It’s been 100 days since the Hong Kong protests started, which means Hong Kong’s protests are now into their fourth month. On the surface, things may have seemed to be improving after Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced the dreaded extradition bill would be withdrawn.
But in reality, there have been ramped up violence, not just on the streets, but in the airport and the subway stations. Even worse is that besides protester clashes with police, who themselves have committed some brutal acts, there have been savage fights between protesters and pro-government/China thugs. It’s getting to the point where each successive weekend brings on more protests and violence, which seemingly outdoes the previous weekend’s clashes.
While I support the protests and I like that many Hong Kongers are discovering a growing sense of identity, I think that some protesters are resorting too much to violent means such as throwing firebombs, vandalizing MTR stations, and beating up individuals (the rationale is that pro-government thugs have been doing the same so revenge is necessary).
That said, there have been peaceful protests. While you might have seen news scenes of protesters facing off against riot police, there are peaceful protest actions taking place, often during the week. These involve human chains across Hong Kong, atop mountains, and even in front of schools. There have been rallies by medical workers, teachers, seniors, students, and even civil servants.
Besides these, I hope that people can focus on more non-violent means of protest such as general strikes (which have already been tried but should be tried again), boycotts, and even blocking off malls and hotels owned by local tycoons.
There is a lot of debate on the root causes of the protests, beside the opposition to the extradition bill.
Hong Kong is one of the world’s top financial hubs but unlike other hubs like New York and London, it is only that and nothing more. Hong Kong is overcrowded and cramped, heavily dependent on finance and commerce, while the local cultural scene (arts, music, writing) is very small. I wrote an article last month arguing that Hong Kong has been failing itself and its people long before these protests.
But unlike some pro-government people or Chinese state propaganda, I am not claiming that the issue is only economic. People are not going to simply stop protesting or start liking China if they get bigger homes or more money. The problems of Hong Kong are both economic and political, with an elitist and out of touch government combining subservience to the central government in China with the coddling of local HK tycoons.
Hong Kong has a limited democratic system in which only half of the legislators are elected by the general population while the other half are elected by sectors. So basically, corporations literally vote for their own lawmakers, which makes Hong Kong unique in a dubious way. And people cannot vote for the chief executive at all, as she is chosen by a committee of 1,300 people, most of whom are pro-government, and this is after being approved by a much smaller screening committee.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s political and civil freedoms have been gradually curtailed over the past few years as opposition lawmakers have been disqualified for petty reasons, and protest leaders of 2014’s Umbrella Movement have been arrested. You’ve also had booksellers being kidnapped in Hong Kong and detained in China, while a Financial Times editor being effectively banned from Hong Kong after his journalism visa was not renewed.
The protests have led to an unofficial anthem as well as a slogan – “Liberate Hong Kong- revolution of our time“. Some people mean it literally while others do not, but it is clear as I mentioned above, there is a growing consciousness of a Hong Kong identity.
After over three months of protests and street clashes, Hong Kong’s economy is suffering. Tourism is down, retail sales are down, and Hong Kong’s credit rating even got downgraded by Fitch earlier in September. But that is actually part of the plan for some protesters. Because even when Hong Kong was thriving, many people were not benefiting.
Tourism for instance is largely dependent on mainland Chinese visitors and much of what they do and buy only benefits a small group of people. It’s the reason you see so many identical chain stores and pharmaceutical stores selling milk powder and so on – they mostly cater to mainland visitors.
I also think Hong Kongers can benefit from doing less shopping and with less malls.
Even property prices and sales are down, and nobody is crying over this.
That said, it is probably not a good idea to visit Hong Kong for a holiday these days. While hotel rates are cheaper and the malls and tourist attractions like Disneyland are much less crowded, you won’t know when a MTR subway station will be closed or when streets will be filled with tear gas and fighting. While my area has not seen much disturbances, that changed on Sunday when quite a bit of fighting took place.
Amid all this, one thing is for sure. This will not be over anytime soon, though a potentially ominous day is coming up.
This is one of the many “Lennon Walls” that have sprung up across Hong Kong, displaying notes of encouragement, posters, and drawings supporting the protests. They also feature announcements of upcoming protests, functioning as a community notice board.