The COVID-19 pandemic has turned daily life upside down for people across the globe and will change how the world runs over the next few decades in ways we don’t know yet. The majority of media nowadays reflects the immense impact of the pandemic, however this has given policymakers in China an opening to exert more power in Hong Kong now that the year-long protests in the city have finally left the limelight. The protests were initially over an extradition bill with China (if China defined anyone in Hong Kong as a fugitive then China would be allowed to take them from the city), but would grow to also encompass accountability for police after their extreme reaction last year.
China's new power struggle began with an announcement made in the Beijing Liaison office in Hong Kong on April 17th (just over a week after ending Wuhan’s lockdown) that China “is not subject to the Basic Law restrictions that bar central government departments from interfering in local affairs” (quoted from an article posted by Radio Television Hong Kong the local broadcast network; the statement effectively implies that Beijing officials are above the local law, the Basic Law being a kind of mini constitution for Hong Kong). The next day Beijing officials arrested 15 protest leaders from last year’s brutal demonstrations.
After the announcement was made Hong Kong officials and small groups of demonstrators gathered to express their discontent and were immediately brutalized by Hong Kong police who appear to have adopted a hardline policy in order to prevent dissent on the scale of the protests of last July. The official reasoning for the arrests was that the demonstrators were breaking social distancing rules, a strange excuse to give when other people all around the city were ignoring those same rules constantly. Now protests have begun to use more private methods of dissent including boycotting pro-China businesses and showing support online with discrete hand signs and phrases.
In early May, the Hong Kong police watchdog released a report that largely defended actions of police during last summer’s demonstrations, excluding a brief reconsideration of the use of tear gas. The report also denied any police affiliation with Hong Kong gangs while putting blame on misconduct by protesters. The report clearly illustrates the police will not stop using brutal means and with a new wave of Chinese police to roam the streets, there is little hope of any public protest.
New Chinese policies being instituted in the restless Hong Kong include criminalizing disrespect of the Chinese national anthem and review of new legislation based on article 23 of the Basic Law that states Hong Kong has to enact harsher laws when faced with acts of treason, sedition, and so on. The end result of these revisions will give Chinese officials significantly more control over the city with no possibility of any legal opposition.
With the new wave of Chinese force being used in Hong Kong, it is likely protests will continue in some form for a while yet. The exploitative actions of China in this desperate time should remind all of us to stay vigilant regardless of the circumstances. Simply because newer and bigger news shows up today, does not mean that the big news of yesterday resolved itself.
-Hui M. While the world wasn't looking, Beijing re-wrote the rules in Hong Kong at startling speed. Quartz. https://qz.com/1857362/china-re-wrote-the-rules-in-hong-kong-amid-coronavirus-pandemic/. Published May 15, 2020. Accessed May 16, 2020.
-Wong N. Beijing official calls for Hong Kong to take urgent action on national security. South China Morning Post. https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3080009/coronavirus-pandemic-and-protests-highlight-need-national. Published April 15, 2020. Accessed May 16, 2020.
-Hong Kong protests: Police watchdog clears officers over crackdown. BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-52680094. Published May 15, 2020. Accessed May 16, 2020.
-Image from Thomas Peters/Reuters, used in article https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2020/05/hong-kong-police-watchdog-release-report-protest-response-200515001042337.html