About the 2019 Hong Kong Anti-Extradition Bill Protests

I’m quite interested in the political dynamics in China and Chinese relations to nearby regions, though I think my understanding of the conflicts is sometimes limited by my upbringing in Denmark. When I tried to understand the anti-extradition bill protests, I found it difficult to find sources that could give me an overview of the situations, because I think all newspapers and sources are biased, whether it’s western, mainland-Chinese or Cantonese. I still try to learn about the protest from many different news outlets – western, mainland and Cantonese ones in order to understand as many aspects as possible. Though instead of trying to base my opinion solely on news outlets, I decided to ask my friends from Hong Kong and a single friend from Beijing to add some perspective. Because I am also curious about what people think of this matter and what kind of opinions they hold, especially the common people who we don’t get to meet in the news. This blog post is dedicated to present the opinions about the anti-extradition bill protest and voices of people who have a connection to the matter in one way or another. I hope to bring forth their voices and thereby the diversities upon the protests.

Let’s get started!
Photo by J. Chow.

Interviewee #1

Who are you?

“[I am] born and raised in Hong Kong, I am a local who is currently working in the city. I have spent most of my time in Hong Kong, where I received primary, secondary and university education, and consider it my hometown.”

What do you think of the 2019 Hong Kong anti-extradition bill protests?

“Close to 2 million people of Hong Kong took to the streets in early June to protest against the proposed amendment on the extradition law which would allow the transfer of fugitives to places where Hong Kong has no existing formal agreement with – this includes the mainland China. Many Hong Kongers, including myself, are worried that the passing of this amendment would put the rights and freedom guaranteed by the Basic Law under ‘one country, two systems’ under threat. The lack of an agreement with mainland China – deemed as a ‘loophole’ by the HKSAR (Hong Kong Special Administrative Region) government – was, as the ex-Hong Kong governor Chris Patten puts it, a ‘firewall’ between the rule of law in Hong Kong and the legal system in mainland China that runs in connection with the Communist Party. Scrapping the ‘firewall’ could mean that anyone in Hong Kong is exposed to the risk of being transferred to a jurisdiction devoid of fair trials and sufficient human rights protection.

Although now that the bill is pronounced ‘dead’ by Carrie Lam, Chief Executive of Hong Kong, it did not ease much of the discontent and anxiety in the society. My friends and I share the same sense of helplessness which is growing stronger as we see clear of the government’s closed-door attitude in response to demands of its fellow citizens – hardly do we feel that the authority is genuinely willing to communicate, listen to and serve its people. The sense of helplessness and hopelessness are so widespread to have, in part or whole, led to the suicide of four local citizens. Had the government been more open-minded to the opinions in the society and not rushed to pass the bill, perhaps the citizens would not have resorted to extreme measures.

Besides, in recent mass protests against the extradition bill amendment, the police seemed to have used unnecessary and excessive violence against a majority of peaceful protesters and the press in an attempt to disperse the crowd after the protests – police officers were pictured shooting at protesters’ heads and eyes, spritzing pepper spray onto the face of an unarmed man, and repeatedly beating protesters with batons although they were already under control. The use of such violence is unnecessary and has to be condemned.”

How does it affect you?

“The government’s neglectful attitude in addressing citizens’ requests has further deepened rifts in the already divided society. As citizens of Hong Kong, we should [prioritize] the responsibility of upholding and safeguarding the core values of Hong Kong – freedom, human rights, rule of law, which distinguishes the place from other Chinese cities and gives it the international status it enjoys today. Through the bill amendment controversy, I see even clearer the importance of securing these core values and that in the face of injustice, silencing ourselves is not an option. We need to persevere through thick and thin to re-build a peaceful, united and even more prosperous society in Hong Kong.”

Generally speaking, how do you consider the Hong Kong-China relation?

“The Hong Kong-China relation has been growing tense over the past decade – many locals show a greater sense of belonging towards Hong Kong than China. This situation is caused by a range of factors – one of which is the concern over interference of the Chinese government in Hong Kong’s affairs. The Chief Executive, elected by a committee consisting only of 1200 members (most of them are pro-Beijing), acts as a proxy of the Chinese government, instead of working for the interests of Hong Kong people.

Past incidents such as the co-location for the Express Rail Link, new national anthem law, disappearance of staff members of Causeway Bay Books – one of them revealed his detention in China upon return to Hong Kong, and the re-interpretation of Basic Law on oath-taking by the Chinese government show how the Hong Kong government put guidelines from Beijing before its people.”

Photo by J. Chow.

Interviewee #2

Who are you?

“I studied sociology and politics in the University of Hong Kong.”

What do you think of the 2019 Hong Kong anti-extradition bill protests?

“As a local who [has] lived in my city since birth, the recent social turmoil is unsettling. However, as one who studied politics and history, I find the current political divide senseless and even childish.

Both sides have their own interests and concerns: to put it simply Mainland China wishes to fill the legal gap and do what nations do: extradition of criminals; while the protesters are driven by the perception that local freedom will be limited.”

How does it affect you?

“Personally I think western media’ s negative portrayal of communist/so-called authoritarian countries like PRC (People’s Republic of China) and Russia/Soviet Union doesn’t help to educate [the people of Hong Kong] on the better side of mainland [China] and only serves to increase misunderstanding and discrimination.

To be fair, mainland [China] has much to improve whether in legal system or environment[al] politics. However again as someone who has a bachelor in politics, we can see the country has striven to better itself through the decades even if its methods are debatable. Again, ‘international standards’ as so frequently mentioned now in Hong Kong reminds us foreign nations often don’t fare much better: America is more or less dominated by the two parties while [economic] politics as well as collision with corporations remain common. In other sense, can we see China as another USA, just with a communist skin?”

Generally speaking, how do you consider the Hong Kong-China relation?

Hong Kong belongs to China, this is politically and materially true. To me as a normal citizen I prefer stability and fruitless confrontation only harms the society. Why are we fighting among ourselves as we are Chinese in blood? It sounds a bit pathetic as some locals now worship British colonizers and even Japanese militants who didn’t care about we Hongkonger/Chinese people in the slightest sense.

Additional thoughts about the worship of British colonizers and favoritism of Japanese militants:

“Some people put up the British colonial flag as if they are British. But I sincerely doubt the Brits will admit them even [if] they have [British] passport.

The Japanese part is more about 哈日 (Favoritism of Japanese culture) – the effect of anime and Japanese popular culture that whitewashes history. like Nanking massacre, you know. [Cultural exchange] is fine but it [can] also [become] a tool to justify past crimes.”

Photo by J. Chow.

Interviewee #3

Who are you?

“I am a native born Hongkonger who graduated from university last year. I am now 27 and working as a part-time shop assistant.”

What do you think of the 2019 Hong Kong anti-extradition bill protests?

“The series of peaceful protests revealed a new way of organising a social movement, as well as the serious problems hidden in our government.

The power of social media, instant messenger (e.g.: Telegram) and the most important, forum:

 Most of the protesters gather on the forum LIHKG. They shared what they experienced in previous protests, analysed protests of other countries, update their tactics, prepared lists of required resources and safety remarks, etc. Although LIHKG is the site people go to when they have no idea where to check for the updates, the protests are still run with a decentralised human network, since there is no leader in charge of the whole movement.

The irresponsible government:  

The chief executive Carrie Lam and other government officials ignored the Hongkongers’ voice despite multiple protests in recent weeks. Carrie Lam offered her apologies, Hongkongers’ consider them insincere. She used her language tricks, like “pausing the discussion” and “the bill is dead” to dodge the public demand of complete withdrawal of the bill. 

When it comes to the excessive force done by the HK police, the Commissioner of Police, Stephen Lo, shirked all his responsibility and told the media that it was the frontline commander’s decision to use such force on the protesters. There were also other cases of public hospitals breaching patients’ privacy so that some protesters were arrested there. All the government press conferences were only reiterations of their empty words and condemnation of the “violent protests”. They didn’t answer the journalists’ questions directly or the public concerns.

The gradual loss of freedom:

 After the protests, some protesters were arrested even they didn’t clash with the police or use any sort of violence. For example, the admin of a Telegram protest info group was arrested on 11 June. There were similar cases of arrest due to online speeches or offering resources for the protesters in these two months. In order to avoid being caught by the police spying on forums and Facebook, the protesters don’t mention explicitly they went to the protests, but they have to mask the discussions with phrases like “I dreamt that”, “I heard that” etc. The situation is worse than that during the Umbrella Movement in 2014.

Brutality of the police:

12 June was the start of public condemnation over the excessive force by the police. The large crowd gathered peacefully at Admiralty, saying the slogans of the protest objectives. No one attacked the police, but according to the official press, the riot police deployed around 150 tear gas canisters that afternoon. They also shot rubber bullet and bean bag rounds at the upper part of the protesters’ body. Two got shot at their heads.

In the later protests, the police hit the unarmed protesters very hard with baton and their shields, even the protesters curled up on the ground and didn’t fight back. The police even entered a shopping mall, which is a private property, to catch the protesters. The protesters defended themselves and clashed with the police, and this created a threat to the public, because the customers, staff of the shops and other passer-by were not informed of the operations and evacuated. The riot police yelled at some of the non-protesters and they found the whole scene scary, since they were threatened although they did not join the protest, Yet, none of the government officials admit the fault and bear the responsibility. They distorted the truth and blamed the protesters for provoking the police.

(Update: In the night of 21/7, the 999-emergency call centre dismissed citizens’ calls for urgent help by saying “If you find the situation [in Yuen Long] dangerous, just don’t go out” when there was a violent attack targeting all passengers in Yuen Long Station.)

The divided city:

 The division between the citizens is more obvious than that during the Umbrella Movement. 

Back then in 2014, the majority of Hongkongers did not care much about the political situation. This time those who previously claimed to take no stance began to be aware of the protests and related issues. More of these people started to take sides as they read the news. Some grow to support the government and the police, and they hate the protesters disturbing the public order, while the others realise the political and social problems in Hong Kong, and they are angry with the authority. The population of both sides and their tension increase, while less Hongkongers remain neutral.”

How does it affect you?

“I witnessed the Umbrella Movement when I was still in the university. I didn’t follow all the news on social media closely, but the despair was actually much stronger because not many Hongkongers paid attention to the outrageous act of the police and the passive aggression of the government. The protesters didn’t gain a lot of support from the public.

Although it is still frustrating when the government ignored our demands and condemned the protesters for their violent acts (which didn’t happen), and this is why 5 Hongkongers have committed suicide (the number is actually increasing at the moment I am typing), it is more hopeful when a lot of people are involved in the battle against the authority. It is always encouraging to know that more people understand why protesters are fighting for Hong Kong’s future, and they are willing to join the team.

The power of social platforms on the internet is also a huge force that keeps everyone going throughout all these days. When you are hopeless and don’t know what to do, there are always others generating new ideas and strategies. People are working as a large group as well as small teams. The mobility and creativity of the people are very motivating.

The most important thing I know from this ongoing movement is, there is a younger generation working so hard on protecting Hong Kong, and they are pulling Hongkongers from all walks of life and all generations to work together. This a chance to awaken Hongkongers, especially me, to have deeper understanding of Hong Kong’s situation and think clearly for our future. The solidarity also strengthens my sense that it is worth fighting for Hong Kong’s autonomy.”

Generally speaking, how do you consider the Hong Kong-China relation?

“Honestly, I can’t tell clearly what the exact relation is between Hong Kong and China. I can only feel that China is slow eating away Hong Kong’s freedom, or to be less subjective, China is trying to gradually synchronizing Hong Kong with China.

With our immigration policy, we are now allowing 150 immigrants from the mainland per day. The number can be huge when look at the annual figures. Not all of them are willing to blend into our society. Some of them retain that kind of following and believing whatever CCP announce. Meanwhile, some people are attracted by the benefits of working and living in the mainland, they left HK. Meanwhile, some of the locals see that China is becoming rich and powerful, and Hong Kong can’t survive without the support of China. Thus, there is a growing population supporting the lawmakers and policies that enhance a closer connection of HK with the mainland. 

The younger generations are angry with the government that is eager to please the CCP, as they know the stories of political oppression in China, especially the June Fourth event. Besides, Hong Kong tourism has destroyed livelihood of Hong Kong. Overcrowded transports and roads, restaurants and shops changing into jewelry shops and dispensaries, mainland tourists urinating on the streets, etc. These are destructing Hong Kong’s hygiene and disturbing Hongkongers’ lives. The government have been ignoring public concerns over these matters and keep allowing more mainlanders into our city. The HK government didn’t alleviate the problems but to worsen them. The authority is always trying to put forward those policies and regulations that can help implement CCP-style of oppression and censorship in HK, from Article 23 in 2003 to this Extradition Bill, which can open the backdoor for China to capture political offenders. All these acts of the government only make the younger generations rage at China, no matter for politics or our own livelihood.”

Photo by J. Chow.

Interviewee #4

Who are you?

“Hi. I’m from Beijing, while currently studying at Teachers College, Columbia University with a major in International Educational Development.”

What do you think of the 2019 Hong Kong anti-extradition bill protests?

“In terms of the 2019 Hong Kong (HK) anti-extradition protests, I deeply understand that what HK people yearn for is a more free, democratic and self-governing society, while they don’t want the central government of CPC (The Communist Party of China) to intervene more and are afraid that it may destroy ‘One country, Two systems’ policy. I can feel their concerns, but through a critical perspective, I think many HK people they broke the rule first. As we all know, ‘one country’ is the foundation that underlies all the other policies. If HK people don’t acknowledge Hong Kong is part of China, how can they even ask for ‘two systems’? And what we all have to bear in mind is that even though Hong Kong is a highly self-governing administrative region, it is still part of China. If the central government is not allowed to administer Hong Kong or implement any policies, Hong Kong is none other than an independent country, right? In addition, what I [am] concern[ed] about is if HK people [are] dissatisfied and angry about the way central government [is] ruling them, what kind of freedom and democracy [do] they hope to have? Do they think they really have freedom and democracy when they were colonized by the British government as a colony?

Moreover, I believe all the freedom and democracy should be based on embracing different voices and perspectives. I heard [from] some HK [people, who] told me that some HK teenagers were very aggressive and extreme right now. If their family and friends hold different opinions or unwilling to join the protests, they would be abused. Some students in Hong Kong University were also attacked just because they are from Mainland China. Are these [the] right ways to pursue freedom and democracy? I highly doubt it. I think what we should not do is to impose our own ideas on others.”

How does it affect you?

“This incident affects me in a way that [makes me think] how we should pursue what we want. It tells me that as human being, no matter what encounters us, we should stay rational and critical thinking.”

Generally speaking, how do you consider the Hong Kong-China relation?

“There is no doubt that Hong Kong is still part of China. But I agree that the central government definitely need to reflect and improve its way to administer Hong Kong. It cannot say it truly represent Hong Kong without including local voices and perspectives!”

Photo by J. Chow.

Interviewee #5 (and #6)

My approach here was different since I met with the interviewees in Copenhagen, so we had a chat about the questions and how they related to the matter while living in Copenhagen. One of the interviewees left the conversation because he/she did not have enough interest in the matter.

“It is difficult to relate to the protests in Hong Kong, because we understand both perspectives.”

“One of my friends from Hong Kong is a tourist guide, she doesn’t have a ‘strong’ opinion either, because she understands both perspectives.”

“I mean it is crazy to see the videos from the internet, but I find it hard to believe what is right and what is wrong. It does not really affect me, because I don’t live under the circumstances, so I try to stay neutral.”

“I don’t have the same feelings about Hong Kong as Hong Kongers. After all, I grew up here in Denmark.”

It was a short interview, as the interviewees did not have strong feelings about the protests because it is far away from their lives, even though they are expected to be concerned because of their heritage.

This blog post does NOT intend to emphasize a certain opinion or lead towards a certain discourse! It strives to allow different voices to be heard and to include more than one aspect of the protests.

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