HONG KONG PROTEST MONITOR 29 January 2021

21 january 2021

THE SITUATION NOW

The closing week of the reporting period (22-28 January) saw a consistent level of protest-related incident volumes, with David continuing to lead with his solo protests throughout the territory. David had a more targeted approach with his events, appearing at judicial courts for solidarity protests of prominent pro-democracy activists. He also appeared at the Central Government Office twice to call on the administration to re-open businesses under coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions. This is not an unfamiliar cause or event by David, but notable given that the government’s increasingly tighter public health orders are still having uneven effects on reigning in the pathogen. David also appeared at the IFC Rooftop Garden at the IFC Atrium mall twice for low-key pro-democracy protests, where he read editions of the Apple Daily newspaper. All of David’s reported events kept within normal trends in that they were low-key events conducted peacefully and without disruption to local area travel and commerce. See details of protests below.

In related developments, activists over the weekend of 23-24 January issued renewed calls for boycotts of certain products associated with local broadcaster TVB, including the German-headquartered perfumery’s Revlon brand of beauty products. Pro-democracy activists have targeted TVB over what activists view as the firm’s pro-Beijing bias.

The boycotts are the latest in a series of such actions targeting businesses over their alleged support for the Hong Kong and Chinese governments via their affiliation with broadcaster TVB.

On Tuesday (26 January), Reuters reported that the Hong Kong police had demanded and received the financial records of at least six pro-democracy activists from a number of banks operating in the territory. According to an unnamed banking source, the police had increased their demand for the financial records of those it identified as pro-democracy activists over the past six months.

Banks in Hong Kong and many other jurisdictions are legally required to comply with such police requests, regardless of their context or purpose. However, the action by the territory’s police is certain to be viewed by many foreign governments and blocs through the prism of politics rather than procedural investigations linked to alleged illegal activity. Western countries have already criticised banks based within their domains for acquiescing to the demands of the Hong Kong authorities, backed by the central government in Beijing, to block the accounts of individual customers accused of supporting the pro-democracy movement in the territory.

The police action in Hong Kong also risks further undermining trust in the local banking system’s ability to secure confidential data, which will concern corporate and individual clients. As a result, some clients can be expected to protectively retrieve confidential data from their banks, although this is unlikely to include the information regarding transactions that the police appear to be seeking.

Hong Kong citizen holding BNO Passport, 29 January 2021/Getty Images

Geopolitics and the local implications

China’s Foreign Ministry on Friday (29 January) announced that Beijing will no longer recognise passports issued to Hong Kong residents by the British government as valid travel documents or for identification purposes with effect from Sunday (31 January). The timing of the announcement matches the first day Britain begins accepting applications from the almost three million Hongkongers eligible for British National (Overseas) (BNO) status to apply for visas to live and work in the UK for five years, a pathway to eventual British citizenship. The British government announced the revised and expanded BNO status in response to China’s unilateral decision to impose its national security law (NSL) on Hong Kong in June 2020 following months of protests, with provisional estimates that around 320,000 Hongkongers will take advantage of the visa offer.

It is unclear what effect Beijing’s decision will have as BNO holders do not require to use the passport for travel to China or to the UK. However, there are indications that simply holding a BNO may result in unspecified sanctions that could, for example, include the inability to work in Hong Kong’s public service sector. Such perceptions may well accelerate local interest in the programme, and provoke additional retaliatory responses from Beijing that explicitly targets British interests in the territory and China.

 

FedEx fleet at Hong Kong's international airport, 28 January 2021

Operational implications from COVID-19

On Sunday (24 January), Hong Kong recorded at least 76 new coronavirus cases, below the 81 reported the previous day. Many new cases are linked to construction projects and densely populated areas of Kowloon. A mass screening of around 10,000 residents in Kowloon’s Yau Tsim Mong district ordered on Saturday is set for completion by Monday (25 January). The lockdown was the first to involve such a large number of residents and to date has identified 12 previously unrecorded infections. Similar mass screening programmes can be expected in the event large-scale clusters are detected in the immediate outlook.

FedEx Express is reportedly planning to relocate its Hong Kong-based pilots, their spouses and dependents to San Francisco. The South China Morning Post on Thursday (28 January) reported that the move is in response to the local government’s efforts to require aircrew to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival into the territory. The quarantine measure is being considered as part of efforts to control recent spikes in coronavirus (COVID-19) cases and equally important to prevent penetration of foreign variants of the pathogen.

The plan to abruptly relocate staff as early as 1 February will incur significant costs to the company, but FedEx’s statements and rationale seem largely borne out of Duty of Care obligations. The US-based cargo company has reassured the public that it will continue to service Hong Kong from its international destinations, implying that there will be very limited, or no, disruption to deliveries. There will likely be an upsurge in freight transiting through its other Asia-Pacific hub, Guangzhou Airport. The cost and time implications for its customers are uncertain at this stage. For other air and cargo operators, the impact of these restrictions will likely prove costly.

According to Cathay Pacific, it stands to incur losses of around USD52 million a month as cargo and flight capacity will reduce by 25 per cent and 60 per cent, respectively. The government is expected to make another announcement on coronavirus -related restrictions by the end of Friday (29 January). Any further tightening of measures as it pertains to international freight and passenger mobility will likely have operational and financial implications for air carriers and their respective customers. 

On Friday (29 January), the Centre for Health Protection (CHP) recorded 50 new confirmed COVID-19 cases. There were two foreign cases among them, including an Indonesian national and a Hong Kong citizen, who allegedly contracted the pathogen in Dubai. There is speculation that the Dubai passenger has the UK or South African variant.

 

THE WEEK AHEAD

Over the weekend, there are likely going to be some protests or gatherings to commemorate the ‘831 Prince Edward attacks’. Mobilisations have become a mainstay on this monthly anniversary. While at the time of compiling this report, there have been no posts or announcements of any events. Activists are likely to make an announcement closer to the date. 

Previous demonstrations, including solo ones by David and flash-mob gatherings, have occurred around Prince Edward MTR station and extended to nearby Prince Edward Road, Nathan Road and other major roads in the Mong Kok area. Seemingly spontaneous rallies may also occur throughout the territory, presenting a threat to local area businesses and travel.

The current monitoring cycle (29 January – 4 February) is likely going to see a continual ratcheting up of geopolitical tensions between the UK government and China, particularly as the latter announced it would no longer recognise the BN(O) passport for Hong Kong citizens from 31 January. This is another escalatory step in China-UK relations that could have profound implications on British businesses in Hong Kong. UK companies should prepare for potentially more retaliation by Beijing in the coming weeks.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to proliferate throughout the territory, and caseload numbers are more than likely to remain consistent with previous monitoring cycles. Further penetration of new variants, whether from external sources or transferred internally, will complicate containment efforts, forcing the government to impose tighter restrictions. FedEx is a good example of how these measures have impacted personnel and operations and the associated financial obligations. More air carriers are likely to enact similar relocation measures over the current reporting cycle.

See details of upcoming protests below.


UPCOMING PROTESTS 29 January – 4 February

Friday 29 January

0845: David plans on appearing at the Tung Fat Building, North Point, Hong Kong Island, for an event he has called an ‘Inspection on Lockdown Area in North Point’. The purpose of the event is uncertain.

1030: David is scheduled to appear at Radio Television Hong Kong (RFHK), Kowloon Tong, Kowloon. The station recently terminated the contract of journalist Naber Qoser, who reportedly angered pro-government figures over her coverage of the 2019 anti-extradition unrest. The purpose of David’s appearance is to protest the dismissal and show solidarity for the reporter.

1130: David then will appear outside the Central Government Offices, Tamar, Hong Kong Island, for a protest aimed at pressuring the government to re-open businesses that have been closed under the current COVID-19 protocols.

1200: David is scheduled to arrive at the International Finance Centre (IFC) Rooftop Garden, IFC Atrium mall, Central district, Hong Kong Island, for a protest called, ‘Lunch with You at Central’.

1430: David will appear at the Eastern Law Courts Building, Aldrich Bay, Hong Kong Island, for solidarity protest dubbed, ‘Support Joshua Wong and KOO Sze You with You’.

 

PROTEST CHRONOLOGY 22 – 28 January

Wednesday 27 January

1600: David held a protest at the Central Government Office, Tamar, Hong Kong Island, to urge the government to re-open businesses that have been closed under the current COVID-19 restrictions. There were no reports of any arrests or significant disruption to local area travel.

1630: David appeared at the Police Headquarters, Wan Chai, Hong Kong Island, to deliver a petition to the Commissioner of Police to arrest an officer, who handcuffed a pregnant women for allegedly violating the public health ordnance on coronavirus whilst she was walking on the street in To Kwa Wan, Kowloon.

Thursday 28 January

0915: David appeared at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts, Sham Shui Po, Kowloon, to show solidarity for a pro-democracy activist on trial for charges connected to desecration of the national flag. There were no reports of any arrests or significant disruption to local area travel.

1245: David appeared at the IFC Rooftop Garden, IFC Atrium mall, Central district, Hong Kong Island for a ‘Lunch with You in Central’ protest where he read a copy of the Apple Daily newspaper. There were no reports of any arrests or significant disruption to local area travel.

TBC: David attended a hearing for one of the leaders of the pro-independence group, StudentLocalism, at the District Court in Wan Chai district, Hong Kong Island. Tony Chung was sentenced to four-months prison on charges of secession, money laundering, and ‘plotting to publish seditious materials.’ There were no reports of any arrests or significant disruption to local area travel.