In recent weeks, activists have taken to Hong Kong’s streets to protest what they see as tightening Chinese control of the semiautonomous island, sparked in large part by a bill that would allow for individuals to be extradited to mainland China. Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, suspended the bill but is now facing calls to withdraw it completely and to leave office.
The protest movement escalated this week when some participants violently stormed Hong Kong’s legislature building.
That incident could mark a turning point in the movement. Here are some key questions about what may come next.
How did the protests escalate this week?
Monday marked 22 years since Britain handed control of Hong Kong to China. That night, a smaller group of protesters ignored pleas from more moderate crowds, and broke into Hong Kong’s legislature, where they spray painted the chambers to hide references to China. They also removed the Chinese flag and replaced it with one featuring a Hong Kong emblem, the bauhinia flower — symbolically wilted to represent the eroding of freedoms. Police in Hong Kong used tear gas to clear them out.
While it was a minority of protesters who participated in the break-in, some others expressed a sense of inspiration at their willingness to risk arrest to get their message across.
One protester who spoke to The Post in Hong Kong on the condition of anonymity said that “generation by generation, people are getting angrier and angrier.”
"As young people, we don’t see any hope,” he said.
Joshua Wong, a prominent Hong Kong activist, wrote on Twitter that the “protesters who broke into the Legislative Council complex were not rioters.”
“They were not violent,” he wrote. “They wanted to make the regime hear Hong Kongers’ voice, and they had no other option.”
How has China reacted so far?
After the storming of the legislature on Monday, China released a strongly worded statement decrying the protesters.
“Some extreme elements used excessive violence to storm the legislature building and carried out a series of large-scale assaults. This is shocking, heartbreaking and angering,” Beijing said. “Their violent acts are an extreme challenge to Hong Kong’s rule of law and seriously undermined Hong Kong’s peace and stability. It is totally intolerable.”
Beijing also called their behavior a “flagrant challenge” to the “one country, two systems” policy that has allowed Hong Kong a certain degree of autonomy for decades.
As The Post reported, some are concerned that direct statements from Beijing and others included in state-affiliated media essentially outline instructions from Chinese officials for how Hong Kong should react to the protests. The fact that the protests escalated this week means Beijing will feel it has “a reason for being much more hands-on and more repressive” in Hong Kong, Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, told The Post earlier this week.
What might China do next?
As The Post’s Shibani Mahtani and Anna Fifield reported this week, Ronny Tong, a member of Hong Kong’s cabinet and a legal adviser to chief executive Carrie Lam warned ahead of the violent escalation on Monday that “when there is trouble in Hong Kong, when things turn sour and there is violence in the streets, our fear is that if the police are unable to control what is happening here, there’s a remote risk that the [Chinese army] would get involved.”
But Scott Kennedy, senior adviser of the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies said he thinks China is “still very, very far” from initiating a forceful crackdown in Hong Kong.
“I don’t think we’re going to see other types of overt encroachments on Hong Kong’s autonomy unless things deteriorate much further, because once you do that there’s no going back,” he said. “If Beijing were to intervene in a ham-fisted way now with a great show of force . . . that one country, two systems system would immediately collapse into one country, one system.”
How is the international community reacting?
After the legislature building was vandalized on Monday, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that the United Kingdom had signed “an internationally binding legal agreement in 1984 that enshrines the one country, two systems rule, [and] enshrines the basic freedoms of the people of Hong Kong,” and warned that there would "serious consequences if that internationally binding legal agreement were not to be honored.”
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen tweeted in support of protesters, saying she urged “the Hong Kong government to address the legitimate concerns of the people and their pursuit of freedom & democracy.”
Last month, President Trump said he hopes "it all works out for China and for Hong Kong."
After a massive protest in Hong Kong, he said “I understand the reason for the demonstration, but I’m sure they will be able to work it out.