Conflict Alerts # 108, 10 June 2020
In the news
On the evening of 9 June, thousands of demonstrators marched on the streets of Hong Kong to mark the anniversary of the major protests that broke out against the extradition bill. One year on, the protesters continue to challenge the foundations of the 'One Country, Two Systems.' The crowd gathered in the upmarket central district, in defiance to the COVID-19 bans and emergency laws that prohibit gatherings. The rally was organized by the Civil Human Rights Front, who were seen urging the people in Hong Kong to "persevere." Since 2019, the seven months of protests was halted after the coronavirus outbreak. However, for over a month now, the protests have steadily revived after the announcement of the anthem and the security bills.
Issues at large
The year-long protests in Hong Kong highlight four issues.
First, the changing nature of the protests. The anti- extradition bill protests did not stop when the bill was nullified. What started off as peaceful demonstrations which saw as many as one million people taking to the streets eventually escalated to become routine battles between the protesters and the police.
Second, the changing nature of demands. The early sense of the protests was to have changes to the extradition bill, which extended to the demand to scrap the entire bill. At the peak of these protests even though the bill was announced dead, the protesters' demand had shifted to more than just the scrapping of the bill. "Five demands, not one less," became the slogan in the later months of the protests.
Third, the changing nature of responses by the Hong Kong administration and the leadership in Beijing. The first response to the protests of the Carrie Lam administration was to incorporate some of the amendments that the public demanded and when the protests escalated, very few efforts were made to engage in negotiations with the crowds. Carrie Lam would make a few public statements, however many of them were seen as being late responses. The leadership in Beijing, for the large part of 2019, maintained a policy of non- intervention.
Last, the expanding international responses to the protests. The international media gave wide coverage to the protests, specifically painting them as pro-democracy protests. The protests in Hong Kong also became the precedence to the other protests that followed in the other parts of the world. Many international students in universities in Hong Kong were seen protesting and support for the cause was also shown by holding demonstrations in many of the cities across the world.
There are clear intentions among the protesters to continue demonstrations against the policies by Beijing. The sense of mistrust towards the leadership has worsened with the security bill and the passing of the anthem bill. However, it is crucial to observe how much of society's trust is the leadership willing to lose in order to make legal changes in Hong Kong.
The security bill stands as the strongest response by Beijing that bypasses the city's legislature entirely. It would not be possible for other regions, like Taiwan, to follow the Hong Kong model. Internationally, the protests in Hong Kong would continue to inspire other regions.
Harini Madhusudan is a PhD scholar at the National Institute of Advanced Studies.