Federation University Australia Historical Collection (Geoffrey Blainey Research Centre), Mount Helen
Crowds mass on Queens Way in Hong Kong as an estimated 2 million people march in protest at the government's refusal to withdraw a controverisal law allowing people to be extradited to mainland China. Chants demanded the chief executive apologise and the legislation be withdrawn, while many held signs protesting police violence.
Nearly 2 million protesters flooded the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday, organisers claimed, delivering a stunning repudiation of Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s governance and forcing a public apology out of the city’s leader over her campaign to bulldoze a controversial extradition bill through the legislature. A day after Lam suspended her push for the bill, expecting it to defuse a crisis that has seen violent clashes between mostly young protesters and police, the centre of Hong Kong was brought to a complete standstill as the masses marched to chastise her for refusing to withdraw the bill or apologise when first asked to, and declaring that nothing short of her resignation would satisfy them now. (https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3014737/nearly-2-million-people-take-streets-forcing-public-apology )
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, had plenty of political support in the territory’s pro-Beijing legislature to pass a bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China. The legislators were set to begin discussing the bill in early June, and intended to vote on it just weeks later. A series of protests took place, and after a June 16 protest saw the largest turnout yet, Ms. Lam made a major concession: She postponed the bill, at least temporarily. It was an undeniable victory for the protesters — but it did little to quell the unrest. Since the bill could later be reintroduced, protesters felt they remained in danger.
The police tactics to break up the demonstrations on June 12, including the use of more than 150 tear gas canisters to push protesters far away from the government office, created a new set of demands from the protesters. Now, instead of just calling for the withdrawal of the bill and Ms. Lam’s resignation, they said they wouldn’t be content unless there was an independent investigation of officers’ conduct. They also wanted the release of protesters arrested on June 12, and for the government to rescind its description of the demonstrations as a “riot,” a designation that carries legal significance. None of that has happened. Many analysts say Ms. Lam is unlikely to step down, nor would Beijing accept her resignation if she offered it. She has more wiggle room on the other demands, but has not indicated any willingness to budge.
The Hong Kong Protests are a leaderless, digital movement.There is no single leader or group deciding on or steering the strategy, tactics and goals of the movement. Instead, protesters have used forums and messaging apps to decide next steps. Anyone can suggest a course of action, and others then vote on whether they support it. The most popular ideas rise to the top, and then people rally to make them happen. At its best, this structure has empowered many people to participate and have their voices heard. Protesters say it keeps them all safe by not allowing the government to target specific leaders. Their success in halting the extradition bill, which was shelved by the territory’s chief executive, speaks to the movement’s power.
Despite the lack of a clear leader, protesters have shown extensive coordination at the demonstrations, having planned the specifics online beforehand. Supply stations are set up to distribute water, snacks, gloves, umbrellas and shields made of cardboard. Volunteer first aid workers wear brightly colored vests. People form assembly lines to pass supplies across long distances, with protesters communicating what they need through a series of predetermined hand signals. Anyone walking in dangerous areas without a helmet or a mask is quickly offered one. No individual can speak on behalf of the protesters, which makes negotiations difficult, if not impossible. (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/07/02/world/asia/hong-kong-protest-explained.html, accessed 07/07/2019)
Hong Kong’s amended extradition law would allow the extradition of suspects to mainland China for the first time. Supporters say the amendments are key to ensuring the city does not become a criminal refuge, but critics worry Beijing will use the law to extradite political opponents and others to China where their legal protections cannot be guaranteed. The government claims the push to change the law, which would also apply to Taiwan and Macau, stems from the killing last year of a Hong Kong woman while she was in Taiwan with her boyfriend. Authorities in Taiwan suspect the woman’s boyfriend, who remains in Hong Kong, but cannot try him because no extradition agreement is in place. Under the amended law, those accused of offences punishable by seven years or more in prison could be extradited. The new legislation would give Hong Kong’s leader, known as the chief executive, authority to approve extradition requests, after review by the courts. Hong Kong’s legislature, the legislative council, would not have any oversight over the extradition process.
Many Hong Kongers fear the proposed extradition law will be used by authorities to target political enemies. They worry the new legislation spells the end of the “one country, two systems” policy, eroding the civil rights enjoyed by Hong Kong residents since the handover of sovereignty from the UK to China in 1997. Many attending the protests on Sunday said they could not trust China as it had often used non-political crimes to target government critics, and said they also feared Hong Kong officials would not be able to reject Beijing’s requests. Legal professionals have also expressed concern over the rights of those sent across the border to be tried. The conviction rate in Chinese courts is as high as 99%. Arbitrary detentions, torture and denial of legal representation of one’s choosing are also common.
Many in the protests on Sunday 09 June 2019 said they felt overwhelmed by a sense of helplessness in the face of mainland China’s increasing political, economic and cultural influence in Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s top political leader is not elected by ordinary voters but by a 1,200-strong election committee accountable to Beijing. Half of its legislature are chosen through indirect electoral systems that favour pro-Beijing figures.
Many Hong Kongers also cited the jailing of leaders and activists from the 2014 Occupy Central movement– a 79-day mass civil disobedience movement – as well as the disqualification of young localist lawmakers as signs of the erosion of civil freedoms. Resentment towards China has been intensified by soaring property prices – with increasing numbers of mainland Chinese buying properties in the city – as well as the government’s “patriotic education” drive, and the large numbers of mainland tourists who flock to Hong Kong. Many Hong Kongers are also concerned about China’s growing control over the city’s news media, as they increasingly self-censor and follow Beijing’s tacit orders.