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02.07.2019 Asia

As Hong Kong violence continues, some fear Beijing will send in the tanks

REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
JUL 2, 2019 ASIA

A night of unprecedented anti-government protests on 1 July marked the 22nd anniversary of the UK return of Hong Kong to Chinese control. Demonstrators forced themselves into the territory's parliament.

“Hong Kong is not China,” “Blood debt to be repaid with blood,” “Government of Dogs” were some of the slogans spray painted on the walls of the corridors and the central deliberation room of Hong Kong's Legislative council in black and bright white characters.

The British Hong Kong colonial flag was exposed in the central hall.

Police charged into the building shortly after midnight to retake control.

Over recent weeks thousands of Hong Kong residents had been taking part in protests against an extradition bill that, if passed, would allow Beijing to request that people passing through, or residing in Hong Kong, be deported to mainland China.

The protests also reveal deeper worries that China does not stick to the “One Country, Two Systems” structure it had worked out with the UK to guarantee Hong Kong's administrative autonomy.

There is also increasing concern about China's growing influence in a system where the Chief Executive is appointed by Beijing while only half of the legislature is directly elected.

After massive protests, including the 12 June demonstration where over a million people took part, the Hong Kong government backed down and decided to postpone a decision on the bill. But it didn't shelve the controversial legislation.

On 1 July, the anniversary of the Hong Kong handover that has become a traditional day to protest, demonstrators took the streets again.

The demonstrators who forced themselves into Hong Kong's parliament where mainly young people.

“What is new to us is that there are young people who feel very frustrated that they are ready to sacrifice themselves,” says Claudia Yip, a spokesperson for the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor.

Older lawmakers, however critical of China's handling of the Hong Kong issue, tried to restrain the young protesters.

“They probably have not acted most wisely,” says Claudia Mo, a Legco member for Hong Kong's Civic Party.

“But you have to understand some of the young here have now this martyr mentality. They are prepared to die for this democracy in Hong Kong. And that mentality is not right."

Mo herself was a reporter in the late 1980s when she was sent to Beijing to cover the demonstrations in 1989 that ended with the Tiananmen bloodbath.

“Last night, when I tried to talk to a couple of the apparent leaders, I pleaded with them not to storm the Legislative building. But they replied with determination that they had to do what they wanted to do. And they did it."

But she is worried about the repercussions.
Any country that has diplomatic ties had to sign up to the “one country, two systems” schedule, recognising that Hong Kong is an “inseparable part” of China.

In other words, any criticism of China's Hong Kong policy is rejected as “interference in internal affairs”.

“They are young, but not that young. They are young adults. They still have a free mind. By the time it was night, I heard the young telling each other, in a very organised manner, that they should stay on. Please don't leave. The more we stay on outside the Legislative building we outnumber the police. And we could help to protect those already inside. That sounds just like Tiananmen," Mo says as students in Beijing used the same argument before they were crushed by the authorities.

State of emergency
“They could declare Hong Kong to be in a state of emergency,” says Mo. And the PLA, the People's Liberation Army could be deployed into the streets of Hong Kong. Thank God it didn't happen, but it just might. I know it is dangerous. But what can we do with young people who still have free mind,” she says.

Beijing has said the protesters “trample the rule of law,” and urges the Hong Kong government to investigate the “criminal responsibility of violent offenders.”

Legco meetings have been suspended for two weeks.