Pro-autonomy, pro-democracy demonstrations resume in Hong Kong

More than 200 people arrested, including children, in most attended action in recent months

Police officers intervene during the protest.
Police officers intervene during the protest. Author: Benjamin Yuen, Tam Ming Keung @ USP United Social Press
More than 200 people, including minors, were arrested during the latest demonstration demanding respect for Hong Kong autonomy and the enhancement of the democratic system there. The protests are regaining momentum in May after a forced halt due to restrictions imposed by the fight against coronavirus. Meanwhile, the governments of Hong Kong and China are announcing a firm hand to handle with the issue.

Hundreds attended, May 10, a protest in shopping malls in the area of Tsim Sha Tsui. It was the largest protest of the latest months in physical spaces —some actions have been maintained through social networks. Participants again demanded the fulfillment of the so-called “Five Demands” by the Hong Kong government. Slogans for “freedom” and “independence” of Hong Kong could also be heard or read in banners. The protest had been previously banned by the authorities.

Some protesters gathered later on in the streets of the Mong Kok area. The police made several charges to disperse them, and up to 230 people were arrested. Several protesters reported that the police acted with brutality.

The United Social Press Facebook page offers videos and photos of the events.

The current wave of demonstrations has been taking place since March 2019. Mobilizations began in protest against a bill that would have eased the extradition of people from Hong Kong to mainland China, but soon led to demonstrations in favour of the autonomy of the former UK colony. Protesters have also demanded the introduction of universal suffrage and the resignation of the head of the government of Hong Kong, Carrie Lam.

Since the protests were launched, the Hong Kong police has arrested over 7,000 people, including several leaders of the pro-democracy and localist political camps.

The Hong Kong political camps

Hong Kong’s politics is commonly divided into two main blocs, or camps: the so-called pro-democracy, or pan-democratic, which calls for the deepening of Hong Kong’s democratic system and generally stands up for the current autonomy arrangement within the “One country, two systems” model; and the so-called pro-Chinese camp, or pro-Beijing, which is aligned with the policies of the Chinese government, and generally supports further centralization of power. Carrie Lam belongs to the second camp.

In recent years, a third camp has emerged —the agenda of which coincides with that of the pro-democracy camp only in part—: the so-called “localist”, which is made up of parties calling for more autonomy for Hong Kong, or even independence. The rise of this camp has taken place after a period in which the population of Hong Kong has increasingly identified itself more as a Hong Konger than as Chinese.

Parties belonging to the pro-democracy and localist camps, combined, get more votes than those hailing from the pro-Beijing camp. But Hong Kong’s peculiar electoral system, which privileges certain interest groups, ends up giving the latter camp an absolute majority in the Legislative Council.

Lam: education system is to blame

Reacting to the new protests, Lam said she would review the school curriculum because, she told a local newspaper, subjects such as Liberal Studies —one of the four compulsory subjects in secondary school— could be acting as a vehicle for the transmission of ideas that have purportedly led to the current protests.

Lam’s cabinet has also called on the Legislative Council to speed up the passage of a law criminalizing insults to China’s national anthem, the March of the Volunteers. Penalties can be as high as 3 years in prison for disrespectful performance of the song.

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, an agency of the Chinese government, called the protests a “political virus,” and announced a crackdown.