HONG KONG PROTEST MONITOR 27 November 2020

27 November 2020

THE SITUATION NOW

While overall protest incident volumes have generally declined or maintained a steady state of single-digit events during recent reporting periods, there was a notable uptick in activities this previous monitoring cycle (20-26 November). The relatively high event numbers, however, were not indicative of a revisit to mass mobilisations by Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement akin to 2019, but instead these events were spearheaded by the lone activist known as ‘David’. One exception was an event held on Sunday (22 November) by a local Hongkonger known as ‘Captain America’.

On 22 November, Captain America held a one-person protest at Popcorn Mall, Tseung Kwan O, New Territories, for a solo gathering titled, ‘Alex Chow Tsz-lok memorial service’. This was another event to commemorate the anniversary of the death local pro-democracy activists. This event focused on remembering Chow Tzk-lok, who died 15-months ago during an anti-extradition protest. Captain America chanted slogans while holding up his phone. Half an hour into the rally, police officers raised the purple flag and arrested the protester on suspicion of breaching the national security law (NSL).

Chow’s death is currently being investigated by the coroner’s office and being closely followed by activists, who may protest if results are deemed inaccurate or biased in favour of the police. The coroner’s conclusion will be made public by mid-December. Likely flashpoints for demonstrations include the West Kowloon Law Courts Building in Sham Shui Po, Kowloon, where the inquest is taking place, as well as Tseung Kwan O.           

Relatives and supporters of the 12 Hongkongers detained in mainland China on Saturday (21 November) held a demonstration on Kat O island, near the Chinese prison where the detainees have been practically silent for almost three months. They inflated and released blue and white balloons upon which the names of the detainees were written, chanted calls for their return, and held up banners. A Hong Kong police boat docked on the island, and police questioned and collected information on the reporters that were at the scene.

On Monday (23 November), a Hong Kong court ordered three high profile pro-democracy activists to be remanded in custody on charges related to a rally in June 2019. Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Ivan Lam pleaded guilty to charges of incitement to join an unauthorised assembly on 21 June outside the police headquarters in Hong Kong’s Wan Chai district. The protest, which included some damage to the police complex as well as blocked roads, had been organised in response to the local government’s since-abandoned extradition bill, a major trigger for months of unrest that culminated in China imposing its NSL in June 2020. All three are expected to be sentenced on 2 December.

Agnes Chow (left), Ivan Lam and Joshua Wong, 23 November 2020/Reuters

The detention of the three leading pro-democracy leaders, and a number of other lower-profile activists, will greatly broaden the view that the government in Beijing intends to use the full force of Hong Kong’s laws and its own NSL against those identified as leading opponents of its role and actions in the territory. Wong and Chow are among the most identifiable Hong Kong activists internationally, and their detention is certain to draw a response from many Western and some regional governments. Any action beyond rhetoric will depend on how the local judiciary assesses the case against them. Lengthy custodial sentences, for example, could result in further and broader sanctions against Hong Kong and also heighten concerns over the status of the judiciary. While large scale protests are unlikely when the verdict is announced, some forms of peaceful action are probable that are certain to be countered by the police.

On Tuesday (24 November) and Wednesday (25 November), David made numerous solo appearances throughout the territory for succinct demonstrations broadly aimed at highlighting suppression of democratic freedoms by the Hong Kong government. There were no reports of any arrests or local area travel disruption. See details in ‘Protest Chronology’ section below.

On 25 November, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam delivered her annual address, emphasising the territory’s increasingly close ties with mainland China and the measures intended to prevent any further political challenges to Beijing’s dominance. Lam also ascribed the prolonged and widespread protests that resulted in Beijing imposing its own NSL on Hong Kong to ‘ill-intentioned people influenced by external forces’ while blaming foreign governments for intensifying ‘their interference in Hong Kong’s affairs which are squarely China’s internal affairs, severely jeopardising our nation’s security.’

Chief Executive Carrie Lam delivers her annual address to the Legislative Council, 25 November 2020/Kin Cheung/AP

Lam’s address closely followed her visit to Beijing, indicating it followed China’s views on how Hong Kong will now be administered. Her assertion that the judiciary will remain independent remains to be tested, while more overt changes to the territory’s governance were made clear. The education system will be required to emphasise patriotism and nationalism, viewed as an important means to discourage the young from open dissent, while public service employees will be required to take loyalty oaths, possibly to China that could negate employment to foreign nationals.

Work on a multi-billion-dollar development project, previously delayed by scrutiny in the local legislature and ostensibly intended to help ease the housing shortage, will start and greatly benefit local and Chinese construction companies. Lam’s address offered few assurances or incentives for foreign companies. The effective end of disruption caused by protests is self-evident, if masked by the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Lam’s identification of unnamed ‘overseas influences’ raises the potential for reciprocal measures if foreign governments impose further sanctions on Hong Kong and China. Further, the introduction of ‘patriotic’ education is a key trigger for many local people with the skills and assets to leave Hong Kong, greatly diminishing the territory’s highly-skilled workforce.

On Thursday (26 November), Japanese retail store Don Don Donki in Hong Kong was been singled out on social media channels by the activist community as a ‘yellow’ or ‘pro-democracy’ shop. Activists made these claims based on a yellow bag with the message ‘If not now, then when?’ and ‘Add Oil’ which is being interpreted as endorsements for the pro-democracy movement.

Hong Kong’s activist community has pointed out that endorsement for the pro-democracy movement risks garnering the attention of the local authorities. And while Don Don Donki has not responded to the allegations, these concerns are indeed credible. Such endorsements, whether intentional or not, can be subject to the scrutiny of the Hong Kong government and punishable under the national NSL. Company marketing departments are advised to continually review any campaigns prior to release to ensure that they comply with the NSL and cannot be deemed to be infringing on political sensitivities.

There were no other significant pro-democracy rallies or gatherings during this cycle. See details below.

Geopolitics and the local implications

On 23 November, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said that the UK is considering removing its judges from the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal, the territory’s highest court, in response to China’s alleged breaches of its international duties for the territory as part of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration. Raab’s comments were part of a foreword in a six-monthly report on Hong Kong. The Hong Kong government responded by heavily criticising the accusations made in the report, while the Chinese foreign ministry’s commission in Hong Kong expressed ‘strong indignation’ at the report, according to Chinese state news agency Xinhua.

The report and Raab’s comments in particular are likely to increase bilateral tensions, while also underscoring concerns around changes to the legal system in Hong Kong. Several British and Canadian judges remain in Hong Kong’s court system, although questions have been raised over whether they should support the apparent formation of a hybrid legal system incorporating elements of the territory’s Common Law-based legal system and China’s administrative law.

The ramifications of such concerns for operations, which are likely to emerge in the three-month outlook, are likely to be carefully weighed by commercial interests in the territory. The development follows Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s revocation of Australian national James Spigelman’s appointment as a senior judge in the Court of Final Appeal in September 2020. Although local authorities and media reports had said that Spigelman resigned from his post without explanation, the move was accompanied by widespread speculation that Spigelman’s departure was the result of pressure from Beijing or his opposition towards the NSL.

Operational implications from COVID-19

On 23 November, Hong Kong recorded 73 new cases, the highest daily figure in about three months, including 50 linked to a growing number of nightclubs and dance venues.  At least 132 infections, eight untraceable, have now been linked to these establishments in recent days. A surge in unlinked and untraceable cases led to an at least two-week suspension on Saturday (21 November) of a planned ‘travel bubble’ between Hong Kong and Singapore, one day before the limited air service was due to start.

Under the accord between the territory and Singapore the ‘travel bubble’ is automatically halted for  two weeks if either administrations’  health service reports an average of five or more unlinked local transmissions per day. On Saturday, the Hong Kong authorities reported 13 unlinked cases out of 36 identified local transmissions. Coupled with Monday’s increase in infections this rise seemingly substantiates earlier warnings that a ‘fourth wave’ of infections has begun.

On 26 November, Hong Kong recorded 81 new COVID-19 cases, the third consecutive day the number of detected infections have exceeded 80. Many of the cases have been linked to territory’s dancing clubs, with at least 311 infections recorded at such venues over the past week or so.

In a related development, Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority issued a public apology in response to a technical fault with recent messaging about false COVID-19 test results to users of their app. Some 2,900 Hongkongers received the notifications since July, of which only six were found to have actually had positive results. Those six have been contacted and are in isolation and treatment.

 

THE WEEK AHEAD

There are a number of protests and related activities planned for Friday (27 November) spearheaded by David. Incident composition of his activities have remained relatively consistent. He is typically alone, holds a few signs, chants slogans, reads copies of the Apple Daily newspaper and answers any questions from passers-by. These are deliberate tactics that are tolerable to the authorities as evidenced by David’s ability to hold protests on a weekly basis.

While the authorities are broadly tolerant of David’s protests, the police usually set up roped cordons around him while dissuading onlookers to stop and participate. Despite this kind of low kinetic activity, David’s events have taken on more of a symbolic role. He has also garnered criticism from some corners of the public and activist movement for some of his tactics, but this criticism is very unlikely going to see him completely divorced from the overall movement, especially in the absence of mass mobilisations.

Undoubtedly, the vast majority of activists are still dissuaded by fears of arrest under the NSL and contraction of COVID-19. The combination of the two have restrained the movement from mobilising on the streets, and this will continue for the next week and very likely over the next 30-day monitoring cycle.

The COVID-19 situation is very much still dominating the operational environment in the territory, and is likely to do so over this current monitoring cycle. Hong Kong appears to be at the beginning stages of a ‘fourth wave’ of infections, and this will have implications on domestic and international mobility.

See details of upcoming protests below.

 

UPCOMING PROTESTS 27 November – 3 December

Friday 27 November

1300: The pro-democracy activist known as ‘David’ held a ‘Lunch with you and reading Apple Daily’ protest at the Cheung Chau Pier, Cheung Chau Island.

1500: David is scheduled to hold a protest at the Central Government Complex, Admiralty, Hong Kong Island, where he will submit a petition requesting the Education Bureau to suspend classes for schools and universities.

1600: David is scheduled to appear at the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Sai Ying Pun, Western district, Hong Kong Island, where he will participate and lead a ’12 Youths Prayer Meeting’.

1700: David is scheduled to appear at the Hong Kong Police Headquarters, Wan Chai district, Hong Kong Island, where he is expected to submit an invitation to meet the Commissioner of Police.

2000: Pro-democracy activists plan to hold a protest event at the central atrium of Olympian City Phase II in Tai Kok Tsui, central atrium of Langham Place shopping centre in Mong Kok, central atrium of apm shopping centre in Kwun Tong, Kowloon; and the central atrium at East Point City shopping centre, Tseung Kwan O, New Territories. These rallies are held under the banner, ‘Shout with you’.

Monday 30 November

1130: Activists are calling for a ‘national day’ of strike action on the eve of the 15-month anniversary of the ‘Prince Edward station attack’. Prince Edward MTR Station, Mong Kok, Kowloon, is a likely venue for this upcoming call to mobilise.

 

PROTEST CHRONOLOGY 20 – 26 November

Sunday 22 November

1500: ‘Captain America’ appeared at Popcorn Mall, Tseung Kwan O, New Territories, for a solo gathering titled, ‘Alex Chow Tsz-lok memorial service’.

Tuesday 24 November

1000: David held a ‘21-Jul reading newspaper with you’ protest at Yuen Long MTR station, Yuen Long, New Territories.

1130: David held a ‘‘Reading newspaper with you and support the protester’ demonstration at the Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre, New Kowloon.

1300: David held a ‘Lunch with you and reading newspaper with you in Kwun Tong’ demonstration inside the central atrium of apm shopping centre, Kwun Tong, Kowloon.

1430: David appeared at the Tseung Kwan O Police Station, Tseung Kwan O, New Territories for a protest dubbed, ‘Making enquires with you about the situation of the arrested’.

1545: David appeared at the Central Government Complex, Admiralty, Hong Kong Island, for a ‘Opposing of “Lantau Tomorrow Vision”’ protest.

1630: David appeared at the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Hong Kong Island, for a ‘12 Youths Prayer Meeting’ gathering.

1715: David held a protest at the International Finance Centre (IFC) mall, Central district, Hong Kong Island, titled, ‘Dinner with you in Central’

1830: David appeared at Maritime Square shopping and Cheung Fat Plaza shopping centre atrium, Tsing Yi, New Territories, for a protest called, ‘Dinner with you in Tsing Yi’.

Wednesday 25 November

0845: Pro-democracy activist, David, appeared at the International Finance Centre (IFC) mall, Central district, Hong Kong Island for a ‘Going to work with you at IFC and reading Apple Daily’ protest.

1000: David appeared outside the Central Government Complex, Admiralty, Hong Kong Island, for a ‘Opposing HK$5,000 subsidy for those who contact COVID-19 in HK’ protest. It is uncertain if he actually held the event.

1300: David appeared at the AsiaWorld-Expo, Lantau, Check Lap Kok, New Territories, where he held a protest dubbed, ‘Lunch with you at AsiaWorld-Expo and reading Apple Daily’.