For several weeks, things in Hong Kong have been coming to a head and then they exploded. On June 9, over a million people marched against the government’s proposal to amend the territory’s extradition laws to allow the transfer of fugitives to mainland China (and Taiwan and Macau but those two aren’t the problem). Hong Kong is part of China but has its own, much more robust legal system. There is widespread fear that people could be extradited to China for political reasons couched as crimes under the revised laws.
Hongkongers weren’t having it. In response to the million who marched in opposition – the culmination of weeks of opposition from various sectors, including the pro-government friendly business sector – the Hong Kong government announced that it would go ahead with the second reading of the bill. On June 13, protesters clashed with police – when the protesters tried to storm the legislative council building, the police unleashed tear gas, rubber bullets and their batons. Videos of bleeding and battered young people began to go viral. The chief executive – Hong Kong’s head of government – released a rather patronising video explaining why she can’t give in.
Since then, there has been widespread anger and calls for her to withdraw the bill and resign. I truly and cynically believed that neither would happen.
Since Hongkongers occupied the streets for 79 days in the 2014 Umbrella Movement – so-called because of the umbrellas protesters used to defy police with – both Hong Kong and China have become more hardline. My impression was that China had no patience with restive young Hongkongers and that the Hong Kong government’s strategy would be to crack down fast and hard. That happened on Wednesday.
But to my shock and frankly elation, the government blinked. On June 15, Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced the bill would be suspended. The sad thing was that it took a violent confrontation to achieve this, a peaceful march was not enough.
Hongkongers were still not having it. On June 14, a young man unfurled a banner on a local shopping mall and fell to his death. On June 16, nearly 2 million took to the streets in a sea of black calling on Lam to resign, withdraw the bill completely and withdraw the classification of the events of the week as a riot, which would carry a long prison sentence for those arrested.
After that, protesters have been using guerrilla tactics, targeting government buildings. One day they surrounded the police headquarters, another day the tax department. Then they handed out leaflets apologising to the public for the inconvenience.
While bill that sparked the original protest has been suspended, they want the complete withdrawal of the bill, an amnesty for those arrested, the police not to categorise the events of June 12 as a riot and an inquiry into police brutality on that day. The government has not really responded.
On June 26, there was another a huge rally to coincide with the G20 summit. The demands now seem to have shifted to democracy.
Regardless of what happens, I realised that even when dealing with China, and it helps that China is fighting trade war fires and cannot deal with HK shiz right now, there is hope. That there is hope for Hong Kong, even if the stakes are higher every time.
And for that, I am glad.