HONG KONG PROTEST MONITOR 17 July 2020
THE SITUATION NOW
Over the previous monitoring period (10-16 July), there were some significant developments in the local political and wider geopolitical arenas, with the latter having clear and decisive implications on foreign governments, corporates and citizens.
Over the weekend of 11-12 July, there were pro-democratic primary elections with more than 580,000 people taking part. The primaries are aimed at assembling a list of candidates to compete for control of the Legislative Council (LegCo). There were reports of verbal confrontations between electoral candidates, indicating potential frictions among pro-democracy candidates that may weaken their overall prospects. There were also reports of voting irregularities such as individuals who voted twice, which may undermine their efforts to take control of the LegCo. A majority in the LegCo would allow pro-democracy lawmakers to enact legislation for their cause and approve or reject the Beijing-backed government’s budget.
Beijing’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong warned that the primaries could violate the territory’s new national security law. A spokesman for the office accused the opposition, including pro-democracy activist Benny Tai, of orchestrating a ‘colour revolution.’ Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Monday also warned organisers and candidates of the primaries that their aim of gaining control over the LegCo could be violating the security law.
On Monday (13 July), pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai and 12 other activists appeared at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts over charges relating to the alleged incitement to participate in unauthorised assemblies. Previous court appearances were accompanied by pro-democracy gatherings in the vicinity. Similar gatherings are likely around upcoming court dates, including on 19 August.
Activists calling on voter support for primary electoral candidate in Lok Fu, Wong Tai Sin, Kowloon, 11 July/ /hk01
On the same day, a small group of pro-democracy activists held a ‘Lunch with You’ rally at MOSTown Mall in Ma On Shan, Sha Tin district, New Territories. Police intervened and escorted them off the premise without violence.
Primary electoral candidate posters outside of Huangpu Garden, Kowloon, 11 July/Liang Pengwei
On Tuesday (14 July), several pro-Beijing demonstrators held a peaceful rally outside the German Consulate in Admiralty over Germany’s alleged meddling in China’s domestic affairs.
On Wednesday (15 July), former pro-democracy lawmaker Au Nok-hin, a key organiser of the pro-democracy opposition’s primaries, announced that he was resigning after Beijing threatened arrest for violating security laws, particularly those covering subversive activities. On the same day, Hong Kong police arrested Lo Kin-hei, the vice chairman of the territory’s Democratic Party, on charges of unlawful assembly linked to demonstrations in November. He was released on bail.
A ‘Lunch with You’ protest planned for Pacific Place, Admiralty, Hong Kong Island, on Wednesday was attended by five demonstrators. The low turnout indicates the continued subdued nature of rallies as individuals fear repercussions under the national security law, as well as the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
Authorities on 14 July announced 48 new cases in the territory, and there were indications of sustained community transmission, elevating concerns of a second wave of infections. Then on 15 July authorities tightened measures aimed at containing COVID-19 outbreaks as 19 new cases and 37 preliminary cases were reported. The measures include mandatory wearing of face masks on public transport and business closures.
Geopolitics and the local implications
On 13 July, the American Chamber of Commerce (AmCham) in Hong Kong published a survey revealing that most US companies are concerned about the new national security law, and that a third are seeking to move business or assets in the long-term. Approximately 61 per cent were worried about the independence of Hong Kong’s legal system, while 65 per cent were worried about ‘ambiguity in [the national security law’s] scope and enforcement.’ Other concerns included reprisal measures by foreign governments, talent drain, data security, the infringing of the territory’s autonomy, and threats to Hong Kong’s status as a global financial centre. The potential for extradition to China was considered a ‘game changer’ by approximately 46 per cent of respondents.
The American media giant, The New York Times (NYT) announced it would be relocating some of its Hong Kong-based personnel to Seoul, South Korea over concerns around the viability of Hong Kong as a centre for journalism in light of the security laws. As part of the firm’s contingency plans to redistribute staff across the region, some reporters will remain, but the digital editing team – approximately a third of the company’s local personnel – will be moved. The NYT reported that a number of staff members had already encountered issues securing work permits.
US tech firms Amazon Web Services, Google, and Microsoft reportedly denied Hong Kong authorities access to customer banking records over privacy concerns and fears of exposure to US sanctions, international media reported this week. Under the national security law, technology firm executives could be jailed and fined if they refuse to comply with data requests.
Then on 14 July, President Donald Trump signed an executive order ending Hong Kong’s preferential economic treatment under US law following Beijing’s introduction of the national security legislation. Trump also signed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act into law, giving US authorities the power to penalise banks which do business with Chinese officials implementing the new national security law. Responding to Trump’s actions, the Chinese foreign ministry warned that Beijing will impose retaliatory sanctions on relevant US individuals and entities.
On 15 July, Priti Patel, the UK home secretary (interior minister), told a parliamentary committee that she was investigating ways of providing Hong Kong citizens aged between 18 and 23 a path to British citizenship. That age group is technically too young to qualify for a British National Overseas (BNO) passport, which the British government is actively promoting to around 2.9 million Hong Kong citizens in response to the tightening of laws that are diluting the territory’s democratic principles and practices. The US government is considering taking similar actions by admitting Hong Kong citizens as political ‘refugees’.
China’s commerce ministry said on Thursday (16 July) that the British government’s ban on Huawei has ‘severely damaged’ investor confidence in the UK. The ministry responded to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s directive on Tuesday (14 July), ordering Huawei equipment to be removed from the UK’s 5G network by 2027.
As of Wednesday, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US have suspended their extradition treaties with Hong Kong. Finland has done it in practice but not made any official announcements about changes in policy. Other countries, such as Germany, France and the Netherlands are reportedly considering following.
Media on Thursday (16 July) reported the findings of an Australia-China (AustCham) business chamber poll of almost 90 companies operating in Beijing and southern and western China that suggested that, for many companies, bilateral tensions are now a greater threat than economic factors. More than 70 per cent of the Australian companies surveyed reported being concerned about the deteriorating relationship, against 45 per cent in a similar 2018 survey.
In April, China banned some Australian beef products and in May imposed an 80.5 per cent tariff on barley shipments from that country in what was widely viewed as a response to the Australian government’s increasingly critical position towards Beijing’s political actions and handling of the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
THE WEEK AHEAD
The strictures of the new national security law and attendant enforcement and new coronavirus (COVID-19) cases have largely subdued pro-democracy protest activity. However, smaller-scale demonstrations, particularly around sensitive anniversaries such as the 2019 Yuen Long attack (21-22 July), are likely to persist.
The recent primaries and the subsequent threats and actions of the Hong Kong government elevate the potential for activist backlash. The localists take a more aggressive stance than traditional democrats, aim to preserve the territory’s freedoms, and do not view themselves as Chinese. There are concerns that the potential disqualification of many pro-democracy candidates in nominations on 18 July could incite further demonstrations. The primaries will choose democrats who are most likely to succeed in September’s elections for the LegCo. A majority in the LegCo would enable pro-democracy lawmakers to pass legislation for their cause and approve or reject the Beijing-backed government’s budget.
Although some Australian business groups express optimism over their long-term ties with China, there is little doubt the relationship at the diplomatic and commercial levels will remain tense and complex in the next 6 to 12 months. There is no indication that the Chinese government will, or indeed can, compromise or somehow reduce its present assertive stance towards Australia unless the latter concedes with its demands. This is equally unlikely to happen, and Australian companies and their international staff within China, and potentially Hong Kong, should expect to come under further and probably intensifying pressure in the short- to medium-term.
There is clear escalation in hostilities between the UK and Chinese governments, which raises the risk of retaliatory actions against British organisations in Hong Kong. As more foreign governments officially join the international ‘coalition’ against the Chinese and Hong Kong governments, their respective diplomatic missions, companies and citizens will likely be under heightened threat of retaliation, with varying degrees of severity.
The developments concerning the NYT and US tech firms underscore the uncertainty for businesses in Hong Kong due to the encompassing and vague national security law. Expatriate personnel, particularly those viewed unfavourably by Beijing due to strained international relations or criticism of the Chinese government, are likely to be under increased risk of arbitrary detention under the new law. Actions by foreign governments such as the US, including the likely upcoming imposition of sanctions on Chinese officials over infringement on Hong Kong’s autonomy, are likely to lead to more rallies around respective diplomatic missions by pro-Beijing activists.
The escalating COVID-19 situation is likely to further suppress protest activity, depending on whether authorities regain control over the disease, and accelerate a trend of pro-democracy activism moving online and into the LegCo elections. Protests scheduled over the coming days may be cancelled due to COVID-19, including those intended to commemorate an upcoming significant anniversary (21-22 July) during which police were accused of inaction as a triad mob violently attacked demonstrators and civilians at the Yuen Long MTR station.
See details of upcoming protests below.
Friday 17 July
1900-2100: Activists plan on holding a ‘From the Jaws of Despair The Armageddon of Our Time’ rally at Tamar Park, Admiralty area, Central district, Hong Kong Island.
Sunday 19 July
1430: Activists plan on holding a rally at Yuen Long MTR station, and then march to Shui Pin Tsuen Playground, Yuen Long, New Territories, to commemorate the July 2019 Yuen Long attacks.
Tuesday 21 July
1900: Activists plan on holding a rally at YOHO Mall, Yuen Long, New Territories to protest against so-called ‘White Terror’ attacks by triad mobs targeting pro-democracy activists.
Anticipate spontaneous, flash-mob style rallies for the Yuen Long anniversary to take place throughout the territory.
Wednesday 22 July
Anticipate spontaneous, flash-mob style rallies for the Yuen Long anniversary to take place throughout the territory.
PROTEST CHRONOLOGY 10 July – 16 July
Monday 13 July
1300: Activists held a ‘Lunch with You’ rally at MOSTown mall, Ma On Shan, Sha Tin, New Territories.
Tuesday 14 July
1500: Several pro-Beijing demonstrators held a peaceful rally outside the German Consulate in Admiralty, Central district, Hong Kong Island, over Germany’s alleged meddling in China’s domestic affairs.
Wednesday 15 July
1245: Activists held a ‘Lunch with You’ rally at Pacific Place malls, Admiralty, Central District, Hong Kong Island.