HONG KONG PROTEST MONITOR 6 November 2020
THE SITUATION NOW
This reporting cycle (30 October-5 November) saw a continuation in territory-wide pro-democracy protests in line with recent trends. There were three broad themes underpinning these events, including solidarity protests for pro-democracy activists in Thailand, and a recent labour issue involving unionised Cathay Pacific workers.
On Tuesday (3 November), there were three significant events, including a rally to show solidarity with pro-democracy activists in Thailand that involved a march from Chater Garden to Government House, Central district, Hong Kong Island. Pro-democracy activists also gathered outside the US Consulate General in Central district, while another rally was held outside the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government. All three events were held peacefully.
Cathay Pacific union members and David hold a rally at Novotel Citygate, Lantau Island/4 November 2020
Then on Wednesday (4 November), members from the Cathay Pacific Airways Flight Attendants Union (FAU) and the well-known solo activist known as ‘David’ gathered at the Novotel Citygate Hong Kong Hotel, Citygate, Tung Chung, Lantau Island to protest the airline’s recent decision for mass layoffs and to close its subsidiary, Cathay Dragon Airlines. The event was held peacefully with several media members in attendance.
Meanwhile, eight Hong Kong pro-democracy politicians were arrested on Sunday and Monday (1-2 November) for their alleged role in a protest in the territory’s legislature in May 2020. Those arrested have been charged with interference and contempt for their involvement in heated disputes over the control of a key committee in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo). Further arrests are probable, but to date no politicians supportive of Beijing who were also involved in the dispute have been charged.
The arrests of the pro-democracy politicians will add to the perception that the local administration, supported by the central government in Beijing, is engaged in a campaign against many of those who were involved in months of both peaceful and more violent in support of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movements. However, the arrests should also be viewed in the context that the disturbances that occurred in the LegCo could not be ignored if the primacy of the ‘rule of law’ in the territory is to be maintained.
Of greater significance for Hong Kong in general and for foreign commercial entities active in the territory is how the judiciary deals with the cases brought by the police. The disturbances in LegCo occurred prior to the unilateral imposition of China’s national security law (NSL) on Hong Kong, meaning the alleged offences should be dealt with under pre-existing legislation. Any clear indication that the cases against the pro-democracy politicians undermine the local judiciary’s impartiality or indicate pressure from Beijing will add to already high levels of concern over the future of Hong Kong’s legal environment and by extension the territory’s relevance to foreign and local commercial interests.
Mark Simon, a senior aide to pro-democracy activist and media tycoon Jimmy Lai, who owns the Apple Daily newspaper, over the weekend resigned from his role at the newspaper after conceding that he had assisted in the funding of a report alleging business ties between Joe Biden’s son and China. However, on 1 November, Simon maintained that Lai had no knowledge of the report.
The developments concerning Apple Daily may influence an ongoing probe by Hong Kong authorities into the pro-democracy leaning news outlet. Authorities accuse Lai of ‘collud[ing] with foreign forces’ and money laundering. Meanwhile, Mark Simon has long been the subject of much intrigue due to his career history and links with the US intelligence community, including the Central Intelligence Agency. The Apple Daily continues to occupy a significant role among pro-democracy activists, including as a prop in street-level protest activities. Actions by Hong Kong authorities deemed unfavourable towards the Apple Daily are therefore likely to incite protests at the street-level and online.
On Tuesday (3 November), police arrested Hong Kong reporter Choy Yuk-ling. Her employer, local media outlet RTHK, alleged the arrest was connected to a recent documentary she co-produced that examined the 2019 Yuen Long attacks. Police said Choy was arrested on suspicion of filing an improper application to gain access to car owner information. Choy was released on bail later that day. The documentary, called ‘Who Owns The Truth?’, revealed new information about the attackers, some of whom have alleged connections to politically influential rural committees that support the Chinese government. The arrest comes amid an ongoing government review into RTHK.
The arrest of Choy Yuk-ling is likely to raise concerns over the erosion of media freedom in the territory, particularly if the outcome of the government review into RTHK is perceived as biased in favour of Beijing. Choy’s arrest suggests that journalists and expatriate personnel remain at heightened risk of detention, harassment, and visa issues. Her arrest may also trigger further street-level protest activity by pro-democracy protesters in solidarity with her, due to the content of the documentary. In the Yuen Long attacks – also known as the 721 incident – alleged white-clad triad members on 20-21 July 2019 attacked demonstrators and commuters at Yuen Long MTR station, and most of them were holding metal tubes and wooden sticks. Police allegedly did not arrest any of them that night. The 721 incident is a significant event in the pro-democracy calendar that has regularly incited mobilisations and public gatherings.
The Hong Kong police on Thursday (5 November) launched an online service for members of the public to report alleged breaches of related to China’s imposed NSL. The so-called ‘hotline’ is based on WeChat, SMS and email platforms and accepts ‘information, photographs, audio or video’ submitted anonymously.
The introduction of the NSL hotline was widely expected and enhances existing ad hoc police intelligence gathering among the territory’s public. However, there are concerns the online service will erode what was previously viewed as legitimate and peaceful opposition to government actions and policies while offering opportunities to denounce individuals and corporate entities for personal or commercial reasons. There is also no indication how any information provided is handled by the police in terms of verifying allegations, or whether it will be shared with the authorities in China. The presumption, without clarity, is that allegations will be recorded and added to documentation on individuals or other entities and that China’s security apparatus will have access to the data. Foreign nationals and companies are as vulnerable as local residents and businesses to such actions, and should assess how the related threat may affect their staff and operations while seeking measures to mitigate the potential impact on their local and wider interests.
There were no other significant pro-democracy rallies or gatherings during this cycle. See details below.
Geopolitics and the local implications
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned Hong Kong authorities for the arrest of the eight pro-democracy politicians on 1-2 November over their alleged role in a demonstration in the territory’s legislature in May 2020. Pompeo referred to the arrests as ‘stark examples’ of Hong Kong’s ‘ongoing complicity with the authoritarian Chinese Communist Party’.
The statement by Mike Pompeo ratchets up diplomatic tensions with China and Hong Kong, which could lead to retaliation against US businesses in Hong Kong. Pompeo’s criticism also follows similar condemnation of Hong Kong authorities’ arrest and detention of three pro-democracy activists from the currently disbanded Student Localism group. While retaliation is possible, there is consensus that Beijing and Hong Kong are waiting for the outcome of the US presidential elections in the hope that an administration led by candidate Joe Biden will have a more amenable approach to relations. As of 6 November, the likelihood of Biden winning is assessed a very likely.
Canada’s senior diplomat in Hong Kong on 3 November revealed that his government had prepared ‘detailed plans’ to evacuate a ‘large number’ of its citizens from Hong Kong if their safety and security are threatened by China. Jeff Nankivell, Canada’s consul general in Hong Kong and Macau, was addressing a parliamentary committee examining the country’s ties with China in the Canadian capital Ottawa. An estimated 300,000 Canadian citizens currently reside in Hong Kong.
Nankivell’s testimony follows a recent warning by Beijing’s ambassador to Canada, Cong Peiwu, that any ‘interference in China’s domestic affairs’ could jeopardise ‘the good health and safety’ of Canadian citizens living in Hong Kong. While the evacuation plan was described by Nankivell as an ‘extreme scenario’ that currently appears to be low it is certain to further erode already strained diplomatic relations between Canada and China. Canada’s move also highlights the position of other mainly Western nations with citizens in the territory and whose ties with China are increasingly stressed.
All foreign companies in Hong Kong should reassess the threat to their staff, assets and operations from any actions by the central government in Beijing that could affect their security and commercial viability in the territory in the six-month outlook and beyond.
Operational implications from COVID-19
On 2 November, Hong Kong recorded six new COVID-19 cases, including a cluster of three infections linked to a resort hotel on Lantau island. The authorities are likely to review the planned easing of social distancing and other measures if the Lantau case indicates ‘staycations’ and other activities threaten to erode the territory’s efforts to control the virus. This could compromise the local administration’s plan to open a so-called ‘travel bubble’ with Singapore by end-November, based initially on a single designated flight per day. On 5 November, Hong Kong recorded eight new cases, against three on Wednesday. China’s decision to bar travellers from the UK and other countries with high numbers of virus infections is certain to be reflected in Hong Kong’s entry policies.
THE WEEK AHEAD
The current monitoring period (6-12 November) will see an afternoon of protest activities on Sunday (8 November). Three protests will focus on the commemoration of activists who died during the mass anti-extradition protests in 2019. One event will take place at Popcorn Shopping Mall in Tseung Kwan O, New Territories, followed by a gathering at the Sheung Tak Car Park in the same town. Lastly, David will hold an event at Victoria Park in Causeway Bay. Then on Wednesday (11 November), an event that could see a relatively moderate to large turnout, is a gathering to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the student-police clashes at the campus of Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). Not many details have been provided, but there is speculation that student activist will gather at the campus in Sha Tin, New Territories.
One recent development that could incite mobilisations is the recent launch of the online portals aimed at encouraging citizens to proactively report on other citizens for violations against the NSL. We reiterate that foreign nationals and companies should assess how the related threat may affect their staff and operations while seeking measures to mitigate the potential impact on their local and wider interests.
In the geopolitical sphere, much will depend on the outcome of the US presidential elections. An unfavourable outcome for the Chinese government, such as a Trump win, could translate into increased scrutiny and targeting of American companies and US citizens in the territory. As it stands, the likelihood of a Biden victory is very strong.
See details of upcoming protests below.
Sunday 8 November
1830: Pro-democracy activists are planning a rally at Popcorn Shopping Mall, Tseung Kwan O, New Territories. The event is to commemorate the anniversary of the passing of two activists, who died in 2019.
1930-2030: Pro-democracy activists are scheduled to hold a memorial gathering at Sheung Tak Car Park, Tseung Kwan O, New Territories. The gathering is memorialise the one-year anniversary of the death of Chow Tsz-lok, who died on 8 November 2019. There will be a moment of silence at 2019 hours local time.
1930-2030: David plans on holding a mourning gathering to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the death of activist Chow Tsz-lok. The event will be held at Victoria Park, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong Island.
Wednesday 11 November
TBC: Activist plan on holding a rally called ’11.11 Illumination Chain Photo at CUHK’ to commemorate the 11 November 2019 clashes between Hong Kong police elements and student activists at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). The event is likely to take place at the CUHK campus in Sha Tin, New Territories.
PROTEST CHRONOLOGY 30 October – 5 November
Tuesday 3 November
1330: A protest march was held in support of pro-democracy activists in Thailand, involving Hong Kong participants marching from Chater Garden to Government House, Central district, Hong Kong Island.
1415: Activists gathered outside the US Consulate General, Central district, Hong Kong Island, where they reportedly rallied to show support for the re-election of US President Donald Trump.
1600: A pro-democracy rally was held outside the Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Sai Wan, Hong Kong Island.
Wednesday 4 November
1630: Members from the Cathay Pacific Airways Flight Attendants Union (FAU) and David gathered at the Novotel Citygate Hong Kong Hotel, Citygate, Tung Chung, Lantau Island to protest the airline’s recent decision for mass layoffs and to close its subsidiary, Cathay Dragon Airlines. The event was held peacefully with several media members in attendance.