Hong Kong Protest Momentum Faces Test With Weekend Rally, Strike

Aaron Mc Nicholas
1 / 3

Hong Kong Protest Momentum Faces Test With Weekend Rally, Strike

(Bloomberg) -- As Hong Kong’s protesters gear up for another mass march downtown this weekend and possibly a strike next Monday, some of those who have fought on the front lines are reassessing their strategy.

The Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), which has organized some of the biggest rallies since unrest began in June, said Thursday night it received police approval for a rally -- the first time it has gotten a permit in more than four months. The Sunday march will start at 3 p.m. in Victoria Park in Causeway Bay and head to the city’s business district in Central, the group said.

An outburst of violence last month culminated in a nearly two-week siege around Hong Kong Polytechnic University, which is still littered with debris. Police arrested more than 1,300 people at the Kowloon site -- almost a quarter of all those taken into custody so far -- and seized about 4,000 petrol bombs along with explosives and corrosive liquids.

John, a 29-year-old business analyst who joined protests during the siege, said the occupation of PolyU and other universities were “tactical mishaps” and “a huge price was paid.” Still, he credited the moves for leading to a big win for pro-democracy protesters in local elections and spurring the U.S. to pass laws supporting the movement.

“People are not backing down,” said John, who asked for only his first name to be given to avoid detection by police, adding that he expects a “huge turnout” at a rally planned for Sunday. “We should seize this chance to apply maximum pressure to the Carrie Lam government.”

Economy Hit

The intense developments in recent weeks, along with a drop in temperatures as Christmas approaches, are again testing the endurance of a movement that has persistently reinvented itself since it exploded nearly six months ago. Peaceful rallies have given way at times to intense violence and vandalism, while police abuses have also enraged demonstrators and boosted turnout.

The unrest has rocked the economy, which has slipped into a recession as the protests deter residents and visitors alike from spending heavily in the city’s famed shopping districts. So far government stimulus measures have fallen short of the level recommended by the International Monetary Fund to shore up growth.

Lam’s administration in Hong Kong has withdrawn a bill allowing extraditions to the mainland that initially sparked the movement, but has refused to give in to other demands. Those include an amnesty for protesters, an independent inquiry into police violence and meaningful elections for the city’s top leadership positions.

Back on June 9, when the unrest began, CHRF said more than 1 million people took to the streets in a rally organized by the group. The police permit for Sunday’s rally means little for many front-line protesters, who point to the use of tear gas last weekend despite authorization having been granted. Police later said they fired tear gas because some radical protesters were throwing bricks in their direction.

Besides the mass march planned for Sunday, demonstrators on LIHKG -- the social media forum where protesters discuss tactics -- have repeatedly called for a new general strike starting on Monday. While the level of energy for such a renewed offensive remains unclear, any plans to block roads and disrupt public transport could once again cast a shadow on Hong Kong.

‘Not Ready to Give Up’

Eric Lai, vice-convener for CHRF, said the big win for the pro-democracy camp in District Council elections on Nov. 24 showed the protests still aren’t losing steam even after all these months. He also said his group isn’t hoping to meet Lam for dialogue since the demands of protesters have been clearly expressed.

“We didn’t have a downturn and the strategy is clear,” Lai said of the movement. “Peaceful actions and frontline actions work hand-in-hand, and the election results show we have maximized our momentum.”

In the early months of the protests, the movement defined itself by the principle of “be water”: Quickly dispersing when police arrived and then reappearing elsewhere to block roads, set barricades on fire or vandalize businesses. The days-long occupations of university campuses deviated from that principle.

Still, the protesters have shifted gears before -- including in August, when the seizure of the international airport risked leading to a wider backlash among the city’s residents. Time again, the demonstrators have backed up their claims that they won’t stop until Lam and her backers in Beijing yield to all of their demands.

“We have always been losing for the past six months,” said 24-year-old student Oliver. “So I think it’s not the problem of ‘is it still worthwhile?’ but instead ‘are we giving up?’ I’m not ready to give up.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Aaron Mc Nicholas in Hong Kong at amcnicholas2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Daniel Ten Kate at dtenkate@bloomberg.net, Jon Herskovitz

For more articles like this, please visit us at bloomberg.com

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.