HONG KONG PROTEST MONITOR 4 September 2020
THE SITUATION NOW
The frequency of street-level protest activities had stabilised over the monitoring cycle (28 August – 3 September). For this period, it was not the low incident volume that warranted attention, rather the symbolism of significant dates in the activist calendar and how these dates can generate high protest turnout. The general trend during previous monitoring cycles has shown low turnouts at fewer events, largely influenced by restrictions on public gatherings due to novel coronavirus (COVID-19) and the fear of arrest under the national security law (NSL). But significant date events have represented the outlier to these thresholds.
One outlier incident highlighted a significant security risk to the pro-democracy activists and potentially to media personnel and non-participant bystanders. On Saturday (29 August), a group of around a dozen individuals, believed to be pro-Beijing supporters, attacked and seriously injured a group of people cleaning the destroyed memorial wall commemorating the deaths of Chan Yin-lam and Chow Tsz-lok. The incident occurred in Sheng Shui, near the North District City Hall, in the New Territories. The deaths commemorated by the altar hold a high degree of symbolic importance for pro-democracy activists.
The early part of reporting cycle saw pro-democracy activists rallying on Sunday (30 August), activists gathered at Langham Place, New Century Plaza and Prince Edward MTR Station, Mong Kok district, Kowloon. Police established a presence at the main entrance of Langham Place and the Mong Kok MTR Station to intercept activists at around 1400 local time, while others were positioned at New Century Plaza for surveillance and interception operations. These three locations were identified as flashpoints for Monday’s protest events. Then at around 1457 local time activists began their rally at New Century Plaza with chants and unfurling banners with pro-democracy slogans. They dispersed with police assistance by 1730 local time. Shortly after, activists began converging on Langham Place where they held similar protest activities. They dispersed by 2100 local time. Activists had also gathered at Prince Edward MTR Station at around 2100 local time.
On Monday (31 August) to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Prince Edward station attacks, when police allegedly indiscriminately assaulted anti-extradition protesters and non-activist commuters. At least 10 people were hospitalised due to injuries caused by the police on that day, and their actions have been memorialised on just about every last day of the calendar month since then.
Then on 31 August activists gathered at multiple locations, including at Memorial Shrine, Memorial Garden, Hong Kong City Hall, Central district, Hong Kong Island to commemorate the liberation of Hong Kong from Japanese occupation during World War II. The 75th anniversary of the liberation was commemorated with a wreath-laying ceremony by members of the Hong Kong University Students’ Union. The event was called, “The Cancelled Memorial Day – Commemoration of Hong Kong Liberation Day”. This day had drawn some parallel in meaning and symbolism with the current situation in Hong Kong.
On the same day, a well-known activist named ‘David’ appeared at the Prince Edward MTR Station (Exit B1), Mong Kok district, Kowloon, for a demonstration. He was accompanied by a female activist, who laid some flowers at the station while commuters and a large contingent of police watched. David was taken to Mong Kok police station and charged with violating NSL-related offences.
Police establish security cordon on Prince Edward Road, 31 August/Ou Jiale
From around 1700 local time, there was a well-attended pro-democracy rally at Prince Edward MTR Station, Mong Kok district, Kowloon. Black-clad demonstrators gathered at the MTR station. There was also a long procession of activists placing flowers at the station. Police exercised crowd control, and fired on demonstrators with pepper balls. Police also warned demonstrators that the activity violated the national security law, and arrested at least 12 activists.
Hong Kong Police on 28 August announced they had on 26 August arrested a man accused of being the administrator of SUCK Channel, which is a popular pro-democracy media platform on the Telegram encrypted messaging app. Police deleted the channel, which they said had more than 100,000 members.
The rest of the monitoring period saw no significant protests take place.
Geopolitics and the local implications
On Tuesday (1 September), the executive committee of the Hong Kong-America Center, an academic centre organising exchanges between the United States and Hong Kong, decided to close down the centre after months of criticism by Beijing-backed news outlets. Outlets accused the centre of anti-Chinese activities. The centre’s office was situated on the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s campus, though the university is not associated with the centre. The closure of the centre illustrates growing concerns around freedom of expression in the territory, and comes after pro-democracy activist and academic Benny Tai was expelled from his role at the University of Hong Kong in July and internal guidance circulating in international schools included advice around avoiding activities that may be in violation of the new national security laws.
Also on 1 September, media reported that a 12,800-km long underwater data cable linking Los Angeles with several Asian countries and territories will no longer land in Hong Kong, amid US national security concerns of potential data theft from China. The Pacific Light Cable Network (PLCN), which was launched in 2016 and is backed by US tech firms including Google and Facebook, will now only dock in Taiwan and the Philippines. While the cable has already been laid, its landing in Hong Kong will not be activated.
The project was originally intended to enhance Hong Kong’s internet connectivity and also boost US tech firms’ commercial interests in the territory. These plans, however, have been overshadowed and ultimately dashed by worsening diplomatic and commercial ties between China and the US, particularly related to Hong Kong’s evolving political status. Moreover, in the past two years, Washington has expressed increasing concern over the potential for espionage from Chinese or China-linked technology firms, including Huawei and ZTE. This has led to calls for bans on Huawei and recently prompted the US government to order the sale of the US operations of popular Chinese-owned video-sharing app, TikTok.
Pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow was on 1 September questioned by Hong Kong authorities several weeks after she was arrested under the new national security law (NSL). Chow said to journalists that investigators had shown her a democracy movement-related advertisement that had been carried by Nikkei news outlet in 2019 as a piece of evidence prompting her arrest in August. Pro-democracy activists in 2019 had also put ads in several other newspapers, including Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Le Monde, and The New York Times. Chow also said that the Hong Kong Police’s raiding of the offices of Nikkei and Next Media indicates that the NSL has impacted both foreign and local reporters.
Pro-democracy activist Nathan Law on Tuesday held a demonstration attended by several hundred protesters, including Chinese Uighurs, in Berlin, before Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s scheduled visit. Law called for more assistance from the German government, in conjunction with the European Union, regarding the NSL. The protest comes after Law on 25 August addressed reporters in Rome ahead of Wang Yi’s talks with Italy’s foreign minister. Further appearances by Law around Europe aimed at garnering support for Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, including protests, are possible ahead of the EU-China virtual summit on 17 September. The summit is being held to discuss a new investment agreement between the bloc and China.
According to Japanese media reports on Thursday (3 September), the Hong Kong police arrested a Japanese journalist who was covering the 31 August protests at Prince Edward MTR Station and in Mong Kok district, Kowloon. The Japanese Consulate General in Hong Kong confirmed the reports, but provided no further details. On the surface, the arrest of a Japanese national appears significant; however, there are very limited details as to the exact charges that are applicable to his detention. He had been living in Hong Kong since 2016, extensively covering and reporting on the territory’s pro-democracy movement and the various protests that have taken place. It is widely reported and accepted that the police have been given greater powers of detention and arrest under the NSL, and this has emboldened them to clamp down on the media critical of the Beijing and Hong Kong governments. One implication is that this particular arrest is serving as an intimidation tactic for media personnel covering pro-democracy protests that are deemed unfavourable to the Hong Kong and Beijing governments.
Operational implications from COVID-19
Hong Kong started mass novel coronavirus (COVID-19) tests across the territory on 1 September. A group of pro-democracy activists including Joshua Wong on Sunday (30 August) urged Hong Kongers to boycott the tests over concerns around the potential introduction of a compulsory health code system as used in mainland China and DNA data collection. The Hong Kong government has denied such claims. Several democratic district councillors protested outside of a COVID-19 testing centre at the stadium on No. 1 Boundary Street, criticising the government for postponing the legislative council elections while loosening COVID-19 restrictions for schools and conducting mass COVID-19 tests.
Nearly 500,000 people have registered to take the test, which the authorities said was key to reopening the economy, schools and eventually international travel. There has been some opposition to the testing programme by activists, many linked to the pro-democracy movement, on the basis that experience elsewhere has led to large number of ‘false-positive’ results. The steady decline in infection rates has led the government to again relax some social-distancing rules, notably relating to evening restaurant opening hours, with effect from Friday 28 August.
As of 1630 local time on 3 September, the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) had registered eight new novel coronavirus (COVID-19) cases, including one assessed as an imported case. This imported case is an Indian national seafarer who arrived in Hong Kong via Doha, Qatar. Four of the new cases have an unknown source. To date, the CHP has registered 4,839 cases. A senior health expert from the CHP, Dr Constance Chan, said that six cases were found among the 128,000 samples collected from the Universal Community Testing Programme. Since the mass testing programme launched on 1 September, nearly 370,000 Hong Kongers have been tested.
THE WEEK AHEAD
Planned demonstrations for Sunday (6 September) have garnered a significant amount of attention throughout the territory. Activists are mobilising in multiple locations to protest the national security law, the potential launch of a new health code system and the delays to the Legislative Council elections, which were originally slated to be held on the day.
Organisers and supporters have been very active on social media, including encrypted instant messaging apps, calling for mass mobilisations at shopping malls and other popular venues. Event planners are hoping for up to 50,000 protesters to gather in Kowloon alone. These anticipated protests are likely to dominate incident reporting for this monitoring period (4-10 September); however, local political developments and broader geopolitical events may also inspire and incite street-level demonstrations this week.
See details of protests below.
Sunday 6 September
1430: Activists plan on launching a pro-democracy march from Jordan Road to Argyle Road (via Nathan Road), Mong Kok district, Kowloon. Participants have been asked to gather at 1) the junction of Jordan Road and Nathan Road, and 2) Eaton Hotel Hong Kong. Their aim is to protest the national security law, delays to the Legislative Council elections and the health code.
1430: Activists intend to rally against the national security law and delays to the Legislative Council elections in Yau Tsim Mong district, Kowloon.
1830-1930: Activists are planning to hold approximately 20 ‘Sing with You’ rallies at the following locations:
- APM, Kwun Tong district (Hong Kong Island)
- Time Square, Causeway Bay (Hong Kong Island)
- Maritime Square, Tsing Yi (Hong Kong Island)
- City Plaza, Tai Koo Shing (Hong Kong Island)
- International Finance Center (IFC) Central (Hong Kong Island)
- New Town Plaza, Sha Tin district (Kowloon)
- Tai Po district (Kowloon)
- TMT Plaza, Tuen Mun district (Kowloon)
- Yoho Mall, Yuen Long district (Kowloon)
- Telford Plaza, Kowloon Bay (Kowloon)
- Langham Place, Mong Kok (Kowloon)
- Hollywood Plaza, Diamond Hill (Kowloon)
- Domain Mall, Yau Tong (Kowloon)
- Treasure World of The Whampoa (Kowloon)
- Temple Mall, Wong Tai Shan (Kowloon)
- Tsuen Wan Plaza, Tsuen Wan (New Territories)
- PopCorn Mall, Tseung Kwan O (New Territories)
- MosTown, Ma On Shan (New Territories)
- +WOO, Tin Shui Wai (New Territories)
- Tai Po Mega Mall Zone C, Tai Po district (New Territories)
Note: alternative start times/cancellations are possible, and venue locations are subject to change at short notice.
PROTEST CHRONOLOGY 28 August – 3 September
Sunday 30 August
1400: Activists gathered at Langham Place, New Century Plaza and Prince Edward MTR Station, Mong Kok district, Kowloon.
Monday 31 August
1100: Activists gathered at Memorial Shrine, Memorial Garden, Hong Kong City Hall, Central district, Hong Kong Island to commemorate the liberation of Hong Kong from Japanese occupation during World War II.
1300: A well-known activist named ‘David’ appeared at the Prince Edward MTR Station (Exit B1), Mong Kok district, Kowloon, for a demonstration. He was accompanied by a female activist, who laid some flowers at the station while commuters and a large contingent of police watched. David was taken to the Mong Kok police station.
1700: There was a well-attended pro-democracy rally at Prince Edward MTR Station, Mong Kok district, Kowloon. Thousands of black-clad demonstrators gathered at the MTR station. Police exercised crowd control, and fired on demonstrators with pepper balls. Police also warned demonstrators that the activity violated the national security law, and arrested at least 12 activists.