HONG KONG PROTEST MONITOR 23 October 2020
THE SITUATION NOW
This reporting cycle (16-22 October) saw a marginal uptick in street-level protest activities from the previous period. There were four significant events, including a protest to show solidarity with Thai pro-democracy activists pushing for reforms in Thailand.
On Monday (19 October), separate rallies were held at the International Finance Center (IFC) and outside the Royal Thai Consulate-General in Central district, Hong Kong Island. A well-known activist called ‘David’ appeared at the atrium of the IFC with another activist. Police arrived to escort David and the other activist
The local pro-democracy activist known as ‘David’ held a protest inside the atrium of the International Finance Center (IFC) mall, Central district, Hong Kong Island. Based on images posted on social media, David was accompanied by a female activist. The protest was organised to show solidarity with the pro-democracy protesters in Thailand. He was later taken to a Hong Kong police station, but it is uncertain if he was formally charged with anything.
David holding Thai solidarity protest at IFC mall, 19 October 2020
Later in the afternoon, ten pro-democracy activists rallied peacefully outside the Royal Thai Consulate-General, Central district, Hong Kong Island. Joshua Wong and lawmaker Ted Hui were among the protesters who there to condemn the Thai authorities’ crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in Bangkok over the weekend (17-18 October). There was a significant police presence as protesters chanted slogans to show solidarity with Thai activists. In a related development, videos have spread online of Thai pro-democracy activists chanting slogans in solidarity with Hong Kong protesters during demonstrations in Bangkok on Sunday (18 October). Hong Kong pro-democracy activists have encouraged the signing of petitions in support of the demonstrations in Thailand, including a petition for the German government to declare Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn a persona non grata in Germany, his preferred country of residence.
Hong Kong newspaper Apple Daily on 19 October announced that it is seeking an injunction to halt police inspection of all materials taken from its newsroom during a police raid in August. The newspaper has filed for the injunction over accusations that the police have begun examining the materials before they obtained court instructions on how to do so.
Apple Daily’s legal actions against the Hong Kong police are likely to be closely followed by pro-democracy activists, due to newspaper owner Jimmy Lai’s prominent role in the pro-democracy movement. Court decisions deemed by activists to be unfavourable towards the newspaper are likely to trigger street-level protest activity. Previous demonstrations inspired by the Apple Daily newspaper have used the publication as a prop, and have caused a heightened police presence. Anticipate localised travel disruption in the event of such rallies.
Then on Tuesday (20 October), David held a ‘Lunch with You’ protest at the Kowloon Commerce Centre (KCC), Kwai Chung, New Territories, where he read a copy of the Apple Daily newspaper. David holds similar protests on a weekly basis as a symbolic gesture protesting the Hong Kong government’s suppression of freedom of speech, assembly and press. This protest was held peacefully amid a police presence, who later escorted him away.
‘Captain America’ being escorted by police at YOHO Mall, 21 October 2020
On Wednesday (21 October), another local activist named ‘Second Generation Captain America’ held a solo protest at the atrium of YOHO Mall, Yuen Long district, New Territories. His protest was held to commemorate the ’721 Yuen Long attacks’ of 2019, when alleged white-clad triad members attacked anti-extradition protesters and non-activist commuters at Yuen Long MTR Station. On the 21st of every month, there is an event held to memorialise that event. Prior to the event on 21 October, police had deployed to the station to prevent a gathering, even intercepting suspected activists during the operation. Captain America was detained at the mall and escorted from the premise.
There were no other significant pro-democracy rallies or gatherings during this cycle. See details below.
Geopolitics and the local implications
On Friday (16 October), United States National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said that Hong Kongers wishing to flee the territory over China’s imposition of the national security law are welcome to come to the US. In related developments, Beijing issued multiple warnings to the US that it may detain the latter’s citizens in China in response to the US Department of Justice’s (DOJ) prosecution of Chinese military-affiliated scholars in the US, The Wall Street Journal reported on Saturday (17 October).
The report, which cites unnamed people familiar with the matter, says that Beijing has demanded the US ends prosecutions of Chinese scholars in US courts. If Washington does not comply, Beijing has reportedly threatened to detain US citizens in China. The developments come after three Chinese scholars were arrested in the US in July for allegedly concealing their membership of China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in their visa applications.
The Wall Street Journal’s claims are assessed as credible, particularly given past actions, statements, and policies of both countries. Even prior to these latest reports, citizens of the US and other Western countries have been on high alert to the possibility of arbitrary detention or so-called exit bans when seeking to leave China. While this has been a longstanding practice, concern has grown since the high-profile detention of two Canadian citizens – Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor – in China in December 2018 on espionage charges. Beijing, meanwhile, views Canada’s arrest of Chinese telecoms giant Huawei’s CFO Meng Wanzhou as an arbitrary detention. Furthermore, it has strongly criticised a recent US decision to revoke visas for more than 1,000 Chinese nationals perceived to pose a security risk. While the resolution of high-profile cases could prompt a slight decrease in tensions over arbitrary arrests, longstanding concerns in Washington over Chinese intellectual property (IP) theft mean that the detention of Chinese nationals in the US is likely to continue or increase in the medium-to-long term outlook. In turn, this will likely lead Beijing to increase its scrutiny of foreign nationals, particularly of major Western political, economic, and military powers, likely resulting in more frequent visa denials as well as periodic detentions of Western citizens in China, including Hong Kong.
A 22-year-old Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) student was given political asylum in Germany, according to an announcement on 19 October by Haven Assistance, an alliance established by exiled Hong Kongers. Germany’s granting asylum to the CUHK student is likely to encourage other European governments to extend similar support to Hong Kongers wishing to flee the territory. Given the recent censure by Cong Peiwu, China’s ambassador to Canada, of Canada’s granting of asylum to a Hong Kong protester couple, a similar response is likely to follow by Beijing against Germany and its citizens in Hong Kong. This would be in keeping with China’s current pursuit of so-called ‘wolf-warrior’ diplomacy, in which Chinese diplomats take a more confrontational approach when dealing with foreign countries. This could incite diplomatic retaliation, which may give the German government impetus to consider sanctions against China over its treatment of pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong. Likely due to pro-democracy activists’ recent online campaigns urging support of the petition, the petition has exceeded the threshold of 50,000 signatures by the deadline on Tuesday (20 October). This means the petition will have to be reviewed by the German government.
On the same day, Hong Kong’s chief secretary for administration, Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, accused Germany of foreign interference in the territory’s internal affairs after the German government granted the political asylum. Kin-chung’s accusations and condemnation of the German government are another escalatory step in this growing diplomatic dispute. Another potential escalation that will lead to more palpable actions is the German parliament’s possible consideration into reviewing a petition by activists urging stronger intervention. Recently, that petition surpassed the 50,000-signature threshold that mandates the government to table it for discussion. One possible outcome would be the decision to impose targeted sanctions against the Hong Kong and Chinese governments, significant public figures and security officials, and businesses. In such a scenario, retaliation is a very credible and viable threat to German organisations and citizens, including dual nationals.
Operational implications from COVID-19
COVID-19 developments impacting the airline industry featured prominently over the monitoring cycle.
Cathay Pacific Airlines laid off thousands of employees and halted the operations of its subsidiary Cathay Pacific Airlines on Thursday (22 October). Labour unions condemned the move, accusing the airline of being not transparent.
Later in the day, four unionised Cathay Pacific employees held a demonstration outside the airline’s headquarters in Cathay Pacific City, Lantau Island. They were there to condemn the mass layoff of airline employees and the company’s halting of operations of its subsidiary, Cathay Dragon Airlines. The event was held peacefully. The airline, despite receiving a cash injection for relief from the Hong Kong government, has been the victim of slumping industry that has been significantly impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. There is a good possibility of more similar rallies and possible industrial action related to this issue, especially if supporting companies such as in catering and baggage handling, among others, are compelled lay off employees in large numbers.
On Thursday (22 October), the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) registered 11 new confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) cases, including 10 imported and 1 local with an unknown source. Nine cases were Hong Kong citizens who recently returned from Nepal and the other was a returnee from Pakistan. It is understood that the repatriates from Nepal had all taken Nepal Airlines flight RA4099, and as a result, the Hong Kong civil aviation authorities placed a 14-day ban on Nepal Airlines from entering the territory.
THE WEEK AHEAD
As of 23 October, there have been no public announcements of planned demonstrations over the current reporting period. This should in no way be interpreted as a week-long pause in protests for the upcoming week nor taken as an overall regression in intent.
Firstly, the ongoing political demonstrations taking place in Thailand has garnered Hong Kong activist sentiment and attention, inspiring the latter to mobilise at the street level and online. Further solidarity mobilisations are likely over the coming week. Secondly, the ramping up of geopolitical tensions between the Hong Kong and Beijing governments with the West and Taiwan is raising the prospects of retaliation against the latter’s presence in Hong Kong. This could mostly likely manifest as protests outside diplomatic missions by pro-Beijing groups.
Broadly speaking and more importantly, the underlying structures and issues that motivate the activist movement have not fundamentally changed despite the pandemic and the NSL. The activists and government remain locked in stalemate, and both parties are more consistent in their resolve in undermining each other’s legitimacy, crowding out the prospects of dialogue. As long as these underlying factors remain in place, civil unrest will remain a prominent feature in the threat landscape of the territory.
In the geopolitical sphere, the US-China diplomatic tensions continue to ratchet up, particularly after Beijing threatened arbitrary detention of American citizens. While many of the expatriate workforce have returned to their home domiciles due to the pandemic, those still remaining, particularly Americans, should consider themselves under surveillance and under potential detention threat. A relatively uncomplicated response by Beijing is to orchestrate a demonstration outside the Hong Kong consulate as a symbolic gesture.
See details of upcoming protests below.
No protests have been scheduled for the current reporting period as of compiling this situation report.
PROTEST CHRONOLOGY 16 – 22 October
Monday 19 October
1315: The local pro-democracy activist known as ‘David’ held a protest inside the atrium of the International Finance Center (IFC) mall, Central district, Hong Kong Island. Based on images posted on social media, ‘David’ was accompanied by a female activist. The protest was organised to show solidarity with the pro-democracy protesters in Thailand.
1500: Pro-democracy activists held a rally outside the Royal Thai Consulate-General, Central district, Hong Kong Island, to show their solidarity for demonstrations taking place Bangkok. The event was held and dispersed peacefully.
Tuesday 20 October
1315: ‘David’ appeared at the Kowloon Commerce Centre (KCC), Kwai Chung, New Territories held a ‘Lunch with You’ protest where he read a copy of the Apple Daily newspaper. Police escorted ‘David’ away from the KCC peacefully.
Thursday 22 October
1300: Four unionised Cathay Pacific employees held a demonstration outside the airline’s headquarters in Cathay Pacific City, Lantau Island. They were there to condemn the mass layoff of airline employees and the company’s halting of operations of its subsidiary, Cathay Dragon Airlines. The event was held peacefully.
1900: A local activist named ‘Second Generation Captain America’ held a solo protest at the atrium of YOHO Mall, Yuen Long district, New Territories. Police set up a security cordon and threatened non-activist observers with arrest had they not dispersed. Police detained and escorted ‘Captain America’ from the mall.