Conflict Alerts # 87, 13 May 2020
In the news
Three incidents took place in Hong Kong this week in relation to the resurgence of pro-democracy protests. On the night of 10 May, the Hong Kong police arrested over 250 people in Mong Kok, a day after the anti-government protests took place in 10 shopping malls. The echoes from the past protests revived as the anti-government protesters were heard chanting the Glory to the Hong Kong anthem while setting fire to the trash bins to block the streets.
On 12 May, Carrie Lam, made the anthem bill a priority for the government. The pro-democracy lawmakers warned that the Hong Kong government is repeating the mistakes from last year.
On 8 May, the Hong Kong Legislative council session descended into chaos as the pro-democracy and pro-Beijing legislative members were seen competing to take the empty seat of the chairperson. The opposing lawmakers threw placards and scrambled over each other to take control of the house committee.
Issues at large
The return of the protesters is the first issue. Since 26 April 2020, with a fall in the number of coronavirus cases and the easing of a few restrictions in Hong Kong, the protesters have gathered with a new vigour chanting slogans at the Cityplaza.
The anti-government protests have evolved through the 11 months, with "five demands, not one less," as a goal. The months' long protests have helped elect pro-democracy candidates in the legislative elections. In the months during the pandemic, the protesters' cooperated with the situation, but not forgotten the cause.' Even in this time, the protesters resisted attempts by the mainland to set up medical facilities in Hong Kong.
The response of the Hong Kong government forms the second issue. It has formed a task force to check the resurgence of the protest groups, and in spite of it, the malls and shopping centres are quickly becoming the places of choice for the protesters now. China's State Office for Hong Kong and the Macao affairs office on 5 May had warned against 'stirring up of trouble again,' and called the protesters as "political virus." This statement from the mainland government came after Hong Kong's economy was reported to have declined by 8.9 per cent in the first quarter and is showing clear signs of recession.
The return of protests comes at a time when China has just begun the social and economic recovery processes. Though Hong Kong never had a complete lockdown, strict restrictions on mass gathering were in place, and now both sides seem stronger and prepared to face each other head-on. It can be seen in the authority that the police have shown in making arrests in the early weeks of protests.
Both Hong Kong and mainland China want to put a stop to the protests to revive their economies. The protesters who understand this, seem to deliberately target the commercial spaces in Hong Kong. A strong statement by China is an indication to the protesters that Beijing is likely to consider the option of stepping in and taking charge of the situation in Hong Kong before it escalates this time.
Harini Madhusudan is a PhD Scholar at the School of Conflict and Security Studies in the National Institute of Advanced Studies