HONG KONG PROTEST MONITOR 3 July 2020

3 july 2020

THE SITUATION NOW

Over the monitoring cycle (26 June-2 July), a significant change was made in the operational environment in Hong Kong after the government implemented Beijing’s National Security Law on Tuesday (30 June).

The new law cover four categories of offences – secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with a foreign country or external elements that endanger national security. The maximum penalty for each crime is life imprisonment, with some undefined cases likely to be tried under China’s politicised and opaque legal system. Further, Beijing’s law enforcement and related agencies are now permitted to operate in Hong Kong without any reference to the local police.

Even during the run-up to the implementation, there had been intense opposition by pro-democracy, anti-Beijing activists on social media and at the street level with numerous demonstrations throughout the territory. The main focal points of demonstrations, however, continued to be Kowloon and Hong Kong Island, specifically in Central, Wan Chai and Causeway Bay districts.

On Sunday (28 June), there were two significant protests by activists following diametrically opposed political agendas. Pro-democracy activists rallied at the Jordan MTR Station and marched along Nathan Road in Mong Kok district, Kowloon for a ‘6.28 No CPC Silent March’. They were met by anti-riot police, who arrested 53 activists. Clashes did break out with police using pepper spray on protesters and media crews covering the event. Outside the US Consulate General in Central district, Hong Kong Island, around 100 pro-Beijing activists gathered to protest against US meddling in China’s domestic affairs and in support of the national security law. This event, unsurprisingly, ended without police intervention and peacefully.

On Tuesday (30 June), activists gathered at separate venues, with demonstrations at the Landmark commercial complex in Central district, apm shopping mall in Kwun Tong district, and MOSTown shopping mall in Sha Tin district on Hong Kong Island. Public transport on the day was significantly disrupted along multiple routes.

The Cross-Harbour Tunnel towards Hong Kong was closed at 1300 local time, where numerous police officers in Hung Hom erected roadblocks. Police also blocked three lanes on Hong Kong Island at Western Harbour Crossing. Police there conducted searches for activists and dangerous items.

Protesters blocked several traffic lanes along Hennessy Road and Causeway Road, and damaged Queen’s Road East and Wan Chai Road. Exits D1 and E of the Causeway Bay MTR were temporarily closed. Police cordoned off Percival Street, Jaffe Road, Patterson Street, East Point Road, and Great George Street.

Then on Wednesday (1 July), a significant date that commemorates the 1997 handover from the British government to the Chinese as well as a day that annually sees pro-democracy protests, there were large-scale protests and marches, with the main one taking place on Hong Kong Island. Activists gathered from 1400-1430 at multiple locations in Causeway Bay, Wan Chai and Central districts with the intention to rally at Victoria Park and march to Tim Mei Avenue in the Admiralty area of Central district. Times Square shopping centre in Causeway Bay was also a major rallying point for activists. Up to 10,000 people took to the streets on the day. 

Activists march in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, 1 July 2020

Groups of activists blockaded roads with debris. Police responded forcefully to clear gatherings by using water cannons, tear gas and pepper balls. Journalists and media crews were also targeted with similar crowd dispersal tactics.

Police water cannon truck fires water to protesters, press and pedestrians during a demonstration against the new national security law, 1 July 2020

Events started early in the day with ‘hundreds’ of masked activists occupying major roads in the Admiralty area, Central district, Hong Kong Island. Activists cut off sections of Lung Wo Road, Tim Mei Avenue and Harcourt Road. Police halted MTR services at Admiralty and Wan Chai stations.

Activists wielding umbrellas, suitcases and wooden boards to shield themselves gathered at Fenwick Pier Street, where they were met by police who used pepper spray to disperse them. Some of the activists reportedly hurled an ‘unknown liquid’ at police officers, who were subsequently taken to hospital for related breathing difficulties and swollen and itchy skin. Activists on Lung Wo Road hurled bricks at police.

On Percival Street in Causeway Bay, activists vandalised a Maxim’s bakery and Maxim’s-owned Starbucks coffee shop. Maxim has been a frequent target for pro-democracy activists due to Maxim’s owner siding with the Beijing government. A police officer was stabbed with a sharp object by an activist on Hing Fat Street. The suspected assailant was arrested at Hong Kong International Airport early on Thursday (2 July); he was reportedly booked on a UK-bound Cathay Pacific flight.

Anti-riot police and activists engaged in brief skirmishes on Hennessy Road in Wan Chai. Activists also set up road blocks with bricks, rubbish and police railings on Hennessey and Queen’s roads. By around 2230, the majority of activists had dispersed and the police had made around 370 arrests.

 Pedestrians walk pass the Starbucks coffee shop after the windows are damaged during a demonstration against the new national security law, 1 July 2020

On Thursday (2 July), pro-Beijing activists rallied at the US Consulate calling on the American government to stop interfering in the domestic affairs of Hong Kong and China. They were also there to present a petition to consulate authorities that allegedly had 1.6 million signatures. Dozens of activists had gathered for the peaceful protest that well-policed. There were no reports of any significant traffic disruption in the area.

 

THE WEEK AHEAD

Over this current monitoring cycle (3-9 July), activist incident scope, volume and type are very likely to remain within threshold trends previously identified. There may be a few standout exceptions, but this will largely depend on the interplay between activists and seemingly emboldened security force.

While the new laws are in line with expectations, their imposition on the 23rd anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty is viewed by many as signalling Beijing’s virtually full resumption of control 27 years prior to the official 2047 deadline agreed with the UK. However, the decision not to make the laws retroactive may be intended to highlight the central and local government claims that they are only intended to target activists.

This will be tested in the 12-month outlook and beyond, but meanwhile the principal impact of the new laws has been, no doubt as intended, to mute the protest movement and effectively dismantle some of the groups that formed its organisational base. The likelihood this will lead to the emergence of extremist groups willing to use violence to promote their cause is low, but this threat from any source cannot be discounted. Most foreign interests will now await China’s response to their own governments’ position on the new laws and the impact this may have on their status and operations in Hong Kong. Primary concerns will include visa restrictions and whether a ‘loyalty’ test will be applied that could affect their international operations and reputation and relationship with local staff.

The security law has garnered intense and widespread condemnation by the international community, but one retaliatory measure that has irked the Hong Kong and Chinese governments, and one that will have ramifications on foreign businesses, particularly those in the financial services sector, was the response from the US.

The US House of Representatives and Senate approved legislation imposing sanctions on banks which do business with Chinese officials involved in cracking down on pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. The bill – the Hong Kong Autonomy Act – has been sent to President Donald Trump for approval.

Given its bipartisan support and the hostile nature of Sino-US ties more broadly, Trump is highly likely to sign the bill into law, barring major concessions from Beijing. The sanctions mark the latest measure by the US to penalise China for the imposition of new national security laws on Hong Kong. Washington has already begun unwinding the territory’s special trade status, halting exports of defence equipment and dual-use commercial-military technologies in light of the national security laws. The new measures will increase banks’ compliance burdens, and are likely to prompt commercial or diplomatic retaliation from Beijing. Banks and other financial services companies set to be impacted by the legislation should monitor legislative updates and assess the law’s likely impact on the legality of operations, and medium-to-long term strategy.

Media organisations will also be under heightened scrutiny for their coverage in the territory. China’s foreign ministry on Wednesday (1 July) said four US media agencies would be required to provide details of their operations in Hong Kong within the coming seven days. The move will require Associated Press, National Public Radio, CBS and United Press International to provide details on their staff members, finances and property holdings in China and follows the US government’s decision in June to declare four major Chinese state- or communist party-owned media outlets – China Central Television, China News Service, People’s Daily and Global Times - de facto foreign missions.

The move was anticipated given China’s policy of reciprocity in any confrontation of this nature. However, while it may accelerate the continuing escalation of measures and counter-measures between Beijing and a growing number of foreign powers and blocs, its impact is likely to be negligible as the US news organisations will have assumed their operations and personnel are well known to the Chinese authorities. Of greater concern is the implicit threat that similar demands may in the future involve commercial companies operating in China if international ties with Beijing continue to deteriorate, as seems probable. Companies operating in China should update their contingency plans regarding the security of staff and commercially sensitive data in order to identify any vulnerabilities that may be compromised in the event details of corporate activities are demanded by the authorities.

The national security law in one aspect is intended to suppress anti-Beijing protests, and there are indicators that this is working at least in terms of communications on various social media and encrypted IM platforms. Activists appear to have gone ‘underground’ in regards to announcing planned demonstrations, at least those with long lead times. Current sentiment among activists, however, shared publicly and on social media and IM platforms, do not point to lower intentions or expectations to hold demonstrations. Instead of planned rallies, there is likely to be more emphasis on ad hoc, flash-mob style rallies with shorter announcement and execution periods.

 See details of upcoming protests below.

 

UPCOMING PROTETS

Saturday 4 July

1400-1500: Activists plan on gathering outside the US Consulate General in Central District, Hong Kong Island to ‘celebrate’ American Independence Day.

 

PROTEST CHRONOLOGY 26 June –  2 July

Sunday 28 June

1500-1700: Activists gathered at the Jordan MTR Station and moved along Nathan Road to Mong Kok, Kowloon for ‘6.28 No CPC Silent March’.  There were clashes with police, who used pepper spray on protesters and arrested at least 53 individuals over the course of the day.

1300-1500: Approximately 100 people protested outside the US Consulate General in Central district against alleged US meddling in China’s internal affairs and in support of the national security law.

Tuesday 30 June

1300: Activists gathered for a ‘Lunch with You’ rally at Landmark commercial complex, Central, Hong Kong Island.

1500: Approximately 40 people held a rally in support of the passing of the national security law at Tamar Park, Admiralty, Hong Kong Island.

1800: Activists gathered for a ‘Sing with You’ rally at the apm shopping mall, Kwun Tong, Kowloon.

2000-2100: Activists gathered at MOSTown (formerly Sunshine City) shopping mall in Ma On Shan, Sha Tin district, Hong Kong Island.

Wednesday 1 July

0700-2230: Around 10,000 activists gathered at multiple locations throughout the day on Hong Kong Island, mainly in Causeway Bay, Wan Chai and Central districts. There was a fragmented march between Victoria Park and Tim Mei Avenue in the Admiralty area of Central district. They had gathered to protest the national security law. Clashes between activists and anti-riot police occurred throughout the day.

Thursday 2 July

1500: Pro-Beijing activists rallied at the US Consulate General in Central district, calling on the American government to stop interfering in the domestic affairs of Hong Kong and China. They were also there to present a petition to consulate authorities that allegedly had 1.6 million signatures