Beijing Approves Sweeping Legislation to Crackdown on Hong Kong Unrest
After a short intermission caused by the coronavirus outbreak, Hong Kong residents have taken to the streets in a continuation of last year’s epic protest against the Chinese government
By Ben Levy
Protesters were out in force over the weekend in Hong Kong, marking the first major demonstration since the Chinese government recently announced intentions to tighten control over Hong Kong through security legislation. Many protesters defied social distancing rules put in place to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
The large, fiery demonstrations that have come to symbolize Hong Kong’s growing unrest over increasingly strict Chinese rule were put on hold for months as travel restrictions and quarantine orders were put in place to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus. Hong Kong’s proximity to China, its high population density and its role as an international hub made it particularly susceptible to the contagion.
A new wave of protests rock Hong Kong
Over the weekend, organizers had planned a demonstration march between the city’s busy Causeway Bay and Wan Chai neighborhoods. However, police quickly blocked the protestor’s route, forcing the demonstrators to splinter off into several smaller, widely dispersed groups. This led to over seven hours of chaotic confrontations with the police.
While most of the protests remained peaceful, some groups of protesters blocked streets with bricks and debris. The demonstrations turned violent when the police retaliated by firing tear gas, pepper spray and water cannons to disperse the crowds. Armored trucks patrolled the city’s major thoroughfares with officers perched on top aiming guns loaded with rubber bullets at the crowds.
The police reported having arrested at least 180 people, many of whom were charged with unlawful assembly. At least four police officers were injured, and the Hong Kong hospital authority stated that six people were admitted for protest-related injuries, including a woman who is listed in critical condition.
Demonstrators fear that increased security measures from China will choke the civil liberties enjoyed by Hong Kong residents and the character of the island that distinguishes it from Mainland China.
The protests over the weekend were noticeably different from the massive demonstrations that took place last year over legislation proposed in Hong Kong’s legislature that would allow extradition to China. Not only were the protests this weekend smaller, but police authorities also demonstrated more assertiveness towards the protesters and increased efforts to deter and prevent mass gatherings before they could assemble.
Before the gatherings, police had publicly warned against illegal mass gatherings and the violation of social distancing rules. Hong Kong public health regulations still limit gatherings to no more than eight people.
President Xi’s authoritarian vision for China
The security measures handed down from Beijing were reportedly in response to the mass protests last year. Legislators cited the growing unrest in Hong Kong as a threat to national security, proving that the city’s residents must be reined in and the shadowy foreign operators trying to undermine and tear China apart expelled.
The legislation is part of a larger initiative of the Chinese government and leader Xi Jinping to rejuvenate China as the coronavirus continues to ravage Western democracies. Any hints that the virus outbreak had humbled President Xi or forced him in a position to compromise with the West were swiftly quashed when the security legislation was introduced.
The emboldened leader appeared to show little disregard for what will likely lead to reinvigorated demonstrations in Hong Kong and potential clashes with the United States, which has voiced support for past protests.
Nations around the world were swift to condemn Beijing for extending powers over Hong Kong. The reaction from the United States was immediate. US Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, announced that Hong Kong was no longer autonomous from China and therefore the city no longer merits special treatment under US law, a move that will certainly serve a dramatic blow to the city’s economy.
President Xi’s views toward Hong Kong are a diversion from those of his predecessors who respected the distinctive legal status awarded to the city after its sovereignty was transferred to the Chinese government in 1997. Xi has embarked on a vision to quash internal descent and strengthen the country, bolstered by a unified economic and political front.
Beijing tightens its grip on Hong Kong
Defiantly, on Thursday, China expanded the proposed security measures ordering that a new law be written to extend many of Mainland China’s security practices to Hong Kong. This will give Beijing far-reaching powers to suppress unrest.
Less than a week after the new wave of protests, the Chinese government unanimously approved legislation that would ‘suppress subversion, secession, terrorism and seemingly any acts that might threaten national security’ in the semi-autonomous city. The crackdown comes amid increasing global outcry admonishing China for its aggressive, sweeping actions.
It remains unclear if the protest movement in Hong Kong will be able to rebuild the momentum it had going into the coronavirus crisis, and as the new legislation is hashed out, activist groups could be banned outright. Many demonstrators expressed fatigue over the growing aggressiveness of the Communist party and while the Hong Kong legislature backpedaled on the extradition legislation, some protesters expressed frustration at the inability of protest movements to affect measurable change.