On August 18, 2019, 1.7 million people out of Hong Kong’s total population of 9.4 million flooded the city’s streets. This means about 1 in 5 people in Hong Kong were part of this massive protest. What caused such an immense reaction?
How did the protests start?
We have to go back to February 2019 and a proposed bill called the Extradition Bill (or Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation Bill 2019). If this bill is passed, Hong Kongese citizens who break laws in mainland China, Taiwan, and Macau would be punished according to laws in those countries instead of being sent back to Hong Kong to be prosecuted.
Wait, laws in Hong Kong and China are different?
When Hong Kong gained independence from Britain, China gave Hong Kong judicial independence and other freedoms under the “one country, two systems” policy, meaning that Hong Kong’s laws are different than mainland China’s.. This policy will expire in 2047 when Hong Kong is set to officially become a part of China.
Hong Kong citizens immediately voiced their disagreements, saying this bill gives mainland China too much control and that China could abuse this law and use it as an excuse to punish people as they see fit. Many were also angered by mainland China’s increasing and overt interference with Hong Kong’s political affairs. These fears led to the protests.
April 3 — Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive (similar to a president) of Hong Kong, introduced the Extradition Bill to the public.
June 9 — An estimated one million people marched peacefully to government headquarters to show their opposition to the proposed bill.
June 10 — Carrie Lam said she will not back down on the Extradition Bill.
June 12 — Protesting became violent with the police firing tear gas and rubber bullets while the protesters threw umbrellas and bricks at the police.
June 15 — Carrie Lam said she would indefinitely delay the Extradition Bill.
July 1 — The Legislative Council (its main function is to enact, amend, or repeal laws) building was stormed by protesters who sprayed graffiti on the walls and ransacked the building. The date was symbolic: it was the anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from the UK to China.
July 7 — Protesters marched to Kowloon, which is an urban area visited by many mainland Chinese tourists. There was little mainland media coverage of the protests until this point.
July 9 — Carrie Lam said the Extradition Bill is “dead” and urged protesters to stop. However, she had not talked about a full withdrawal of the bill.
July 21 — Protesters defaced China’s Liaison Office, which facilitates communication between Beijing and Hong Kong. Later in the Yuen Long underground station, mob members indiscriminately attacked civilians and black-clad civilian protesters in the station, including the elderly and children. The first 999 (the equivalent of 911 in the US) emergency call was placed 3 hours before the police arrived. Many were angry that the police did not protect civilians and some suspect collusion with the mob.
July 27 — Tens of thousands of protesters converged in Yuen Long, condemning the attack from the day before.
August 5 — Carrie Lam said Hong Kong is “on the verge of a very dangerous situation” as protests took place for a ninth consecutive weekend.
August 6 — China warned protesters not to “play with fire,” “underestimate the firm resolve of the central government,” or “mistake restraint for weakness.”
August 12 — Protesters gathered at the Hong Kong International Airport, which led to hundreds of flights being canceled. Protesters targeted an “undercover cop” who was actually a journalist.
September 4 — Carrie Lam said she would withdraw the bill and try to calm the unrest but competitors said it was too late.
What do protesters want now?
After the withdrawal of the controversial bill, protesters have still not backed down. The protesters have compiled a list of demands:
- The end of the word “riot” being used in reference to the June 12 protests.
- Amnesty (an official pardon for people who have been convicted of political offenses) for all arrested protesters.
- An independent inquiry into alleged police brutality.
- Universal suffrage (allowing all citizens who have reached the age established by the law to participate in elections to representative bodies without any electoral qualifications whatsoever) in elections for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive and Legislative Council.
Some see Carrie Lam as a puppet of Beijing and are demanding her resignation.
How is China responding?
It is unclear at the moment what China is doing because it has not taken any action regarding Hong Kong beyond the warning issued on August 6.
Some believe that the media in mainland China is trying to spark nationalism in its people and negatively influence the public in its opinions about the protests. On many social media platforms such as Weibo (similar to Twitter), people curse protesters though few know exactly what Hong Kong is protesting about.
China is bound to make a move, and we may be seeing the calm before the storm.
“Lam: HK Pushed to the Verge of ‘a Dangerous Situation’.” China Daily HK, 5 Aug. 2019, www.chinadailyhk.com/articles/209/223/233/1564997418963.html.
“China Warns Hong Kong Protesters Not to ‘Play with Fire’.” BBC News, 6 Aug. 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-49246304
(Copyright 2019 Fiona Han)