GP Insights # 111, 27 July 2019
On 26 July the two-month-long protest in Hong Kong expanded when flight attendants and airport staff started an 11-hour protest at the Hong Kong international airport. The protest was in response to the government’s account for a violent attack on residents by suspected gang members last week. The aviation staffs were joined by demonstrators dressed in black, which is the signature colour of the Chinese territory’s protest movement. The protestor’s sat on the ground chanting “Free Hong Kong.”
What is the background?
Hong Kong has been gripped by nearly two months of demonstrations by residents calling for democratic reforms and the withdrawal of a controversial extradition bill. However, so far the protest has been an impeccable display of peace, apology and restraint by the protesters. The protest took a violent turn on 21 July after an attack on commuters by suspected organised crime groups or as triads. This attack left 45 people hospitalised, and dozens of groups planned rallies and issued public petitions in response. In addition to this, a ruling on 19 July added to protesters grievances when Hong Kong’s appeal court overturned the conviction of two police officers previously found guilty of beating a protester in an alley during pro-democracy demonstrations in 2014.
What does it mean?
Over the past two months, the protests have spread from central Hong Kong to the border town of Sheung Shui and other rural parts. However, the choice of an international airport as their new centre to stage the demonstration against the government and police, is an attempt at urging international visitors to pay attention to Hong Kong. Throughout the last two months, both the means and sites of protest have remained dynamic. Thus it was not a surprise when after the triads’ attempt to disperse the moral of the protesters; it became necessary to call for international attention.
The protest at the airport saw a group of students holding signs in English, Japanese, and Korean calling on “international friends for help standing up to the Hong Kong government”. Many held signs in red and white, designed to look like warning flags raised by police before firing on demonstrators, which said: “Tourist warning: do not trust the police or the government.”
Secondly, it is essential to note that the protesters this time has attempted to overturn the traditional notion of ‘blockage, thus disrupting economy’ labelled by the Chinese authorities. Instead, protesters are calling on residents to come “for a walk” or to “stimulate the Yuen Long economy”. Organisers have filed an appeal to overturn the police decision to bar the march planned on 27 July. As the airport is chosen for protest, it has also called out to the mainland Chinese travellers to come to Yuen Long for “major discounts” on makeup, branded goods, and milk powder: items very popular with Chinese visiting Hong Kong.
Lastly, why even after two months and suspension of the extradition bill the Hong Kong protest refuses to fizzle out? Perhaps, the bill is a trigger to several other issues that had remained unresolved for long, such as the housing market and Beijing’s continuous interference since 1997. As a Chinese proverb goes, when you pull a hair, the whole body moves, the protest is Hong Kong’s way of protecting their right to governance. In the political history of Hong Kong protests are particularly crucial as a tool and an expression of their identity. For more than half a century, the people of Hong Kong have been taking to the streets to force distant authorities – first in Britain and later in Beijing – to reconsider how they govern the city.