New York, Sep 9
A pro-democracy demons-tration Sunday near the US Consulate in Hong Kong quickly devolved into van-dalism and street chaos, sug- gesting that protesters were not mollified by a recent concession from the city’s leader. The violence came on the heels of the first notable displays of unrest since Carrie Lam, the city’s leader, announced Wednesday that she would formally withdraw the contentious extradition bill that spurred the protests in June.
The march to the consulate Sunday was an effort to drum up support for a bill that is moving through the U.S. Congress. It would penalize officials in mainland China and Hong Kong who suppress freedoms in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory, and require an annual justification for why the United States should offer Hong Kong special trade and business privileges.
For demonstrators, making a public appeal to the United States risks playing into a bid by Beijing to portray the protests as a campaign orchestrated by Washington, not a reflection of genuine local grievances. And if the legislation were to further damage a Hong Kong economy that is already hurting from nearly three months of street demonstrations, protesters could lose support from a general public that is somewhat disillusioned by their violent tactics. Still, in a city where many people fear that Beijing is steadily destroying their freedoms, many protesters believe that anything that keeps their demands high on the international agenda is worth the risks. “Freedom and democracy is more important than economics,” said Brian Chan, 23, an engineer who joined the march Sunday afternoon.
“Hong Kong people who love this place from their hearts want freedom,” he added. “The economy of Hong Kong is good, but most people don’t benefit.”
The march began peacefully, as hundreds of thousands rallied in a park and on streets near the consulate. Some protesters sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” waved American flags and held a large blue-and-white banner that read: “President Trump, please liberate Hong Kong.”
“Resist Beijing!” the crowd chanted in English. “Liberate Hong Kong!”
But within hours, hardcore demonstrators on the fringes of the rally had smashed windows and vandalized ticket-vending machines and escalators in Central Station, a vital transit hub for shoppers and commuters. Some of them set a fire outside a station entrance.
Police officers in riot gear made arrests as they patrolled Central Station, and at least one of them fired a rubber bullet to disperse protesters. By nightfall, police were chasing protesters through several neighbourhoods on Hong Kong Island, and spraying tear gas and making arrests in the Causeway Bay shopping district.
The unrest later migrated to the Kowloon Peninsula, where residents and protesters clashed with police in working-class neighbourhoods, and some train stations were closed early.
Television footage from the Mong Kok neighbourhood showed police officers searching random passersby, including a man wearing a Captain America T-shirt, and authorities said some protesters had “hurled hard objects” into the local police station.
Fernando Formaciari, a 60-year-old fashion executive from Italy who travels frequently to Hong Kong, said he was concerned about how the protests would affect the retail industry. “When stores are closed, it affects business,” he said. “We hope in the end the government would find a political compromise.” The Chinese government has accused the United States and other Western countries of sowing the seeds of discontent and attempting to foment a “revolution” in Hong Kong.
Before the march Sunday, the U.S. Consulate issued a “demonstration alert” on its website saying that the march and other events over the weekend might disrupt transportation around the city. A spokesman at the consulate declined to comment on the demonstrations.
The bill making its way through Congress, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, was introduced in June by Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J. Similar legislation has been floating around Washington for years, and the latest version has wide bipartisan support in Congress.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reiterated her support for the bill in a statement Wednesday, saying that it would “reaffirm the U.S. commitment to democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the face of Beijing’s crackdown.”
President Donald Trump, by contrast, has sent mixed signals on the Hong Kong protests. He suggested last month that China should settle the problem “humanely” before reaching a trade deal with the United States, for example. But he has also called the protests “riots,” echoing the language of the Chinese government. The protests have prompted the banking hub’s worst political crisis since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997, and the movement’s demands have gradually expanded since June to include broad calls for political reform and police accountability.
But aside from promising Wednesday to withdraw the extradition bill, Lam, Hong Kong’s deeply unpopular leader, has declined to engage on the other demands. New York Times