General Strike in Hong Kong; Beijing Waits, for Now

Hong Kongers from all walks of life, and seven districts of the city, took to the streets Monday as part of a general strike, the largest such demonstration since 1967.  Teachers and students, aviation workers, finance employees, and civil servants took part in the protests, aimed at both Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing government and mainland China itself.  What initially began as a row over a now-suspended extradition bill has morphed in to a movement against Chinese encroachment, Hong Kong’s non-democratic system, and its unaccountable police force.  Now in their ninth week, and showing no signs of slowing down, some fear Beijing may be compelled to act.

A group of protesters keep the doors of a subway train from closing Monday.

Monday began with massive disruptions to city transport.  Protesters blocked roads and highways and kept trains from leaving stations, suspending or delaying subway lines.  More than 200 flights were cancelled at Hong Kong International Airport, as more than 2,300 aviation workers joined in the strike.  Disruptions were also seen at government buildings, beaches, and Disneyland.  Police fired tear gas at the protesters, and pro-Beijing activists wielding long poles clashed with demonstrators in the North Point district. “Some of them are prepared to die for the movement,” one civil servant told The Wall Street Journal.  “I am also prepared to die for it.”

In her first press conference in two weeks, Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, rejected continued calls for her resignation, and pledged to restore law and order.  She warned that Hong Kong was “on the verge of a very dangerous situation,” and that protesters were putting the “One Country, Two Systems” privileges, which Beijing extends to the Special Administrative Region, at risk.  Referring to the now-suspended extradition bill, which many feared would allow China to abduct anti-communist residents, Lam said, “we continue to allow these violent protesters to make use of the bill to conceal their ulterior motives.”  She added, “those ulterior motives are going to destroy Hong Kong.”

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, holding her first press conference in two weeks Monday.

Having successfully blocked the extradition bill, protesters have broadened their movement, letting off years of frustration, and fears over Chinese encroachment on their city.  In addition to Lam’s resignation, they want an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality, and the dropping of any rioting charges against protesters.  They also want changes to Hong Kong’s electoral system, in which a pitifully small number of people actually elect either the Chief Executive or the Legislative Council.  Hong Kong’s last Chief Executive, Leung Chun-ying, was nicknamed “689,” for the number of votes, out of a population of more than seven million, he received.

China itself has, for now, stayed out of the protests, which they blame on western foreign influence.  China’s top policy office in Hong Kong called the protests “horrendous incidents” that have caused “serious damage to the rule of law.”  Per Reuters, the foreign ministry warned ominously that “no one should underestimate China’s resolve to safeguard the stability of Hong Kong.”  Those who remember Tiananmen Square know that the patience of the Communist Party of China only goes so far.  Instead, inaction against the SAR may cause other renegade territories, like Taiwan, to reason that Hong Kong remained free because Beijing was too weak to conquer it.

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Robert Martin (CN Staff)

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