HONG KONG PROTEST MONITOR 29 NOVEMBER 2019
THE SITUATION NOW
Hong Kong experienced its first week without any serious unrest, in sharp contrast to the previous period that was characterised by sustained and chaotic violence. During the past few weeks a number of universities that had been occupied by protesters and key public transport network once again disrupted. The occupation of the last remaining tertiary institution held by activists formally ended on 28 November when the Polytechnic University of Hong Kong (PolyU) in Kowloon was declared free of protesters, with only a few non-violent small ‘flash-mob’ style rallies recorded during the week. This hiatus is largely the result of the pan-democratic camp’s overwhelming victory over pro-government and pro-Beijing candidates in the District Council elections held on 24 November.
A long queue forms outside District Council election polling booth, 24 November 2019
Pro-democracy activists and their supporters, in an impressive display of discipline and coordination for a notionally leaderless movement, suspended most of their protest actions ahead of the weekend of 23-24 November in order not to compromise the District Council election. This decision became manifest as millions of people turned out to cast their ballot, often queuing for an hour or so at the polling booths across all 18 districts. The police presence was minimal, despite earlier government assurances that each polling centre would be well protected, and the 15-hour voting period passed off without any significant incidents. Nearly three million votes were cast, or almost double the number in 2015 and accounted for 71 per cent of registered voters, a record high in Hong Kong’s election history.
Pro-democracy candidates achieved an overwhelming victory, taking control of 17 of 18 District Councils, all previously held by pro-government or pro-Beijing councillors, gaining 388 of the 452 seats. This result also means pro-democracy councillors now have 117 District Council subsector seats in the 1,200-member Election Committee that help select Hong Kong’s chief executive. The result of the elections led to widespread spontaneous celebrations throughout the territory, reflecting a broad popular mistrust of both the local government and ‘establishment’ supporters and the central government in Beijing.
As we forecast, the occupation of the PolyU campus continued throughout much of the week, despite an estimated 1,000 protesters leaving the site either to surrender to the authorities or escape detection. On Monday 25 November, dozens of newly-elected pro-democracy district councillors, later accompanied by supporters, marched to the campus to call on the government to permit the remaining protesters – many of whom were fearful the police would assault them in detention - to leave peacefully. The 10-day standoff finally ended when first university staff and then police, firefighters, paramedics and psychologists entered the campus on Thursday 28 November after being assured no one remained inside. The police later reported that almost 4,000 petrol bombs and containers of concentrated sulphuric acid were found inside the campus.
Small and generally brief lunchtime ‘flash mob’ rallies occurred in the Central business district, but were contained by a large police presence without violence. On Monday 25 November, pro-Beijing New People's Party leader Regina Ip was briefly surrounded by lunchtime protesters in Central until escorted away by police officers. She was unhurt.
On Wednesday 27 November, police arrested two secondary students from the Caritas Ma On Shan Secondary School in the New Territories following the seizure of a small amount of what is suspected to be TATP, a dangerous explosive substance that has been used in deadly terrorist attacks. The case remains under investigation, but in July the police seized 2kg of the explosive substance in a raid in Tsuen Wan, also in the New Territories, the largest amount recovered since Hong Kong returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
Pro-democracy supporters wave US flags in Edinburgh Place, Central, 28 November 2019On the evening of Thursday 28 November, hundreds of people attended a peaceful rally in Edinburgh Place, Central, to celebrate US President Donald Trump signing of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act into law the previous day. The Act had earlier been passed almost unanimously by the US Congress. The US move infuriated the central government in Beijing and the local administration in Hong Kong, with both warning of unspecified consequences for US interests.
Hundreds of other people also gathered the same evening at the Tsim Sha Tsui clock tower in Kowloon to support protesters they believe remain undetected within the PolyU complex.
THE WEEK AHEAD
The next phase in the crisis will largely depend on how protesters and the government respond to the election results. The wider pro-democracy movement may view the outcome of the District Council elections as vindicating their position and serve as the basis of negotiation with the local government. Activists may also see the results as reflecting their more militant position and press for a return to street-level protests. However, as there is little to no chance of the Hong Kong government and its Beijing backers accepting all of the protesters’ demands the most probable outcome is effectively a return to all side positions period to the elections.
Nevertheless, barring an incident that triggers a huge response and reignites the majority who clearly opposed the local administration’s management of the crisis, we assess it is unlikely there will be a return to levels of violent confrontation evident a few weeks ago. While the elections gave the pro-democracy movement the credibility and base they sought, they also eroded the momentum driving the protests, as the end of the PolyU ‘siege’ highlighted. These scenarios will be tested during the course of a number of protests scheduled to resume in the coming week.
On Friday 29 November, a march in support for Simon Cheung is scheduled to start at 1930 at the British Consulate building in Admiralty. Cheng, a former British consulate employee, was detained in Shenzhen, China, on charges of soliciting prostitution. Cheng, now in the UK, claimed on Wednesday 20 November that he was tortured and forced to reveal information regarding the Hong Kong protests, an accusation Beijing denied. Protesters may attempt to occupy major roads in the vicinity and we advise residents and visitors to be aware of the potential for disruption in Central and Admiralty districts.
On Saturday 30 November, secondary school students and elders are due to attend a rally at Chater Garden, Central, from 1400 to 1700. Protesters also plan to form a human chain between 2030 to 2230, in support of the PolyU students, that will extend from Kowloon Bay MTR Station Exit B to Kwun Tong Road. Violence during the scheduled protest times is unlikely, but we warn there is a risk of localised transport disruption.
On the morning of Sunday 1 December, a march to protest against the police use of tear gas is scheduled to start at Edinburgh Place in Central and end the Government Offices in Admiralty. Another march to show gratitude to the US for signing the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act into law is planned at 1230 between Chater Garden to the US Consulate, both in Central. We warn this rally is likely to go ahead regardless of a police ban and therefore carries a risk of violence.
There are also indications that workers in the advertising sector plan to stage protests from 1200 to 1400 all next week (2-6 December) in Chater Garden, Central. We warn this may cause some limited disruption.
Friday 29 November
‘Lunch with You’ flash mob rallies are scheduled at the following places at 1230:
- Wong Chuk Hang in Southern District, Hong Kong island
- One Island East in Taikoo Place, Quarry Bay, Hong Kong island
- Intersection at Cheung Shun Street and Cheung Lai Street in Cheung Sha Wan, Kowloon
Protesters plan to deliver a petition in support of Simon Cheng at the British Consulate in Admiralty at 1930.
Saturday 30 November
The ‘Rally of Secondary School Students and The Silvers’ is scheduled at Chater Garden, Central, from 1400 to 1700.
Protesters plan to form a human chain from Kowloon Bay MTR Station Exit B to Kwun Tong Road from 2030 to 2230 to support PolyU students.
Sunday 1 December
The ‘No Tear Gas to Children March’ is scheduled to take place from Edinburgh Place to Government Offices, both in Central from 1000 to 1130.
The ‘March of Gratitude to the US’ is scheduled between Chater Garden and the US Consulate, both in Central from 1230 to 1600.
Monday 2 December-Friday 6 December
Workers in the advertising industry plan a five-day action at Chater Garden, Central, from 1200 to 1400 each day between 2-6 December.
PROTEST CHRONOLOGY 22 - 28 NOVEMBER
Saturday 23 November
Hundreds of people marched from Suffolk Road to La Salle College, Kowloon Tong, to oppose the police use of tear gas
Monday 25 November
Protesters staged a peaceful rally in Pedder Street, Central.
In the afternoon, dozens newly-elected pro-democracy district councillors gathered in Centenary Garden and marched to PolyU to demand an end to the police siege.
In the evening, hundreds of people gathered at Science Museum Road, Kowloon, and attempted to march to PolyU but were prevented from doing so by the police. Some protesters blocked roads with makeshift barricades.
Tuesday 26 November
Office workers staged a peaceful lunchtime protest in IFC Mall, Central.
A few hundred people occupied roads near MegaBox Mall in Kowloon Bay.
Thursday 28 November
Dozens of people staged a peaceful lunchtime protest in Central.
Hundreds of people gathered at Edinburgh Place, Central, to celebrate US President Donald Trump signing of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act into US law.
Hundreds of people gathered at Tsim Sha Tsui clock tower, Kowloon, to support protesters they believe remain inside the PolyU campus.