HONG KONG PROTEST MONITOR 29 May 2020
THE SITUATION NOW
Over the monitoring period (22-28 May), Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement escalated its anti-government protest activities. There were numerous high-profile rallies taking place in Central, Wan Chai and Causeway Bay districts on Hong Kong Island and Mong Kok district in Kowloon on 27 May, when the Legislative Council was debating the National Anthem Bill, which would criminalise any criticism against symbols of the People’s Republic of China.
A regular feature in the security landscape has been for activists to converge at popular shopping centres throughout the territory. This week, however, malls on Hong Kong Island were the main focal points of activity.
On Sunday (24 May) Activists converged on the SOGO department store for planned pro-democracy demonstration under the banner ‘5.24 Anti-Evil Songs Parade’ and tried to march to Wan Chai’s Southorn Playground. There was a very strong police presence; however, activists far outnumbered them. When a throng a demonstrators refused to disperse at the intersection of Hennessy Road and Percival Street, and near the Hysan Place shopping centre, a contingent of riot police fired tear gas. A water cannon truck was also used on Hennessy Road and Canal Road, where journalists were targeted.
Some local area businesses were targeted by activists. Activists raided and vandalised A Bathing Ape store in Hysan One in Causeway Bay. The Japanese clothing shop is locally owned by Hong Kong conglomerate I.T, whose owner has been accused of supporting the Hong Kong and Beijing governments. Another I.T fashion store, PLAY, was also vandalised.
In preparation for the planned demonstrations, the police had set up roadblocks on major arterial roads at 1100 local time and intercepted some vehicles suspected of transporting activists. These roadblocks and checks caused severe traffic disruption from the Western Harbour Crossing to Hong Kong Island and the Eastern Corridor to Causeway Bay. Roadblocks were placed at Kowloon Tong Waterloo Road near the People’s Liberation Army Camp, the Tai Lam Tunnel Interchange Station to Kowloon, and the West Kowloon Highway. Police said that they had arrested around 180 people during Sunday’s protests.
On Monday (25 May), Around 60 pro-democracy activists held a protest on all floors of the atrium of the international Finance Center (IFC) mall. The held banners and chanted slogans condemning the National Anthem Bill and Beijing’s efforts to implement new national security laws. Activists had planned to gather at Pacific Place in Central, but changed the venue in order to attract more attention and support at a high-profile public venue. Some activists held placards pleading for US military intervention, which is very aspirational but very unlikely.
Tensions were mounting for mass demonstrations coinciding with the 27 May Legislative Council session where lawmakers debated the controversial National Anthem Bill. On the day, there were multiple anti-government demonstrations with the main events taking place in Central and Causeway Bay districts on Hong Kong Island and Mong Kok in Kowloon.
Hundreds of activists rallied on the streets and marched to protest the National Anthem Bill. Police had established road blocks and diversions to prevent activists from reaching the Legislative Council Complex in the Admiralty area of Central. Activists had also set up makeshift road blocks with burning trashcans and rubbish. In some instances, activists had also used iron nails and there were instances of activists carrying out ‘slow-drive’ protests on roads. Police said that they had arrested 396 people, including some who were in possession of dangerous weapons and petrol bombs. Later in the evening, there were reports of similar protests or attempts to mobilise demonstrations in other districts in Kowloon and New Territories.
Activists detained in Causeway Bay, 27 May
Then on Thursday (28 May), the Legislative Council held the second reading of the National Anthem Bill and arguably more critically the National People’s Congress in Beijing passed a draft of the Hong Kong version of the National Security Law. Immediately after the vote, protesters rallied in Central, Causeway Bay and Hung Hom on Hong Kong Island. Activists set up road blockades with debris and iron nails as well as threw debris onto the MTR railway tracks. In Mong Kok, particularly on Nathan Road, activist set fire to debris. Similar unrest occurred across Kowloon and New Territories, particularly in Kwai Chung, Sham Shui Po, Tsuen Wan, Tai Po and Yuen Long.
Riot police raise a blue flag warning demonstrators in the Central district to disperse, 27 May/Shutterstock
THE WEEK AHEAD
The upcoming monitoring cycle (29 May – 4 June) is likely to see a continuation of the current trends in protest activities. There are very little incentives for the activist movement to restrain or subdue their protests, even despite the public health risks from COVID-19, but instead they appear to be reinvigorated by Beijing’s efforts to further erode the democratic principles of the territory. The National Anthem Bill, the likely passage of the New National Security Law and indicators of more forceful security influence by Beijing in Hong Kong are only going to incite more unrest in the week ahead.
As activists held demonstrations on 27 May, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo informed his country’s legislature that recent actions by Beijing towards Hong Kong meant the territory could no longer be considered autonomous from China. Pompeo’s remarks now place Hong Kong’s future preferential trading status with the US in doubt and could result in the territory’s exports being treated like those from China, currently subjected to a range of often extremely high tariffs.
The combination of renewed protests and Pompeo’s threat has shocked many local and foreign companies in Hong Kong, not least because the US move appears to be sanctioning the territory’s economy for actions the local Beijing-backed administration has no real control over. Pro-democracy activists applauded Pompeo’s actions, adding to already high levels of tensions at street level and further angering Beijing.
As recently as Thursday (28 May), China’s Ministry of Public Security (MPS) announced it would ‘guide and support the Hong Kong police to stop violence and restore order.’ The MPS is China’s main intelligence agency and, at present, has no formal or enforcement role in Hong Kong. The ministry issued its statement hours after the National People’s Congress (NPC), China’s legislature, approved imposing the country’s security laws on notionally semi-autonomous Hong Kong. The Hong Kong administration also warned Washington not to interfere in the territory’s internal affairs after the US government said it would review the special privileges it receives based on its relative autonomy from China following Beijing’s intervention.
Any indication the MPS or other Chinese state security or police agencies will have a formal role in Hong Kong will add to the already high degree of uncertainty over the territory’s future. Measures that erode the Common Law-based legal system risk forcing many foreign companies to reassess their ability to remain in Hong Kong in their present role and structure. The withdrawal of US preferential treatment, which has remained a profitable ‘interference’ in the territory’s internal affairs for many years, will compound such concerns. There is also the potential for anti-US demonstrations by pro-China groups that could threaten individuals, companies and ‘brands’ identified having links to the US and/or the West within China and Hong Kong.
Friday 29 May
1300: Activists planned lunchtime rallies in multiple locations within Central district on Hong Kong Island and in Kowloon. One rally is scheduled to take place at the International Finance Center. Another is planned for Kwun Tong in Kowloon.
1500: A memorial gathering is scheduled to take place outside the Futai Building, Jia Fu, Fanling in New Territories.
Saturday 30 May
1530-1730: Activist plan on gathering at MTR stations in Long Ping, Mong Kok East and Tai Wai in Kowloon.
PROTEST CHRONOLOGY 22 MAY – 28 MAY
Saturday 23 May
1800: A small group of pro-democracy activists gathered inside the atrium of Xin Cui Shopping Mall in Chai Wan on Hong Kong Island for a ‘Sing with You’ protest. The event began at approximately 1800. Police also intercepted suspected activists at the nearby Chai Wan MTR station.
Sunday 24 May
1300: Hundreds of activists held mass demonstrations around SOGO Causeway Bay and Wan Chai.
1800-2000: Activists held a ‘Sing with You’ demonstration at Edinburgh Place in Central.
Monday 25 May
1830: Activists held a demonstration at the International Finance Center (IFC), Central district.
Tuesday 26 May
1300: Activists scheduled a lunchtime gathering at the atrium of the Landmark mall in Central.
Wednesday 27 May
0600-0000: Activists held several rallies in Central, Wan Chai and Causeway Bay on Hong Kong Island, Mong Kok, Sham Shui Po and Wong Tai Sin in Kowloon and Tuen Mun, Tsuen Wan and Sha Tin in New Territories.