HONG KONG PROTEST MONITOR 22 November 2019
THE SITUATION NOW
The most sustained and severe violence of the protest movement to date occurred last week. Major arterial roads, including the Cross-Harbour tunnel, were closed for several days while the Mass Transit Railway (MTR) experienced daily disruptions and line and station closures that affected hundreds of thousands of commuters and other passengers. Schools, universities and many businesses also closed, while others requested their respective staff to work from home. As of Friday 22 November, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) was the last of five universities to remain occupied by protesters, with its Kowloon campus besieged by police since the previous Sunday. Police reported that more than 4,500 people had been arrested since the first anti-government protest on 9 June 2019, of whom at least 1,500 were detained since 15 November.
Protesters throw petrol bombs on an elevated walkway near the occupied Hong Kong Polytechnic University on 17 November 2019.On Friday 15 November, protesters lifted their barricade on Tolo Highway near the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) in what they described as a ‘friendly gesture’. However, around 1930 protesters occupying the CUHK campus in Sha Tin, New Territories, rebuilt barricades across the key highway after the government refused to guarantee that local elections scheduled for Sunday 24 November would go ahead.
The protesters later set fire to a nearby parked car, causing multiple explosions, but then evacuated the campus they had occupied for four days. Meanwhile, thousands of protesters engaged in prolonged, violent clashes with police along Nathan Road, Kowloon, that lasted into the early hours of 16 November. By the end of the night most protesters had left the CUHK campus but Hong Kong University (HKU) and Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) remained occupied. Police later claimed to have recovered around 8,000 unused petrol bombs from CUHK, while other occupied universities reported toxic chemicals including acids, cyanide and arsenic were missing from their laboratories.
On Saturday 16 November, skirmishes occurred between protesters and local residents from multiple neighbourhoods across Kowloon and the New Territories. The residents were attempting to clear street barricades and other debris left over from previous protests. At around 1600, approximately 50 People’s Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers wearing shorts and t-shirts left their barracks in Kowloon Tong to help in the clean-up activities. They were identified as members of an elite counterterrorism unit, and returned to their base after about an hour. It was also reported that some 70 members of the Correctional Services Department’s emergency response team, known as the ‘Prison Flying Tigers’ were deployed to guard government buildings for the first time.
The Cross-Harbour Tunnel, a vital transport link between the Kowloon Peninsula and Hong Kong Island, remained closed for over a week.
Violence intensified around 2200 when protesters occupying PolyU fought sustained battles with the police. They used makeshift catapults to launch petrol bombs and other projectiles at the police, who responded with tear gas, water cannon and, for the first time, deployed a vehicle borne Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD), although the purpose and impact of the device is disputed. One police light armoured vehicle operating near the university perimeter was set on fire and forced to withdraw.
On Sunday 17 November, Hong Kong experienced the most serious and sustained violence of the more than five months of protests to date. Clashes between protesters occupying PolyU and police deployed in nearby streets began around 1000 and continued almost uninterrupted until dawn the following day. Protesters threw petrol bombs, bricks and fired arrows using the university’s archery equipment. A police officer was injured in the leg by an arrow fired by a protester. Following this incident at around 1800 the police began blocking access points to the university, preventing protesters from entering or leaving the complex. In addition, a number of police officers were observed openly carrying automatic and semi-automatic weapons, including the Heckler & Koch MP5 sub-machine gun and Colt AR-15 assault rifle, for the first time during the protests. Other sources also noted specialist counter-terrorist personnel had deployed in a covert sniper role, again the first time such a deployment had been reported.
Violent clashes also occurred along Nathan Road in Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok throughout the afternoon, but by around 1930 violence in Kowloon intensified as protesters attempted to divert police resources away from the siege at PolyU. Police and protesters exchanged volleys of tear gas and petrol bombs respectively in multiple locations throughout Kowloon until the early hours of Monday morning. At around 2200 police fired a live round at a car without license plates that had apparently attempted to break through the police cordon. Three further live rounds were fired at around 0300 on 18 November as a group of activists successfully forced the release of an arrested female protester from an ambulance in Tsim Sha Tsui.
Police fire tear gas and water cannon at protesters constructing barricades on Nathan Road, Kowloon on 17 November 2019.Throughout the night police arrested hundreds of protesters who had either voluntarily left the PolyU campus or who had attempted to escape. By Monday morning it was estimated that the number of protesters inside PolyU had declined from a few thousand to about 700. At around 0530 on Monday 18 November, police made an abortive attempt to storm PolyU but were forced back by petrol bombs and other projectiles.
The standoff at the university continued throughout Monday, with clashes resuming along Nathan Road at around 2000. As conditions inside PolyU deteriorated several dozen protesters escaped by abseiling onto a highway where they were met by waiting motorcycles in a clearly well planned and coordinated operation. Others attempted unsuccessfully to find a way out of the campus through the sewage system and others reportedly sought hiding places in the sprawling university complex in a bid to avoid eventual arrest.
By Tuesday night it was estimated only 60-100 protesters remained inside the besieged campus, while police reported they had arrested approximately 1,300 people caught either surrendering or attempting to escape.
The remainder of the week was generally quiet, with the government and police pledging to avoid any further unnecessary casualties at PolyU and seemingly content to wait out the last of the occupying protesters. Protests in support of those remaining inside the campus dwindled to a few token ‘lunchtime protests’ in Central and other commercial centres that were quickly dispersed by the police with the minimum use of force.
THE WEEK AHEAD
The ranks of radical protesters have undoubtedly been diminished by the mass arrests of the previous week as those charged with rioting now face up to ten years in prison. However, most of those arrested have been released on bail and many can be expected to continue protest activities. A repeat of last week’s unprecedented violence is unlikely, but A2 Global Risk expects smaller, localised unrest to continue sporadically.
Elections for the territory’s District Councils will be held on Sunday 24 November and are seen as a de facto referendum on how the public views the conduct of the government, and by extension the central government in Beijing, during the protests. The police plan to deploy their entire strength of 31,000 officers to both guard the 600 or so polling stations and provide a reserve in the event of further unrest. Radical protesters have called for a ‘rest day’ during the elections. However, given the deep social divisions between pro- and anti-government activists and supporters there remains the potential for at least localised violence. Any perception that the elections have been unfairly administered could also spark widespread unrest. As a result, we urge caution on polling day. Although there is little threat around polling stations, there remains the potential for disturbances and inter-factional altercations that could quickly become violent.
The siege at PolyU is likely to continue for a few days thanks to the government’s pledge to end the stand-off as peacefully as possible. The past few days of relative calm have also allowed the police to restore a level of discipline clearly absent in the conduct of some officers in recent weeks. The highly visible and unprofessional actions of some police officers, widely shared across social media, have contributed to the failure of efforts by civil society and religious leaders to broker an end to the PolyU siege due to protesters’ fears over their treatment once in custody. These fears are amplified by widespread and widely believed rumours of numerous undisclosed fatalities over the past few months due to the actions of the police. There is no evidence that any deaths have been concealed by the authorities, but the belief persists. Emotions remain high among many local people regarding the protests and foreigners should be aware of these sensitivities in conversation or online communications with colleagues and acquaintances.
There is a sense among many observers that the unrest, at least in its present violent form, may have peaked. While this may be a premature judgment, it is clear the absence of mass demonstrations evident no more than a month ago indicates public sentiments and priorities may have changed to more cautious and reflective positions. However, past events have also indicated how quickly specific events can reignite opposition or support for the pro-democracy, anti-China faction and their opponents. We urge continued vigilance by companies and individuals regarding the potential for widespread unrest to resume. We also note that the consequences of any further serious unrest can be expected to further deepen Beijing’s evident impatience and anger with the crisis and increase the likelihood of increased intervention in the territory’s governance and legal system.
On Wednesday 20 November, the US House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved the US Senate’s legislation passed on Tuesday that could result in diplomatic action and economic sanctions against Hong Kong. Legislators voted 417-1 in favour of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act which, if approved by the president, would require the US government to report annually whether Hong Kong was sufficiently autonomous from China to preserve its current distinct trading status.
The Act would also impose sanctions against any individuals or entities assessed to have violated freedoms guaranteed under Hong Kong's Basic Law and require the State Department not to deny visas to those subjected to what it termed ‘politically motivated’ arrests or detentions in the territory. China warned it will respond to what Beijing considers to be US interference in its internal affairs with ‘strong countermeasures’ and ‘forceful means.’
Friday 22 November
Preparations for District Council elections - replenishing ‘Lennon Walls’ in 18 districts across Hong Kong. This is expected to last all day.
Saturday 23 November
A ‘Stop killing our children’ anti-chemical weapons march is planned from Suffolk Road to La Salle Primary School in Kowloon Tong, Kowloon starting at 1100.
Sunday 24 November
Polling for district Council Elections is due to occur territory-wide between 0730 and 2230.
A ‘Brilliant Action’ in support of ‘Yellow Shops’ [businesses supportive of the protest movement] and boycott of ‘Blue Shops’ [businesses hostile to the protest movement] is planned to occur territory-wide all day.
PROTEST CHRONOLOGY 15 - 21 NOVEMBER
Friday 15 November
0800: The East Rail MTR line services suspended after protesters threw petrol bombs onto the tracks at Kowloon Tong station during morning rush hour.
1200: Protesters re-opened the Tolo Highway in the New Territories in a ‘friendly gesture’.
1230: Thousands of protesters blocked streets in Central, Tai Koo, Causeway Bay and Wong Chuk Hang on Hong Kong Island and Kwun Tong in Kowloon during ‘lunchtime protests’. In Tai Koo and Wong Chuk Hang protesters constructed barricades and dug up pavements for bricks.
1930: Protesters reconstructed barricades and threw petrol bombs across the Tolo Highway, again forcing the key road’s closure.
2100: Bricks were strewn across Nathan Road in Kowloon, multiple barricades set alight and a Best Mart 360 convenience store damaged. Police fired multiple rounds of tear gas in clashes with protesters lasting until at least 0030 on 16 November.
2130: Protesters set fire to an unoccupied car near the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), causing multiple explosions.
2200: Protesters withdrew from CUHK, ending the occupation of the campus. Many of the protesters joined ongoing occupations at Hong Kong University (HKU) and Polytechnic University (PolyU).
Saturday 16 November
0830: The Hong Kong government arranged free ferries to transport residents between Tai Po and Wu Kai Sha in the New Territories due to disruption of MTR services.
In the afternoon, hundreds of pro-Beijing activists gathered at the Legislative Council building in Admiralty, Hong Kong island, to show support for Hong Kong police.
1530: Skirmishes occurred between protesters and local residents attempting to clear street barricades. Protesters threw bricks and petrol bombs at volunteers near on Pok Fu Lam Road near HKU and near City University.
1600: PLA soldiers wearing shorts and t-shirts joined hundreds of local residents in the vicinity of Baptist University in Kowloon Tong, Kowloon, to clear debris from the streets. Hong Kong authorities claimed they did not request the military support.
2200: Protesters set fires at the entrances to the occupied PolyU in Hung Hom, Kowloon. Police approaching the campus were attacked with petrol bombs, projectiles launched from catapults and arrows. Police fired numerous rounds of tear gas and deployed water cannon; police light armoured vehicle was forced to retreat after being set on fire by petrol bombs.
Sunday 17 November
1000: Protesters threw bricks at local residents attempting to clear roadblocks at the intersection of Austin Road and Chatham Road near PolyU. Police fired numerous rounds of tear gas and deployed water cannon in clashes that lasted more than 18 hours.
1430: Police officer hit in the leg with an arrow fired from the PolyU.
1530: Police fired numerous rounds of tear gas at protesters constructing barricades on Nathan Road in Mong Kok, Kowloon, in clashes that lasted until at least 1700.
1800: Police encircle PolyU, blocking exits to prevent protesters inside from escaping. Police armed with automatic weapons openly deployed for first time.
1930: An elevated walkway connecting PolyU with Hung Hom MTR Station is set alight.
1945: Police fired tear gas and deploy water cannon on Nathan Road in Yau Ma Tei and Jordan in Kowloon during clashes that last until at least 0130 on 18 November as protesters seek to divert police resources away from PolyU.
2000: Protesters begin constructing barricades on Connaught Road Central, Central.
2220: Police fire a live round at a car attempting to breach a police cordon on Austin Road, Kowloon.
2230: Police begin making mass arrests of protesters attempting to leave PolyU, while others remaining inside continued attacking the police with petrol bombs, arrows and other projectiles in clashes that continued for several hours. Protesters set fire to the main entrance to the university on Cheong Wan Road.
Monday 18 November
0300: Police fired three live rounds in Tsim Sha Tsui when a group of activists attacked them, and released a female protester they had arrested.
0530: Police attempted unsuccessfully to enter the PolyU campus.
0800: Protesters began the first of several attempts to evacuate PolyU but most were unable to break through police lines.
2000: Thousands of protesters constructed barricades and threw petrol bombs and other projectiles at police in Jordan, Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui, Kowloon in clashes that lasted several hours. Police make over 200 arrests.
Tuesday 19 November
1300: Police prevented hundreds of protesters from constructing barricades across Pedder Street, Central.
2100: Approximately 100 protesters gathered peacefully in Mong Kok.
Wednesday 20 November
1230: Hundreds of protesters constructed barricades and blocked roads in Central and Tai Koo and in Kwun Tong, Kowloon, during a ‘lunchtime protest’.
Thursday 21 November
1230: A few hundred protesters gathered peacefully in the IFC building in Central, Hong Kong Island to support those trapped inside PolyU.
1900: Several hundred protesters gathered peacefully in Yoho mall in Yuen Long, New Territories to mark the four-month anniversary since protesters were attacked in Yeun Long by suspected organised crime gangs.