John wrote about the renewed protests in Hong Kong last night and credible fears of violence as China celebrates its 70th anniversary. Those fears turned out to be completely credible because it was only a matter of hours later before the teargas canisters were flying and both the police and the demonstrators were lodging accusations of excessive force and attacks against each other. The question on everyone’s mind appeared to be where Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has gotten off to. (NBC News)
Protests escalated through the weekend ahead of China’s National Day, leading to police and civilian injuries. Police said demonstrators threw as many as 100 Molotov cocktails while officers responded with tear gas, water cannons, over 300 rounds of rubber bullets and 79 sponge grenades, forms of riot control that can cause injuries or death. Eleven people were arrested Saturday and another 146 people were arrested Sunday — almost half of whom were students.
The protests were first sparked in June over a now-withdrawn extradition bill but have since expanded to include calls for greater democratic freedoms amid fears that rights are being eroded by Beijing’s growing control.
The demonstrations risk undermining both domestic and international perceptions of the authority and the power of China’s ruling Communist Party, experts say.
As usual in such cases, each side is blaming the other and verifiable facts from people on the scene are hard to come by. The police claim that protesters quickly began hurling Molotov cocktails. The demonstrators say that tear gas was fired at people who were doing nothing but talking. But the violence and damage are confirmed in numerous photos and videos posted on social media.
Things escalated when police fired at least one volley of live ammunition instead of rubber bullets. One protester was struck in the chest. That link goes to the South China Morning Post and they have a full day’s worth of updates and pictures from the scene.
The protester who was shot in the chest, thought to be a college student, was initially treated right on the sidewalk right where he fell. Later he was taken to a local hospital where staff leaked out a copy of his x-rays. The bullet remained lodged in his chest at the time of this writing.
Originally, these protests started in response to an extradition bill that would have made it easier for the Chinese government to grab up dissidents and take them for trial in mainland China. The bill was withdrawn, but the young people in the streets aren’t going away. Now they are issuing general calls for more independence from Beijing and autonomy for their city-state. We already know how China feels about that subject and their military is still parked near the border.
As it turns out, Carrie Lam isn’t even in the city at this point. She’s in Beijing, but it’s unclear if this sudden trip was made of her own volition or if she was summoned there by the Communist Party leadership. And that highlights one of the biggest problems that the demonstrators face. The “autonomy” of Hong Kong is, at this point, little more than a mirage. Their elections have been overridden by judges in China and the police clearly work on the side of China loyalists and take their orders from a higher source than their Chief Executive. And Lam herself knows her power rests in the hands of Xi Jinping.
Hong Kong was supposed to retain some form of autonomy until 2047 under the original deal, but in a very Darth Vader type fashion, Xi seems to have made changes to the deal. Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute in London, was quoted as saying, “The Communist Party of China does not forget and does not forgive, so don’t spoil their 70th anniversary. Somebody is going to pay the price.”
His words are looking more and more prescient.