Several people were seriously injured in the weekend’s clashes and the majority of those arrested were students, including a 12-year-old.
The violence took place ahead of Tuesday’s 70th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party. Chinese President Xi Jinping is planning a variety of events, headlined by huge military parade, to mark the milestone.
But in Hong Kong, the sustained protests against China are likely to flare up as well.
The protest movement that began in June over frustrations with a bill that would have allowed for extraditions to mainland China has since ballooned into a wide-ranging rebuke of Beijing’s influence on the island.
Struggling to keep up with what’s happening? Here are some key questions, answered.
Why did the protests start?
Protests kicked off in June over concerns that Hong Kong was set to pass a bill that would allow individuals to be extradited to China. Since the British handover in 1997, Hong Kong and China have been party to a “one country, two systems” agreement that offers residents of Hong Kong a greater degree of independence than they would have in China.
Those who opposed the bill said it jeopardized Hong Kong’s semiautonomy from China and, if passed, would endanger Hong Kong-based critics of Beijing, who could suddenly find themselves facing the Chinese legal system, where human rights groups have documented arbitrary detention and torture.
Hong Kong officials initially defended the bill, saying it would protect Hong Kong from criminals fleeing legal systems elsewhere. And Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam insisted the bill would not apply to issues of free speech. But protesters were unconvinced.
On Sept. 4, Lam formally withdrew the bill. But for the protesters, it was too little too late.
The movement quickly adopted five key demands for Hong Kong’s government: to withdraw the extradition bill; to officially retract descriptions of the protests as a “riot;” to drop charges against protesters; to launch an investigation into police force during the protests; and “universal suffrage,” which would allow Hong Kong voters to directly pick their leaders rather than the current process that includes Beijing’s involvement.
How much have the protests escalated?
In early June, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to protest. Police then responded with force, using tear gas and batons to disperse the crowds. The response inspired more protests. In mid-June, 2 million people are believed to have joined the streets for what was probably the largest protest in Hong Kong’s history.
In late July, more than 1,000 protesters gathered in the airport, warning travelers they were not safe in Hong Kong. Early in August, thousands of people took to the streets for yet another rally — the first in which civil servants joined as an organized bloc, shouting, “Hong Kongers, fight on! Civil servants, fight on!”
On Aug. 5, a strike shut down much of the city, with disruptions to public transit and airline operations. As The Post reported from Hong Kong, “even the happiest place on Earth was not immune: Dozens of workers at Hong Kong Disneyland went on strike, disrupting rides.”
In mid-August another airport strike further escalated tensions between protesters and the government.
Through September, demonstrations continued and have become increasingly violent. Riot police have frequently fired tear gas, rubber bullets, and water cannons at demonstrators. Protesters have thrown bricks, bottles and molotov cocktails at the police.
“If they respect us, then we will respect them,” Michael, a 28-year-old protester who works in the banking industry told The Washington Post. “But if they don’t respect our democracy or human rights, then why do I need to respect them?”
How has Hong Kong’s government responded?
In July, Lam partly backed down from the extradition bill, saying it “is dead.” That terminology wasn’t enough for protesters who accused her of using “wordplay” to trick listeners into thinking the bill was formally withdrawn. At the time, prominent student activist Joshua Wong said calling the bill “dead” was a “lie to the people of Hong Kong.”
In June, as protests escalated, demonstrators called for Lam to step down. But she has stood her ground with backing from Beijing. Late last month, dozens of protesters charged with rioting appeared in court, where they faced sentences of up to 10 years in prison for rioting. They were all granted bail.
When Lam finally officially withdrew the bill in early September, protesters were unimpressed; the movement and its demands had grown beyond one piece of legislation.
On Thursday, Lam held a dialogue session with randomly selected members of the public. It was something of a disaster. She faced a barrage of criticism, as protests erupted outside the building where the event was held.
“Citizens have no trust in you or the police,” a member of the audience told her.
Hong Kong’s police force has been accused of using excessive force to quash the protests. Human rights groups and U.N. officials have called for an investigation into the authorities’ tactics.
Lam, however, has insisted on tasking the Independent Police Complaint Council with looking into the police force’s actions. The organization has come under scrutiny though — it doesn’t have the power to call witnesses, and critics say it’s staffed by Lam loyalists.
How has China responded?
Through all of this, China has stood firm behind Lam, letting her and Hong Kong authorities take the public lead in dealing with the protests while offering reassuring displays of support.
In late July, a military spokesman said that, if Hong Kong officials requested it, China would mobilize People’s Liberation Army troops to restore order to the city.
That’s what Beijing has quietly been doing. While it’s routine for members of China’s military to maintain some kind of presence in Hong Kong, the number of troops is growing. Reuters reported Monday that there are up 12,000 Chinese troops in the Hong Kong, including members of a paramilitary force control by Xi.
The prospect of a Chinese military incursion has begun to appear more likely. The nationalist Global Times tabloid tweeted that the People’s Armed Police, a Chinese paramilitary unit, is assembling armored personnel carriers near Shenzhen, a city bordering Hong Kong.
It’s not the only way China’s making its presence felt. In July, dozens of men carrying Chinese flags beat anti-government protesters with clubs in Hong Kong, leaving at least 45 people hospitalized.
The standoff is likely to come to a head on Tuesday when China’s military parade will take place against the backdrop of an organized counter-rally in Hong Kong.
“A confrontation of monumental proportions is coming up,” Orville Schell, a China specialist at the Asia Society told The Post. “Clearly, something will happen on Oct. 1.”
What does the United States have to say about all this?
The Trump administration has maintained a distance from the unrest in Hong Kong. Trump has called the standoff “a very tough situation” but also commended Xi for handling things “very responsibly.”
His comments came as the White House continues to negotiate with Beijing for a solution to the U.S.-China trade war.
But in Congress, there is bipartisan support for the protesters’ cause. In mid-September, the Congressional-Executive Commission on China held a hearing attended by U.S. lawmakers and Hong Kong activists and scholars. There, representatives and senators condemned China’s authoritarian reach and expressed resounding support for the protesters.
They said the problem could be addressed with legislation: The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which would impose sanctions on anyone found to be ‘suppressing basic freedoms’ in Hong Kong. The act would also allow the U.S. State Department to take the coverage and reporting of Chinese media outlets into account when reviewing visa applications for journalists from those outlets.
In August, a pro-Beijing newspaper published personal information about a U.S. diplomat, Julie Eadeh, who was photographed meeting opposition activists in a hotel. The State Department said the publication of Eadeh’s private information was the behavior of a “thuggish regime."