HONG KONG PROTEST MONITOR 30 October 2020
THE SITUATION NOW
The sum of incident reporting on protests by pro-democracy activists increased relatively slightly compared to the previous monitoring cycle (16-22 October) of four, with the majority of them organised and carried out by a local activist popularly known as ‘David’. There were six significant protests during the reporting period (23-29 October), broadly following two themes: solidarity with similar pro-democracy activism in Thailand and objection to the arrest of Hong Kong activist Chung Hon Lam Tony.
David and Captain America outside Central Police Station on 29 October 2020
During the early part of the reporting period, the mother of Poon Hiu-wing on Sunday (25 October) reiterated her concerted efforts to reach an agreement with Hong Kong police to act as an intermediary between authorities in Hong Kong and Taiwan regarding a transfer of Poon Hiu-wing’s alleged murderer, Chan Tong-kai, to Taiwanese authorities. A planned meeting between Poon’s mother and the police on Sunday reportedly agreed to by police on Friday (23 October) did not take place.
Developments concerning Poon Hiu-wing’s mother remain a focal point of attention for pro-democracy activists. A plausible outcome is the incitement of street-level protest activities condemning the Hong Kong police’s apparent refusal to accept the mother’s offer of acting as an intermediary; however, fears over arrests and fines under the national security law (NSL) continue to serve as a significant deterrent to mass participation in such activities.
On Tuesday (27 October), a development to closely monitor is that of the arrest of Tony Chung — a 19-year-old student activist who was detained and charged with sedition under the NSL. Officers from the new national security unit captured him near the US Consulate General in Hong Kong and Macau in Central, Hong Kong Island prior to him presenting himself to the American government for asylum. His case could further exacerbate diplomatic tensions with some Western governments, garner more international condemnation from global activist communities and merit some form of economic retaliation.
Chung was affiliated with a local pro-independence movement called Student Localism before the NSL was enacted. Student Localism said that police on Tuesday arrested two other former members, William Chan and Yanni Ho. A group called ‘Friends of Hong Kong’ sent a statement to media alleging that its members had attempted to arrange for Chung to apply for asylum through the US consulate. The group said that Chung had on Monday (26 October) been instructed to report to police on Tuesday, and that he was concerned that he would have his bail withdrawn and face additional charges. Chung was released on bail following his initial arrest under the NSL, though he was barred from leaving Hong Kong while under police investigation.
Then on Thursday (29 October), a Hong Kong court charged Chung with secession, money laundering and conspiring to publish seditious material. He could face a life prison sentence if convicted.
Chung’s case will serve as a test for Hong Kong’s judiciary and how the NSL is imposed in the territory, although it is likely to be months before he faces sentencing. Nevertheless, the secession charge is likely to increase criticism and condemnation of the Hong Kong government by many of the territory’s main Western markets and notional allies. This is likely to be reflected by further offers of asylum or resettlement for individuals and new sanctions against those viewed as complicit in Beijing’s increasingly repressive actions in Hong Kong. Foreign companies are also likely to have to assess whether to openly support China’s position in Hong Kong in order to continue operating in the territory, risking condemnation in their home countries from official and non-official sources. Further, the charges against Chung, and other activists in the future, are certain to increase efforts by many mainly young local residents to leave the territory or avoid employment with companies viewed as actively supporting China, with implications for staff recruitment and retention in the six-month outlook and beyond.
Pro-democracy activists online called on people to co-sign a document expressing concerns over a report by the South China Morning Post alleging the potential appointment of senior roles at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) by two mainland Chinese professors from Tsinghua University. The HKU governing council appointed the two professors on Tuesday (27 October). HKU’s student union and an opposition lawmaker reportedly asserted that HKU should explain whether one of the professors remains a member of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), as he was listed on the Tsinghua University website until Thursday (22 October).
There were no other significant pro-democracy rallies or gatherings during this cycle. See details below.
Geopolitics and the local implications
Beijing on Friday threatened to stop recognising British National (Overseas) (BNO) Passports after the UK on Thursday (22 October) detailed plans to offer Hong Kongers fleeing the territory a path to UK citizenship. China accused Britain of interfering in China and Hong Kong’s domestic affairs. Beijing’s threats against the UK over the BNO passports scheme raises the risk of retaliation against the UK’s interests in Hong Kong, including through protests by pro-Beijing activists and cyberattacks and/or cyberespionage campaigns.
Hundreds of activists attended a rally on 25 October in Taipei, Taiwan, calling for mainland Chinese authorities to release the 12 Hong Kongers arrested at sea. The protest was part of a global campaign in 35 cities to support Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. Participants comprised activists from various Taiwanese organisations, other Taiwanese residents, and resident Hong Kongers. Some of the black-clad protesters held up signs urging the 12 to be released from custody, while others raised yellow umbrellas associated with Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. On 23-25 October, people protested in cities worldwide, including Adelaide, London, New York, San Francisco, Toronto, and Vancouver as part of the campaign titled ‘#save12hkyouths’, which was initiated by Hong Kong-based activist leader Joshua Wong and Nathan Law on social media. Almost 400 black-clad people participated in a rally at Tower Bridge in London on 24 October. The protest was attended by UK-based Hong Hongers, Taiwanese and Thais in solidarity with the Hong Kong pro-democracy activists.
Global solidarity protests are incrementally gathering momentum. Such support raises the risk of punitive measures by foreign governments against Beijing and Hong Kong, which may retaliate by targeting their staff, assets, and operations in Hong Kong.
Prominent, now UK-based pro-democracy activist Nathan Law on 26 October urged a Canadian parliamentary committee to sanction Chinese and Hong Kong officials for attacks on Hong Kong’s freedom and co-operate with other democratic nations to confront the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Law also urged Canada to introduce a lifeboat programme to accept Hong Kongers fleeing the territory over the NSL. Deputy chairperson of the committee Garnett Genuis said he was concerned that Canadians in Hong Kong were at risk of being abducted to mainland China.
Should Nathan Law’s pressuring of the Canadian government lead to action, measures by Ottawa would likely be met with retaliation by Beijing. Previously US sanctions on Chinese officials under the Hong Kong Autonomy Act have been met with threats by Beijing to carry out reprisals against US interests and citizens. The German parliament will also need to debate a petition on sanctions against China over Hong Kong, as the petition reached the minimum number of signatures requiring Berlin to do so. Whether deliberations over sanctions on China actually result in sanctions is likely to depend significantly on whether the US and the EU, as well as other Western nations, form a united response against China. Recent calls by German politicians to form a coherent Europe-US response against China would likely be spurred on in the event that Biden wins the upcoming 3 November US election.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam on 27 October said that, according to Reverend Canon Peter Koon, Chan Tong-kai remains intent on travelling to Taiwan to surrender himself to authorities, and that he is still in need of a visa to do so. Lam stressed that the Hong Kong government does not have the right to issue a visa and restated the Hong Kong government’s willingness to accommodate Chan’s transfer to Taiwan.
Carrie Lam’s announcement regarding Chan Tong-kai underscores the fact that Taiwan and Hong Kong remain at loggerheads over how to handle the extradition case. Developments relating to Chan are likely to be closely followed by pro-democracy activists, who resent Hong Kong police for protecting Chan in a safehouse. Should the situation continue to be unresolved despite recent efforts to facilitate the surrender, street-level protest activities are a probable outcome.
Operational implications from COVID-19
On Tuesday (27 October) Hong Kong recorded five new cases, all imported, against eight similar infections the previous day. On Thursday (29 October) Hong Kong recorded three new cases, two imported, one locally transmitted and all traced. The continuing low rate of locally transmitted infections, the need to rekindle the economy and probable pressure from Beijing were reflected in the territory’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s indication on Tuesday that quarantine restrictions on local residents entering Hong Kong from China could be lifted in November.
More details on changes to restrictions can be expected when Lam visits Beijing next week. Any relaxation of international travel into Hong Kong is certain to be contingent on first reopening the border with the mainland. In addition, local social distancing measures, notably relating to restaurants, bars and beaches, will also be further relaxed from Friday (30 October). This coincides with the ending of a government wage subsidy scheme intended to mitigate the threat of widespread unemployment.
THE WEEK AHEAD
An upcoming Halloween-themed protest scheduled for Saturday (31 October) is expected to have a relatively high turnout, particularly as it is not directed specifically at the Hong Kong or China governments, but at the Thai government. Participants have been asked to where masks of Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha and arrive at various rallying points in Causeway Bay, Central district, Hong Kong Island and Mong Kok and Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon. See details below.
Masks of Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha to be worn by activists during protest on 31 October 2020
More demonstrations by David are very likely as the activist’s resolve is evidently undeterred by the threats of arrests and fines under the NSL. His protests have taken on a more symbolic role, and despite having very nominal disruptive effects to nearby businesses and travel, their continuance serve as highly effective propaganda aimed at garnering more international attention.
In the geopolitical sphere, diplomatic tensions between the Hong Kong and Beijing governments and certain Western governments continue to ratchet up a notch with each controversial statement and threats. Undoubtedly, Hong Kong and Beijing will be watching with keen interest the US presidential election (3 November), in the hopes that a favourable outcome will alleviate the current trade conflict and diplomatic disputes over a raft of issues, including the NSL, Beijing’s alleged human rights abuses against Muslim minority Uyghurs, territorial integrity disputes in the South China Sea, and clampdowns on Chinese technology firms, particularly Huawei and ZTE. An unfavourable outcome will very likely see a worsening of relations with Washington and the Trump administration, compelling Beijing to follow through on threats against US companies and citizens, including the threat of detention.
See details of upcoming protests below.
Friday 30 October
1315: David will hold a protest to commemorate the 14-month anniversary of the ‘831’ Prince Edward station attacks at 4/F Atrium of Langham Place, Mong Kok district, Kowloon.
1430: David will hold a protest outside the fifth rail car on the platform of trains heading in the Central district direction on Hong Kong Island at Prince Edward MTR Station, Mong Kok district, Kowloon.
1545: Captain America and David will hold a protest at the park opposite the Central Police Station, 2 Chung Kong Road, Sheung Wan, Central and Western districts, Hong Kong Island. At the park, they will read copies of the Apple Daily.
Saturday 31 October
1300: David will hold a protest similar to the one at the Prince Edward MTR Station on 30 October. He will sit on the platform of the fifth rail car of trains heading in the Central district direction on Hong Kong Island at Prince Edward MTR Station, Mong Kok district, Kowloon. David will also silently read copies of the Apple Daily.
1900-2200: Activists plan on holding multiple protests under the banner ‘Halloween Scare Thai You’. Activists have been calling for participants to where masks of Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha as a form of protest for his government’s treatment of pro-democracy activism in Thailand.
Exact locations are likely to be announced an hour before the start of the protest. Districts where they are likely to take place include:
Mong Kok district, Kowloon
Tsim Sha Tsui, Yau Tsim Mong district, Kowloon
Central district, Hong Kong Island
Causeway Bay, Hong Kong Island
Sha Tin district, New Territories
PROTEST CHRONOLOGY 23 – 29 October
Tuesday 27 October
1315: Activists reportedly gathered at the IFC mall, Central district, Hong Kong Island, where they read copies of the Apple Daily newspaper during a protest.
1500: Activists gathered outside the Royal Thai Embassy, Fairmont House, Central district, Hong Kong Island, where they submitted a petition letter to the Prime Minister and King of Thailand, calling the Thai government to address Thai protesters’ three demands and release of all detained student activists.
1600: David submitted a petition to the Hong Kong government at Government Office, Admiralty, Hong Kong Island, calling for the implementation of the lowering of the age threshold for the HKD2 public transport scheme.
Wednesday 28 October
1315: David held a ‘Lunch with You—Giving Support to Chung Hon Lam Tony’ protest at Tsuen Wan Plaza Atrium, Tsuen Wan district, New Territories.
Thursday 29 October
1530: David held a protest at Pacific Coffee, St John’s Building, Central district, Hong Kong Island.
1800: David and Captain America held a protest outside Central Police Headquarters Wan Chai, Hong Kong Island.