately, dozens of pro-democracy activists held two separate commemoration gatherings at Shanghai Street and Portland Street at Langham Place Shopping Centre in Mong Kok district, Kowloon, and Sha Tin Town Hall Plaza, Sha Tin district, New Territories. There were no reports of any arrests or localised travel disruption.
The Hong Kong administration on 11 November ordered the expulsion of four pro-democracy politicians from the territory’s Legislative Council (LegCo) shortly after the government in Beijing passed a motion to permit such an action without recourse to legal review. The disqualification of Kenneth Leung, Dennis Kwok, Alvin Yeung and Kwok Ka-ki for their alleged support for Hong Kong independence, collusion with unnamed foreign forces and unspecified threats to national security cannot be challenged in the local courts. The remaining democratic LegCo members are expected to fulfil a pledge made on Monday to resign en masse if any were disqualified, leaving Hong Kong a de facto one-party political entity in line with China.
China’s decision to sanction the removal of Hong Kong politicians deemed ‘unpatriotic’ greatly undermines, if not ends, the territory’s autonomy seemingly guaranteed under the Basic Law accord agreed between Beijing and London in negotiations ahead of the then British colony’s reversion to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. The implications of this loss of status is set to have a profound impact on how Hong Kong is now treated by its major trading partners in North America, Europe and Oceania. Beijing’s intervention and the overriding of Hong Kong’s legal system will also further erode foreign companies’ confidence and legal ability to operate in the territory. However, it is unlikely that the removal of pro-democracy legislators will trigger new and widespread protests while increasing the tempo of human and capital flight.
There were no other significant pro-democracy rallies or gatherings during this cycle. See details below.
Geopolitics and the local implications
The Hong Kong government on Friday (6 November) condemned a US congressional report released on Wednesday (4 November) that claimed that human rights in Hong Kong quickly worsened after the implementation of the NSL. The government warned the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China not to interfere with Hong Kong affairs, and denied allegations made in the report.
There are legitimate concerns that the US congressional report and Hong Kong government’s backlash towards may trigger demonstrations and boycotts against US interests by local pro-Beijing groups. Although the victory of Joe Biden in the US elections is likely to involve a softening of Washington’s stance towards China, actions by incumbent President Donald Trump in the wake of electoral defeat could see him invoke harmful executive orders or inflammatory rhetoric via a surrogate such as a family member or the US State Department that will further ratchet up tensions. At this stage, Beijing and Hong Kong have shown measured restraint in terms of retaliation and will likely continue to do so until the commencement of the next administration or equally withdraw them altogether.
The Taiwan-Hong Kong Service and Exchange Office, created to aid Hongkongers applying for asylum in Taiwan follow the imposition of the NSL, has received more than 1,600 phone and email enquiries since its inception in July, according to a report by Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council. The council on Monday also said that the government will continue to protect Hong Kongers’ rights and interests.
The announcements by Taiwan regarding the volume of asylum applications and continued solidarity with Hong Kongers is unsurprising considering the NSL represents a paradigmatic shift and existential threat to Hong Kong’s democracy. The applications, in combination with previous demonstrations in Taiwan in solidarity with Hong Kong pro-democracy activists, are likely to increase diplomatic and economic pressure on Taipei from Beijing.
The US Treasury Department on Monday announced the sanctioning of four more people over alleged involvement in China’s crackdown on dissenting voices in Hong Kong.
The US sanctions add to a mounting list of events that continue to strain relations with the Beijing and Hong Kong governments. However, the latter two have shown a considerable amount of patience and measured restraint in executing punitive retaliation. The messaging from Beijing has been consistent in recent months, likely driven by deeper concerns over its status as a global manufacturing hub against the backdrop economic contraction driven by the global pandemic, that it is willing to have a more conciliatory approach to address the trade dispute with the US. Signs are moderately positive that the incoming administration of President-Elect Joe Biden, who has a proven track record of consensus building, will reset relationships with both while concurrently not appearing weak against them.
Hong Kong’s de facto opposition lawmakers formally resigned from the territory’s Legislative Council (LegCo) on Thursday 12 November in protest over the expulsion of four of their colleagues the previous day by the local administration, widely viewed as acting on instructions from Beijing. Foreign countries with traditionally close ties to Hong Kong criticised the removal of the four lawmakers, with US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien warning the ‘one country, two systems’ formula that served as the basis of post-colonial governance in the territory ‘is now merely a fig leaf covering for the CCP’s [Chinese Communist Party] expanding one-party dictatorship in Hong Kong.’ The UK and EU issued similar condemnation over Hong Kong’s now de facto one-party rule status, which brings it into line with China’s governing model.
Foreign pressure to date has had little to no impact on Beijing’s decision to suppress what it views as ‘unpatriotic’ opponents in Hong Kong. A range of options for imposing state-backed formal sanctions on Hong Kong and China exist. At present, sanctions will unlikely go beyond adding individuals deemed responsible for the removal of the legislators to a previous list linked to the introduction of China’s national security law in the territory. Foreign, and many local, commercial interests based in or dependent on Hong Kong, primarily for its access to China, will now assess whether and how they can continue to operate in the territory amid countervailing pressures from Beijing and their home governments and markets. The erosion of confidence in the territory’s future role, coupled with concerns over the future of its crucial legal system and its ability to retain a talented and educated local workforce, will now determine Hong Kong’s long-term economic viability.
Operational implications from COVID-19
On Thursday (12 November), the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) recorded 23 confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) cases, including 16 imported cases. The imported cases included repatriated citizens who arrived on flights from India (x1), Nepal (x6), Philippines (x1), Turkey (x2), UK (x1), US (x1), Sweden (x1) and Germany (x1). Two cases were seafarers arriving from India. One local case should be highlighted.
A 42-year-old Hong Kong citizen, who is employed at the Kowloon Bay International Trade & Exhibition Centre, reportedly visited several restaurants and schools while infected. Those locations include: Golden Sand Restaurant, Ivy Street in Tai Kok Tsui (Kowloon), Yuen Long Bistro at Prince Edward (Kowloon), Richland Shopping Arcade in Tuen Mun (New Territories), and the Sino Industrial Centre and Taiwan Kitchen at E-Max International Trade and Exhibition Centre, 1 Trademart Dr (Kowloon Bay). He also visited the Learning Habitat Kindergarten in Tsing Yi (Tsing Yi Island), Kwok Tak Seng Catholic Secondary School in Sha Tin (New Territories), Lei Muk Shue Catholic Primary Schools and the Christian Alliance International School (New Territories). Authorities believe he visited these place between 9 and 26 November.
Seven new locally transmitted cases were also recorded, including four taxi drivers. Six of the cases were untraceable, which has concerned public health specialists as the pattern of infection closely resembles the start of the territory’s so-called ‘Covid third wave’ that resulted in the rapid spread of the disease followed by the reimposition of social distancing and related measures.
The new cases coincide with the announcements that Hong Kong and Singapore plan to resume limited quarantine-free air travel from 22 November based on a maximum of 200 passengers on a single flight from each locations a day. This tentative reopening of air services could be quickly halted if the number of cases in Hong Kong or Singapore increase markedly in the coming week or so. The Hong Kong government has already extended existing social distancing measures due to expire on Thursday for a further week due to the number of untraceable local infections.
THE WEEK AHEAD
The current monitoring period (13-19 November) will see a significant retraction in scheduled protests with only one planned on Sunday (15 November). Details are quite limited, but based on available information so far, pro-democracy activists are planning on holding a rally under the banner ‘Watching Sand Ridge with You’ rally. Timings, type of protest activity and venues have not been made available. Expect these details to available on the day, possibly about 1-2 hours before the event. In the coming days, the activist known as David is likely to continue with his protests at various places throughout the territory. His events attract a significant amount of media attention, but very limited public engagements from fellow activists.
In the geopolitical sphere, it is very likely that the incoming administration of President-Elect Joe Biden will keep a low key with respect to announcing formalised policies on China and Hong Kong, especially as the current administration is likely withholding valuable information that presents a more accurate picture on the state of relations. There is also likely to be consideration that any announcements of China and Hong Kong-related policies risks stimulating potentially harmful reactions from the current administration.
The aforementioned developments in the LegCo will have more salience to foreign companies operating in the territory, many of which have been re-evaluating their future strategies in light of the implementation of the NSL and the sustainability of the current legal system. Monitoring related developments over the next week and beyond will be critical for foreign organisations.
See details of upcoming protests below.
Sunday 15 November
1500-1600: Pro-democracy activists are planning to hold a rally under the banner ‘Watching Sand Ridge with You’. There are very little details about this event, including venues and type of protest activity. These details are likely to be released on social media platforms on the day.
PROTEST CHRONOLOGY 6 – 12 November
Sunday 8 November
1830-2200: Activists gathered at the Popcorn Shopping Mall, Tseung Kwan O, New Territories, where they commemorated the deaths of two pro-democracy activists, who passed away on 22 September 2019 and around 8 November 2019, respectively. There were no reports of any arrests or localised travel disruption.
1930-2030: Activists held a memorial gathering commemorating the one-year anniversary of two of the aforementioned pro-democracy activists. The event was held at the Sheung Tak Car Park, Tseung Kwan O, New Territories. Similar events were held at Aberdeen, Southern District, Hong Kong Island and at the University of Science and Technology, New Territories.
There were no reports of any arrests or localised travel disruption.
Wednesday 11 November
1330: Local activist, David, held a solo ‘Lunch with You’ protest at The Cenotaph (Hong Kong), Central district, Hong Kong Island, where he read a copy of the Apple Daily. There were no reports of any arrests or localised travel disruption.
1615: David then appeared at the Sai Wan Ho Lennon Wall, Hong Kong Island, where he read a copy of the Apple Daily newspaper. There were no reports of any arrests or localised travel disruption.
1730: David held another solo protest at the Chinese University of Hong Kong bus stop, Sha Tin district, New Territories. He read a copy of the Apple Daily newspaper. There were no reports of any arrests or localised travel disruption.
1930: Dozens of pro-democracy activists held two separate protests at Shanghai Street and Portland Street at Langham Place Shopping Centre in Mong Kok district, Kowloon, and Sha Tin Town Hall Plaza, Sha Tin district, New Territories. There were no reports of any arrests or localised travel disruption.