Special Alert: Hong Kong Protest Monitor

Hong Kong Protest Monitor

THE SITUATION NOW

Protests against the Hong Kong government’s suspended extradition bill and China’s increasing control over the territory are now in their 10th week and there is little indication the unrest is abating. The police continue to use often forceful tactics in an effort to disperse and control the protestors and, as A2 Global Risk forecast, have increased efforts to arrest violent protesters. Up to 8 August police had arrested approximately 600 protesters but they made 149 arrests between 9-12 August alone, for offences including unlawful assembly, possession of offensive weapons and assault on their officers. For the first time, Hong Kong police admitted to deploying undercover officers embedded within protesters to make arrests. This has further undermined trust in the police who have also been criticized this week for discharging tear gas in a mass transit rail (MTR) station and allegedly firing a ‘bean-bag round’ crowd dispersal projectile in the face of a protester, causing her to lose sight in one eye.

Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) emerged as a flashpoint this week as a planned sit-in between 9-11 August was extended into Monday and descended into violence, forcing the temporary suspension of airport operations on Monday 12 and Tuesday 13. In notably dramatic scenes, protesters attacked two people, one suspected as a mainland security officer and the other identified as a Chinese journalist from the Global Times. Observers on the ground reported a marked sharpening in attitude and rhetoric among a segment of protesters, with some claiming not to care if the attacked individuals were killed. However, in apparent recognition that footage of the airport violence would harm public support, the following day some protesters were seen with banners apologising for making ‘Imperfect decisions.’ Security at the airport has since been enhanced and travellers must now show a boarding pass or other evidence of good reason to be there, before being granted entry into the building.

Elsewhere, the unrest has entered a new phase with both the police and demonstrators adopting new tactics. The protesters now seek to stretch police resources by staging multiple or sequential demonstrations, described locally as ‘acting like water,’ (in a reference to Bruce Lee films) that involve quickly departing a location once the police have assembled sufficient resources to confront the activists. Two petrol bombs were thrown at police and a number of officers remain in hospital due to injuries sustained in the attack; this was the first time petrol bombs have been seen in these protests. In response, the police, likely under the direction of an experienced senior officer brought out of retirement explicitly to oversee more direct and forceful tactics against the protesters, now make far greater use of tear gas, baton rounds, pepper spray and plain clothes personnel often disguised as demonstrators.

Meanwhile, satellite imagery has emerged of a build-up of People’s Armed Police (PAP) paramilitary forces comprising thousands of riot-control personnel and hundreds of armoured vehicles at a sports stadium just across the border in Shenzhen. This has been accompanied by increasingly strong rhetoric from Beijing, which has condemned the unrest as ‘behaviour that is close to terrorism.’

THE WEEK AHEAD

A2 Global Risk continues to assess the deployment of PAP paramilitary forces in Hong Kong to be highly unlikely according to current conditions. Such a deployment would require a severe deterioration of the current security situation, such as a sustained occupation of key government buildings by protesters; sustained occupation of territory or public infrastructure which the police are unable to retake; or sustained violent clashes resulting in serious police injuries and fatalities. One critical observation during this weekend’s protests will be the weaponry deployed by the protesters. It is not clear if protesters intend to continue and increase the use of petrol bombs, or if the two thrown on 11 August have been deemed inappropriate or unhelpful to their cause. If protesters begin regularly utilising petrol bombs the likelihood of mainland forces being deployed will increase significantly.

While protests scheduled for the weekend and approved by the authorities are intended to be peaceful, it is highly likely some will morph into violent confrontations between activists, most of whom will have had no connection the original demonstration, and the police. The pattern is for activists to assemble at pre-determined points that offer them escape routes and good visibility in terms of being able to detect any police efforts to surround or outflank them. This makes major crossroads preferred sites for protestors to engage the police, usually at relatively long range.

The previous week has not seen any significant clashes between protesters and ‘White Shirt’ or ‘neighbourhood defence’ groups, but such inter-group violence remains possible. A pro-Beijing march is scheduled for 1700 at Tamar Park at Admiralty and Central on 17 August and there is the potential for violent clashes between opposing groups. Such clashes present a particular threat to passers-by as they can occur with little or no warning.

A2 Global advises residents and business travellers to avoid evening and night time use of the MTR. To date, protesters have used the MTR as a means of moving quickly between locations, however, the police have since sought to hamper this capability by monitoring key stations. Such tactics are disruptive but minimise the likelihood of casualties on either side. The threat to demonstrators and police increases greatly if a confrontation takes place in a confined space, as the clashes in an MTR station last week illustrated.

The ability of the protesters to close Hong Kong International Airport for two days in the past week showed the magnitude of continuing support for their efforts to confront the local and central governments. However, it also forced the territory’s administration – with Beijing’s strong backing – to increase their efforts to confront and deter the protestors. With thousands of passengers stranded and scenes of violent attacks on suspected police infiltrators, the protesters lost some of their previous reputation for civility and creativity. It is rumoured that ‘flash mob’ type protests will be staged at the airport in Friday and the following Tuesday. If they do occur, they are likely to be token demonstrations and pose limited threat to airport operations.

The weekend protests will serve as a means to assess to what extent China’s overt display of force just over the border from Hong Kong has had on the scale and intensify of the anticipated demonstrations. The ending of the airport occupation was accompanied by expression of regret, remorse and fear by some protesters. We assess that the local and central governments will have viewed this as an opportunity to divide the protest movement and make some limited concession or gesture. The release on bail of a prominent pro-democracy activist imprisonment for his role in the 2014 ‘Occupy’ movement has been interpreted by some an effort to reduce tension in the territory.

The previous week has not seen any significant clashes between protesters and ‘White Shirt’ or ‘neighbourhood defence’ groups, but such inter-group violence remains possible. A pro-Beijing march is scheduled for 1700 at Tamar Park at Admiralty and Central on 17 August and there is the potential for violent clashes between opposing groups. Such clashes present a particular threat to passers-by as they can occur with little or no warning.

A2 Global advises residents and business travellers to avoid evening and night time use of the MTR. To date, protesters have used the MTR as a means of moving quickly between locations, however, the police have since sought to hamper this capability by monitoring key stations. Such tactics are disruptive but minimise the likelihood of casualties on either side. The threat to demonstrators and police increases greatly if a confrontation takes place in a confined space, as the clashes in an MTR station last week illustrated.

The ability of the protesters to close Hong Kong International Airport for two days in the past week showed the magnitude of continuing support for their efforts to confront the local and central governments. However, it also forced the territory’s administration – with Beijing’s strong backing – to increase their efforts to confront and deter the protestors. With thousands of passengers stranded and scenes of violent attacks on suspected police infiltrators, the protesters lost some of their previous reputation for civility and creativity. It is rumoured that ‘flash mob’ type protests will be staged at the airport in Friday and the following Tuesday. If they do occur, they are likely to be token demonstrations and pose limited threat to airport operations.

The weekend protests will serve as a means to assess to what extent China’s overt display of force just over the border from Hong Kong has had on the scale and intensify of the anticipated demonstrations. The ending of the airport occupation was accompanied by expression of regret, remorse and fear by some protesters. We assess that the local and central governments will have viewed this as an opportunity to divide the protest movement and make some limited concession or gesture. The release on bail of a prominent pro-democracy activist imprisonment for his role in the 2014 ‘Occupy’ movement has been interpreted by some an effort to reduce tension in the territory.

UPCOMING PROTESTS

Friday 16 August

The ‘Kwai Fong Station Platform Cleaning Campaign’ is scheduled to begin at 0730 and end at 1200 at Kwai Fong Station. The organisers have encouraged Kwai Fong residents to help clean the station facilities affected by tear gas in a police action on 11 August.

The ‘Standing with Hong Kong, Power to the People’ rally is scheduled to begin at 2000 at Chater Garden, Central. The demonstration will be co-led by the Hong Kong Higher Institutions International Affairs Delegation and the Stand with Hong Kong Task Force, who are jointly appealing for:

·         The United Kingdom to confirm that China has violated the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

·         The United Kingdom and the United States to draft and pass Hong Kong Human Rights Democracy Bills to sanction officials who have violated Hong Kong’s freedom and human rights conditions.

A2 Global comment: The Hong Kong Higher Institutions International Affairs Delegation was founded in mid-July by 11 Hong Kong universities student unions. It is likely the rally will be mainly attended by university students.


Saturday 17 August

The ‘Teacher’s March’ is scheduled to start at 1100 and move from Chater Garden, Central to Government House, Central. A Letter of No Objection is pending.

The Safeguard Hong Kong’ assembly is scheduled at 1700 to 1830 starting at Tamar Park at Admiralty and Central.

The ‘Walking with God, Sing Hallelujah to the Lord’ assembly is scheduled at 1830. March will begin at 1900 from Justice Place to Government House. The event organizer has had organized the activity every Saturday in August. The previous activity on 10-Aug has approved by the Police. Therefore, this march will be highly likely to be approved as well.

The Hung Hom Procession is planned to start at Tai Wan Shan Park at 1530 and finish at Kowloon City Pier. A Letter of Objection has been issued by police, making the march illegal if it goes ahead.

The ‘Say No to Tear Gas Together for the Animals’ rally is planned at 1930 to 2230 at Edinburgh Place, Central.  The rally has been called to condemn the misuse of tear gas near residential area that has resulted in animals suffering distress. The rally has been approved by the police.


Sunday 18 August

The ‘818 Civil Human rights Front’ march is scheduled to start 1500 from Victoria Park, Causeway Bay and end in Chater Garden, Central. Letter of No Objection Pending.

Another march is planned tentatively to start at 1400 in Tsing Yi Sports Ground, New Territories and end Tsuen Wan Park.

A2 Global comment: It is unclear how many people will take part in these marches and whether the police have approved or banned them. Given past actions it is likely both marches will begin peacefully but with the threat of clashes between protesters and police once they end.

‘Bye Buy Day HK’ is intended to pressure the government to respond positively to the five core demands made by the protesters. The action calls for the public to make no purchases on Sunday, except for transport, and minimise all consumption from Monday to Saturday while limiting shopping to what the organisers call ‘conscientious stores’.

A2 Global comment: The campaign is aimed at the large stores and supermarkets that dominate the local retail sector and whose owners’ have identified as being allied to the local government.

Unconfirmed social media posts indicate a protest is scheduled at Disneyland.

‘Territory-wide Strike of Frontline Medical Workers’ rally will run from 16-22 August. 

PROTEST CHRONOLOGY 9 - 15 AUGUST

9 August 

At around 1300 hundreds of people gathered at Hong Kong International Airport Terminal 1 Arrival Hall for a non-approved sit-in. Airport Authorities strengthened security controls, preventing anyone without a 24-hour valid boarding pass from entering the check-in area.

10 August

Hundreds of older residents marched from police headquarter in Wan Chai, Hong Kong Island to the Chief Executive’s Office in Admiralty and the Secretary for Justice’s Office to submit a petition calling on the police to ‘lay down their offensive weapons’.

The Guard Our Children’s Future Families Rally followed in at Edinburgh Place, Central. Hundreds of parents showed up with their children to condemn the government’s action before marching to the Government headquarters.

Around a thousand protesters marched peacefully from Tai Po bus station in the New Territories until around 1800 when they reached Tai Wai and New Town Plaza in Sha Tin, and blocked roads. Police using tear gas to disperse the crowd in Tai Wai. Some protesters then moved to different districts, including Kwun Tong, Wong Tai Sin, Kowloon Bay and Tsuen Wan, dispersing quickly ahead of police contingents. A small group also temporarily blocked the Cross- Harbour Tunnel. 

Further unrest occurred after a woman was knocked down by officers in Tsim Sha Tsui. Police disperse the crowd with tear gas.

The airport sit-in entered its second day with an estimated 1,000 protestors joining the group who stayed overnight at the airport.

11 August

At about 1300 a rally got underway at Victoria Park, Causeway Bay. By1600 protesters had blocked the main roads near the Sogo department store and moved to nearby Wan Chai, where petrol bombs were thrown at the police.

At 1400 thousands of people marched in Sham Shui Po’s Maple Street Playground in defiance of a police ban. Protesters set roadblocks on Yam Chow Street and Cheung Sha Wan Road and besieged the Sham Shui Po Police station. At 1500 police used tear gas to disperse the protesters. At Tai Nam Street in Sham Shui Po, protesters throw petrol bombs at the police.

The protesters then moved to Tsim Sha Tsui police station and Kawi Chung police station, where they were dispersed by riot police. Some then moved to Kwai Fong MTR station, where police fired tear gas and used rubber bullets inside the station to disperse the crowd. Some protesters moved to Mei Foo MTR station and blocked Kwai Chung Road.

Around 2200 it was reported that several people disguised as protesters were seen arresting demonstrators in collaboration with the police.

Further confrontations occurred between protesters, police and local residents near Quarry Bay Station, Sha Tin police station, Sai Wan Ho, Taikoo Shing and Whampoa Gardens. At Tai Koo MTR station police used pepper ball rounds and batons against fleeing protesters.

The airport sit-in entered its third day with no large-scaled violence. 


12 August

Sits-in and violent protests involving around 5,000 activists occured at Hong Kong International Airport’s two main arrival halls. At 1600 the Airport Authority announced it had cancelled most remaining flights for the rest of the day.

Around 100 medical professionals at the Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital in Chai Wan demonstrated against riot police shooting a woman in her right eye. A similar protest was held at Princess Margaret Hospital in Lai Chi Kok. A group of front-line medical workers called for an indefinite strike.


13 August

Healthcare workers in at least seven public hospitals, including Prince of Wales Hospital, Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Queen Mary Hospital, and Tuen Mun Hospital held demonstrations to condemn police.

The airport protest continued for the fourth day. At 1630 Airport Authorities announced the suspension of departing flights for the remainder of the day. Tension increased that evening as protesters assaulted a man suspected of being a mainland security officer and a Chinese reporter from the Beijing-based Global Times newspaper. Police moved in to rescue the two men, leading to clashes with the protesters. Following this incident most demonstrators left the airport without further incidents.


14 August

At 2000 hundreds of protesters staged a rally outside the Sham Shui Po Police Station to mark the Hungry Ghost Festival by burning offerings in order to placate ancestral spirits. Many directed laser beams towards the police station, prompting the police to deploy riot control officers who dispersed the crowd with tear gas at 2045. A similar demonstration outside Tin Shui Wai Police Station was dispersed at approximately 2350 with at least eight arrests.

 

15 August

China’s People’s Armed Police (PAP) hold large scale civil unrest management exercises in Shenzhen Bay Sports Center. Small-scale protests were held in the harbourfront area of Central.