Unprecedented Hong Kong Chaos Raises Fears About What’s Next

November 14, 2019by Iain Marlow and Natalie Lung
A fire is seen at a MTR station during a demonstration at Chinese University of Hong Kong on November 13, 2019 in Hong Kong, China. (Anthony Kwan/Getty Images/TNS)

HONG KONG — Hong Kong has seen many violent days since the unrest began in June, but the disruption this week has taken things to a new level — and fears are growing as to what may come next.

Protesters paralyzed the city on Wednesday for a third straight day, disrupting subway lines and blocking roads. Tear gas emanated through the Central financial district, while police also battled university students far from the city center. The government ordered schools from kindergarten to college to shut on Thursday, the first time it’s done so during the unrest.

The prolonged turmoil marks a shift in intensity in the protests, which have mostly been confined to the weekends apart from sporadic efforts to disrupt the Monday morning commute. That has raised fresh worries about an economy already in recession, with the Hang Seng Index losing 1.8% for its lowest close in three weeks.

“At the 30,000 foot level, you’re seeing a confluence of rising violence but also dwindling protester numbers,” said Kevin Yam, a lawyer, political commentator and member of the Progressive Lawyers Group, which has pushed for greater democracy in Hong Kong. “If you ask me where this is going to go, I have no idea,” he added. “In many ways we’re in slightly uncharted territory.”

Hong Kong’s government again sought to reassure residents it could contain the chaos and called for an end to the violence. Chief Executive Carrie Lam has repeatedly insisted she won’t give in further to protester demands, which include an independent inquiry into police violence and the ability to nominate and elect the city’s leaders.

In Beijing, state-run media ratcheted up the rhetoric. Hong Kong is at “the most critical juncture” as violent acts of “black-clad rioters” come close to terrorism, the official Xinhua News Agency said in a commentary.

The Global Times hinted in a Wednesday commentary that the central government could employ “direct intervention” under the Basic Law it uses to govern Hong Kong. “The rioters’ rampage is a short drive from the nearest outpost of the Shenzhen Armed Police Force and a short walk from the People’s Liberation Army in Hong Kong,” it said.

Yet while fears of a Chinese intervention have long persisted since the demonstrations began, it’s unclear if the situation has reached a tipping point. Any Chinese troops or police in Hong Kong would raise questions about the city’s autonomy, potentially putting at risk U.S. trade privileges at a time when the mainland’s economy is struggling.

In the U.S. on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed to work on legislation supporting pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong, drawing a rebuke from Beijing. The bill would subject the city’s special U.S. trading status to annual reviews and provides for sanctions against officials deemed responsible for undermining Hong Kong’s “fundamental freedoms and autonomy.”

The latest spell of violence in Hong Kong intensified on Friday after a student died of injuries sustained near a police dispersal effort last week — the first fatality linked to protests after months of unrest. Things got even worse on Monday after a protester was shot by a traffic cop, triggering widespread violence that has continued ever since.

Commuters found themselves stuck again on Wednesday morning as activists disrupted rush-hour traffic in protest of the government’s response and police tactics. Services including the entire East Rail Line and parts of the Kwun Tong and West Rail lines were shut due to vandalism and protest actions, and numerous bus lines halted.

Even the city’s famed big banks, for which employee safety memos have become routine, have expressed new caution in urging staff to work from home as violence escalates on the streets outside their doors. A popular annual Oxfam hiking fundraiser was also canceled.

The Chinese University of Hong Kong, which has seen some of the most intense clashes in the past few days as police sought to retake a bridge over a busy expressway near the campus, announced it was canceling classes for the rest of the semester.

“There has been a gradual escalation,” said Joseph Cheng, a retired political science professor and pro-democracy activist. “But the mood so far is still very much against the government, and that explains why the disruptions on weekdays are still being tolerated.”

The protests kicked off in June over opposition to legislation allowing extraditions to mainland China, and soon morphed into a wider movement about China’s increasing grip on power. Though they started peacefully, protests have become increasingly violent in recent months with no end in sight.

Opposition lawmakers have expressed worries that Lam’s Beijing-backed administration may cancel looming district council elections. However, those are still scheduled to take place on Nov. 24.

For now, the government is just trying to get life back to some semblance of normalcy in Hong Kong.

“We’re moving from protests to cat-and-mouse, individual acts of violence,” said Lam from the Progressive Lawyers Group. “That could well be where we’re going with this, unless the government does something to defuse the situation. But it doesn’t look like it’s doing that.”

———

©2019 Bloomberg News

Visit Bloomberg News at www.bloomberg.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Geopolitics

Barr Appoints Special Counsel in Russia Probe Investigation
Political News
Barr Appoints Special Counsel in Russia Probe Investigation

WASHINGTON (AP) — Attorney General William Barr has given extra protection to the prosecutor he appointed to investigate the origins of the Trump-Russia probe, granting him authority to complete the work without being easily fired. Barr told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he had appointed... Read More

Iran Under Pressure Over How to Respond to Top Scientist's Killing
Geopolitics
Iran Under Pressure Over How to Respond to Top Scientist's Killing

BEIRUT — The U.S. drone missile punched through the car of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, instantly killing the 62-year-old Iranian spymaster and national hero as he drove through the streets of Baghdad last January. Days later, Iranian leaders who swore "severe revenge" lobbed ballistic missiles at a U.S. base in Iraq, leaving scores of... Read More

Defense Analysts Caution Against U.S. Troop Withdrawal in Afghanistan
Geopolitics
Defense Analysts Caution Against U.S. Troop Withdrawal in Afghanistan
November 20, 2020
by Tom Ramstack

WASHINGTON -- Defense analysts warned Congress Friday against the U.S. troop withdrawal in Afghanistan announced this week amid indications that radical Islamists could resume terrorist attacks. They said further proof is needed that Taliban fighters would not try to seize control of Afghanistan before the Trump... Read More

ASEAN, China, Other Partners Sign World's Biggest Trade Pact
Trade
ASEAN, China, Other Partners Sign World's Biggest Trade Pact

China and 14 other countries agreed Sunday to set up the world’s largest trading bloc, encompassing nearly a third of all economic activity, in a deal many in Asia are hoping will help hasten a recovery from the shocks of the pandemic. The Regional Comprehensive Economic... Read More

Dreams of a Red Emperor: The Relentless Rise of Xi Jinping
Geopolitics
Dreams of a Red Emperor: The Relentless Rise of Xi Jinping

YANAN, China — Stars showered from the ceiling as actors suspended by ropes ran through the air. An unseen man's voice boomed through the theater: "I have followed this red flag, walking thousands of kilometers with the faith of a Communist Party member in my heart!" Here in the hallowed... Read More

Watching US Presidential Vote, Much of the World Sees a Less-strong America
Geopolitics
Watching US Presidential Vote, Much of the World Sees a Less-strong America

BERLIN — In the eyes of much of the world the United States is a potent, yet faltering force, a conflicted nation heading into an election that will either redeem it or tug it farther away from the myths and promise that for generations defined it in capitals from Singapore to Paris and Buenos... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top