Special Alert: Hong Kong Protest Monitor 23 August

HONG KONG PROTEST MONITOR

THE SITUATION NOW

Violent clashes between protesters and the police at Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) on 12-13 August appears to have moderated the actions of many activists. There has been a marked decline in violence in the week starting 16 August, with protesters and police – both of whom had been widely criticised for their actions – actively seeking to avoid or limit confrontation.

On Sunday 18 August a peaceful demonstration organised by the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF) was held in Victoria Park in Hong Kong island’s Causeway Bay district. The number of protesters quickly exceeded the park’s capacity and the rally became an unsanctioned march to the Admiralty district where many government buildings are located. It is not possible to verify organisers’ claim that 1.7 million people attended the rally and march, but it highly likely that at least one million attended both events despite torrential monsoon rain. The size of Sunday’s march contrasted with the estimated 450,000 people who gathered in Tamar Park the day earlier to show their support for the police.

The 18 August rally and march were notable for the restraint exhibited by the protesters and the police. For example, protest organisers appealed for non-violence while more than 2,000 ad hoc marshals were instrumental in successfully encouraging a few thousand activists who had gathered outside the territory’s legislative council building late that evening to disperse. The police were almost entirely absent during the day and did not deploy units during the evening, despite some provocation by some protesters using laser pens and slingshots.

On Wednesday 21 August an initially peaceful sit-in at Yuen Long Mass Transit Railway (MTR) station in the New Territories, called to mark the one-month anniversary of a violent attack on protesters and members of the general public by members of organised criminal groups (‘triads’), led to unrest as protesters sought to occupy the station. Despite the protesters causing considerable damage, the police exhibited restraint as well as effective coordination with the MTR authorities, who provided additional train services after the normal shutdown period, enabling protesters to evacuate and avoid a serious confrontation.

Corporate interests have also come under what may be increased pressure to convince Beijing of where their ‘loyalty’ – and most certainly economic interest – lie. On 16 August Rupert Hogg resigned as CEO of Cathay Pacific Airways following what appears to have been an orchestrated boycott of the carrier by mainland Chinese customers due to the airline’s perceived support for the protesters. Unusually, Hogg’s resignation was initially announced by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) rather than Cathay Pacific, in what was widely interpreted as a further indicator of Beijing’s determination to signal its displeasure and ultimate control over foreign companies active in Hong Kong.

The decision by KPMG, PWC, HSBC, Bank of East Asia, and Standard Chartered Bank to issue statements confirming their support for China’s territorial integrity and condemning violence highlighted the uncomfortable position in which many multinationals in Hong Kong now find themselves. Many will have to balance reputational damage among competing stakeholders and consumer bases, with the risk from local and international consumers over what may be viewed as a ‘pro-China’ stance against Beijing’s ability to cause them severe economic harm if they fail to comply with the central government’s demands of overt ‘loyalty.’ Corporate politicisation also risks fomenting toxic work environments and the potential for workplace violence.

As the protest movement enters its 12th weekend it remains, by design, effectively leaderless. Nevertheless, the scale of the previous Sunday’s march served as an unambiguous statement of continuing broad public support for the mainly youthful protesters. After a week of relative calm, and it must be presumed intensive discussions by protesters and the local and central governments over their next moves, the nature and duration of the crisis is now finely balanced. This weekend will help clarify whether the protests have peaked in terms of the violent unrest seen over the past months, or whether Hong Kong has simply experienced the calm present when the eye of a typhoon passes before winds strengthen from another direction.

THE WEEK AHEAD

Several protests are scheduled for the coming week and are likely to be well-attended. However, A2 Global Risk does not expect upcoming demonstrations to be of the same scale as those held last weekend.

Protester violence, while largely absent during the past week, is likely to continue. Rhetoric from radical activists has shifted, with some arguing for the need to use violence parallel with peaceful protests as a means of maintaining pressure on the local authorities.

Locations and buildings directly associated with the local and central governments are most likely to be targeted. However, A2 Global Risk assesses there is also a growing threat to businesses perceived as pro-Beijing or unsupportive of protester demands. These businesses may be targets for vandalism, staff, social media and online intimidation, as well as calls for consumer boycotts, where relevant. In addition, protesters have reportedly been sharing access codes to corporate offices to enable activists seek sanctuary, avoid police during demonstrations or vandalise the premises.

Protests are planned on the MTR network between 1900 and 2100 on Friday 23 August (full details of locations below). There is the potential for these to become violent at targeted MTR stations and surrounding neighbourhoods during and after the scheduled protest times. A2 Global Risk advises travellers to avoid affected areas.
 
 
A disruption campaign is planned on public transport and roads between Hong Kong city and the international airport between 0700 and 1100 on Saturday and Sunday. A2 Global does not expect significant violence to occur during these demonstrations. The High Court has indefinitely extended an injunction preventing protests at the airport and airport operations are unlikely to be seriously affected. However, significant travel disruption is likely and travellers are advised to avoid transit to and from the airport during this time if possible. If transit is unavoidable, travellers should allow additional time and be aware of the potential for isolated clashes between protesters, the police and some passengers.

A2 Global Risk warns that travellers crossing the border into China may have their mobile phones checked, ostensibly to see whether they contain anti-China sentiments or other material that may be deemed seditious or subversive. To date Hong Kong residents have mainly been targeted but the detention of local employee of the UK High Commission in Hong Kong earlier this month may be intended to signal that no one is above suspicion in the present crisis. It is possible such checks will be extended to other ports of entry, and A2 Global Risk advises all travellers, regardless of citizenship, entering China from Hong Kong to ensure they do not have any protest-related or indeed any other commercially or personally sensitive material on their mobile devices.

A2 Global Risk continues to assess deployment of military or paramilitary forces by Beijing to be highly unlikely under current security conditions.

INTERNATIONALISATION
 
The protest movement has also become internationalised, with rallies and responses from opposing groups held in cities including London, Paris, Berlin, New York, Washington, DC, as well as major cities and university campuses in Canada and Australia.


This has been accompanied by growing internationalisation of social media campaigns by both sides. Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube in recent days have suspended or blocked multiple accounts suspected of engaging in pro-Beijing disinformation campaigns, with Twitter and Facebook specifically stating the accounts in question were likely controlled by the Chinese government. To date, no accounts associated with the protest movement are known to have been closed down. However, A2 Global Risk notes that many protester accounts also contain distorted anti-government information.

Various foreign governments have released statements on the protests. In particular, the United States, European Union, and the United Kingdom have called for the preservation of the 'one country, two systems' principle, while Canada has called for China to respect human rights. Such statements have been condemned by Beijing as interference in its domestic affairs and increase the risk that individuals or companies from states perceived as critical of China or supportive of the protests will be subject to punitive actions by the Chinese authorities.

UPCOMING PROTESTS

Friday 23 August
The ‘Demonstration of the Accountants’ is scheduled to begin at 1230 at Hong Kong island’s Chater Garden, Central and end at Government Headquarters, Admiralty at 1600. The rally has been approved by the police

The ‘Rally of the Christians’ is planned to start at Chater Garden, Central from 1900 to 2100. It is waiting for police approval.

Another rally named ‘The Hong Kong Way’ is scheduled at the Island, Tsuen Wan andKwun Tong MTR Lines from 1900 to 2100. Protesters plan to follow the example of the so-called ‘Baltic Way’ protest used to oppose the Soviet occupation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 1989 by forming human chains. Specific locations are:
 
  • Island Line (Shau Kei Wan station to Kennedy Town station)
  • Kwun Tong Line (Sham Shui Po station to Yau Tong station)
  • Tsuen Wan Line (Whampoa to Mei Foo)
  • Protesters also plan to form human chain at Tai Wai, Shatin, and Ma On Shan.

A2 Global comment: There is the possibility of violence at these protests. Hong Kong residents and business travellers are advised to avoid the named locations during the stated protest times and for the remainder of the evening.

‘Territory-wide Strike of Frontline Medical Workers’ rally will run from 23-30 August.
 
 
Saturday 24 August
The ‘Airport Transportation Stress Test-Jam Packing Together’ is scheduled from 0700 to 1100. Protesters plan to occupy all public transport between Hong Kong city and the airport and simultaneously drive private cars to Hong Kong International Airport (HKG) to overwhelm the road system. HKG has received an extension to a court injunction preventing protesters entering the airport and increased security remains in place.

A2 Global comment: Violence during this protest is not expected. However, travellers are advised to avoid transit to and from HKG between 0700 and 1200 if possible as severe disruption is likely.

The ‘Lighten Hong Kong, Enlighten ALL’ rally is scheduled from 1300 to 1600. Protesters plan to gather at Chun Yip Street Playground in Kwun Tong in Kowloon and then march to the Kwun Tong Swimming Pool.

An unconfirmed protest is planned at Wong Tai Sin in Kowloon with the time and marching route currently unclear.
 
 
Sunday 25 August
The ‘Airport Transportation Stress Test-Jam Packing Together’ is expected to continue from 0700 to 1100 (see 24 August above).

A2 Global comment: Violence during this protest is not expected. However, travellers are advised to avoid transit to and from HKG between 0700 and 1200 if possible as severe disruption is likely.

The Police Relatives Connection Rally is planned at Hong Kong island’s Edinburgh Place, Central between 1400 and 1800. Following the rally relatives of police officers plan to walk to Hong Kong Police Headquarters and the Chief Executive’s Office to submit petition letters.

Demonstrations are scheduled from Kwai Fong (South) Bus Terminus to Tsuen Wan Park in the New Territories from 1500 to 2100 to highlight what they view as a local police-triad coalition and the abuse of power by the police.

A2 Global comment: There has been violence at Kwai Fong police station and MTR station in recent weeks and there is the risk this will be repeated during and after this march. The area should avoided from 1500 onwards.

‘Bye Buy Day HK’ is expected to continue on Sunday. The movement calls for the public not to make purchases on Sunday, except for transport, and minimise all consumption from Monday to Saturday while limiting shopping to what the organisers call ‘conscientious stores.’
 
 
Monday 26 August
Demonstrators have schedule a sit-in protest from 1200 to 1430 at the Tax Bureau at Hong Kong island’s Revenue Tower, 5 Gloucester Road, Wan Chai.


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 16 - 22 AUGUST

HONG KONG PROTESTS

16 August
Thousands of students gathered at Hong Kong island’s Chater Garden, Central, calling for international support to help the territory fight for democracy. Demonstrators called on the United Kingdom to announce that China had breached the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the United States to draft and pass Hong Kong Human Rights Democracy Bills to sanction officials who have violated the territory’s freedom and human rights.

17 August
Thousands of teachers rallied at Chater Garden, Central and marched to Government House. The organiser, the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union (PTU), claimed more than 22,000 people participated in this event; the police estimated the march peaked at 8,300.

In the afternoon, protesters marched from Hoi Sham Park to Whampoa Station to draw attention to the excessive number of tour groups from mainland China.

The ‘Oppose violence, save Hong Kong’ rally was scheduled from 1700 to 1830 at Hong Kong island’s Tamar Park in Admiralty. Over 470,000 people attended to express support for the Hong Kong police and protest against violence.

In the evening, one group of protesters gathered outside a police station in Kowloon’s Mong Kok district. They directed laser pointer beams at windows and threw eggs at the officers until riot police dispersed them. Protesters also vandalised the branch offices of Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, a pro-Beijing political party, and the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (HKFTU) They also left pineapples, intended to symbolise hand grenades, at the door of the HKFTU. Some protesters marched back to To Kwa Wan and Kowloon City and occupied sections of Ma Tau Wai Road and To Kwa Wan Road while others moved to Mong Kok, Jordan and Yau Ma Tei.

18 August
More than one million protesters joined the illegal march from Hong Kong island’s Victoria Park in Causeway Bay district to the Admiralty district where the local government’s administrative offices ae located. In the evening, protesters gathered outside government complex in Admiralty, directing lasers at the building and the nearby People’s Liberation Army garrison. Crowds dispersed after police vans entered the area. Some demonstrators marched towards the Chinese government’s liaison office, which was strongly protected by riot police. The rally and march was the second-largest recorded since the protests began in June 2019; there was little unrest.

19 August
No major rallies were reported.

20 August
No major rallies were reported.

 

21 August

Hundreds of protesters joined a sit-in at the New Territories Yuen Long MTR Station demanding justice for victims who were injured by members of organised criminal groups (‘triads’) on 21 July. Unrest occurred in evening as the some protesters erected barriers on Yuen Long Kau Hui Road and sought to provoke the police. Other protesters blocked the MTR       station exits, directed laser beams at the police and used foam from fire extinguishers, detergent and cooking oil on the station floor to hamper police efforts. The police exercised restraint the protesters left without further incident.

22 August

No major rallies were reported.

INTERNATIONAL PROTESTS 16 August

Rallies held by pro-Hong Kong and pro-Beijing groups were reported in Australian cities, including Adelaide, Brisbane, Melbourne and Sydney. In the evening supporters from both groups clashed in Melbourne’s CBD, when one pro-Beijing demonstrator allegedly attacked a local journalist.

17 August

UK: Hundreds of pro-Hong Kong protesters gathered in London’s Trafalgar Square and marched from Downing Street to Parliament to call on the British government to support Hong Kong’s demand for democracy. Pro-China demonstrators staged a peaceful counter-demonstration.

France: In Paris groups of pro-Hong Kong and pro-China supporters gathered in Place St-Michel; no serious unrest reported.

Germany: In Berlin around 200 pro-Hong Kong protesters and 50 pro-China activists gathered near the Brandenburg Gate; no serious unrest reported.

Canada: Pro-Hong Kong and pro-Beijing protesters were involved in largely peaceful confrontations in Toronto, Vancouver and Halifax.

US: Counter-protests between Hong Kong supporters and pro-China groups occurred in New York City’s Chinatown area; no serious unrest reported.

18 August

US: Pro-Hong Kong protesters staged a rally in Washington DC in front of the White to condemn police violence in Hong Kong.