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

US Starts One-Year Clock to Quit World Health Organization
In The News
US Starts One-Year Clock to Quit World Health Organization

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration sent a letter giving the United Nations a one-year notice for the U.S. to quit the World Health Organization, formalizing President Donald Trump’s decision to leave the agency even as the coronavirus rages out of control in the U.S. and in... Read More

Congress Told Russia’s Putin is a Growing Threat to the U.S.
Congress
Congress Told Russia’s Putin is a Growing Threat to the U.S.
July 7, 2020
by Tom Ramstack

WASHINGTON - Foreign policy experts at a congressional hearing Tuesday described the Russian government as increasingly troubled under the rule of Vladimir Putin and a growing threat to the United States. They said recent reports that the Russian military paid Taliban fighters to kill American soldiers... Read More

López Obrador Heading to Washington to Meet Trump Amid Controversy
Trade
López Obrador Heading to Washington to Meet Trump Amid Controversy

MEXICO CITY — Donald Trump notoriously kicked off his presidential bid in 2015 by disparaging Mexican immigrants as drug dealers, criminals and “rapists,” adding: “And some, I assume, are good people.” During his own campaign two years later, future Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador assailed... Read More

Blue Dogs Push Bill To Crack Down On Chinese Efforts to ‘Exploit’ Pandemic
Foreign Affairs
Blue Dogs Push Bill To Crack Down On Chinese Efforts to ‘Exploit’ Pandemic
July 6, 2020
by Gaspard Le Dem

WASHINGTON - A group of moderate House Democrats wants the U.S. government to track down potential attempts by the Chinese government to use the coronavirus crisis to its advantage. The Blue Dog Coalition, an alliance of 26 centrist lawmakers, introduced a bill on Thursday requiring U.S.... Read More

Supreme Court to Hear Case on Release of Full Mueller Report
Supreme Court
Supreme Court to Hear Case on Release of Full Mueller Report
July 2, 2020
by Dan McCue

WASHINGTON - The Supreme Court announced on Thursday that it would decide whether Congress may see currently redacted parts of the report prepared by Special Counsel Robert Mueller during his investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election. As is their custom, the justices did not... Read More

Trump’s Deference to Putin Back Under Harsh Scrutiny After Russian Bounty Reports
Geopolitics
Trump’s Deference to Putin Back Under Harsh Scrutiny After Russian Bounty Reports

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s deference to Vladimir Putin is back under the microscope amid accusations that he ignored intelligence that Russia offered to pay Taliban militants to kill U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Democrats returning from a classified briefing at the White House on Tuesday pledged... Read More

News From The Well
scroll top