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Situation Update - Hong Kong

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Hong Kong Protests

On Sunday 9 June, more than one million people are believed to have taken part in the largest protest action Hong Kong had witnessed in response to a bill Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, proposed to introduce, which could see residents of Hong Kong extradited to China for criminal charges. Since this initial protest, there have been further incidences of unrest, escalating to confrontations between protesters and the police.

Hong Kong
The Extradition Bill

Protests were sparked in opposition to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region's, led by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, plans to introduce new extradition laws, which were initially suggested in 2018. The proposed changes by the government would allow authorities from mainland China, Taiwan and Macau to submit extradition requests to Hong Kong for residents accused of committing a crime, including murder and rape. However, protesters have argued that this would leave citizens open to the abuses of China’s criminal justice system, which they call flawed. Furthermore, Hong Kong has operated under a semi-autonomous rule since 1997, but pro-independence supporters argue the move by the pro-Beijing government will begin to erode the country’s autonomy.

Officials in Hong Kong have tried to reassure the public that Hong Kong’s courts would make the final decision on whether to grant an extradition, and this would not be granted for political and religious crimes. Critics of China state that the Chinese government have been cracking down on dissent, and this has led to arbitrary detentions for political activists, as well as minority communities.

Following protests, on 13 June, Lam apologised for the controversy surrounding the proposed bill and suspended the proposed bill indefinitely. Despite the bill being indefinitely suspended, demonstrators continue to call for the bill to be completely withdrawn, and for those who have been detained during the protest action to be released. Further, Joshua Wong, a student activist and the secretary-general of the pro-democracy party Demosistō, has also called on the chief executive, Carrie Lam, to resign. 

Situation

After midnight on 10 June, protesters clashed with Hong Kong police as police attempted to disperse the remaining protesters from outside the Legislative offices. Protesters were trying to break into the building, to which police responded with the use of pepper spray and batons.

Throughout the remainder of June, there were frequent protests by those opposed to the extradition bill, including overnight protests on 12 to 13 June, which resulted in government offices being forced to close. Protesters, many wearing facemasks, as well as yellow helmets and yellow vests, resembling those worn in France’s grassroots movement Mouvement des gilets jaunes, and shouting anti-government slogans, have been temporarily blocking the Central District. The protests and demonstrations have been resulting in substantial levels of disruption, forcing road closures and the closing of offices and local government buildings.  Protests and marches have primarily focused on Hennessey Road, from Victoria Park to the Government Headquarters, however protests and demonstrations have spread out onto surrounding roads.

Hong Kong Protests MapAs of 2 July, reports have stated that there is a tense calm prevailing in central Hong Kong, following large-scale protests and clashes between breakaway sections of the pro-democracy march crowds and police on 1 July. The 1 July marked the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong's handover from British to Chinese rule and is a key date for pro-democracy marches, which occur annually. The annual pro-democracy march was largely peaceful until a large group of protesters broke away from the main march and headed to the Legislative Offices and briefly occupied it, smashing doors and spray-painting the walls. However, robust police operations were able to clear the site and its surrounding area.  

Implications

Following the historic protests in Hong Kong over the controversial Chinese extradition bill, and the 'indefinite suspension' to its implementation as ordered by Carrie Lam, the risk of large-scale unrest remains. Demands for the government to completely withdraw the bill have passed without action, along with calls to drop all charges against those arrested during protests. Additionally, calls to charge police with what protesters describe as violent action and calls for officials to cease referring to the protests as a riot, have also so far not been adhered to by top officials.

In addition, Hong Kong Police have come under criticism for allegedly inciting clashes, by purposefully withdrawing from the Legislative Council on 1 July, despite earlier protecting it in large numbers. Pro-democracy lawmakers have threatened to continue their “rebellion and defiance” should the current Hong Kong administration not overhaul the current political system in the Special Administrative Region.

Following the 1 July unrest, Beijing officials condemned the protests as an “undisguised challenge” to the ‘One country, two systems’ rule. Further, Carrie Lam said she hoped Hong Kong would "return to normal as soon as possible". However, she further stated the Special Administrative Region had "not responded to every demand asked because of good reasons". Responding to claims she had ignored protester demands, she said that releasing those detained during the protests would be against the rule of law.

During a year where political security is paramount for Beijing, owing to multiple high profile commemorative events, it is unclear if China will decide to enhance its apparent assimilation of Hong Kong into the One China framework. However, at this time, the main threat to stability for China is the increasing numbers of locals registering their support for opposition groups ahead of upcoming legislative elections in 2020. Further incidences of protest action in Hong Kong will likely be met with a strong response from security forces and police.