Police and protesters battled again in Hong Kong on Thursday, followed by what observers characterized as an uneasy truce. Hundreds of demonstrators are still taking to the streets, but their numbers are far less than the tens of thousands reported on Wednesday or the hundreds of thousands last Sunday.
The lighter turnout could be partly due to the legislature, known in Hong Kong as LegCo, deciding to postpone hearings on the fiercely-opposed extradition bill after massive demonstrations and violence on Wednesday.
Chief executive Carrie Lam blasted the protests as “intolerable” on Wednesday night and vowed to push ahead with the extradition bill.
“Clearly, this is no longer a peaceful assembly but a blatant, organized riot, and in no way an act of loving Hong Kong,” Lam said.
The Hong Kong Bar Association (HKBA) fired back by denouncing “violence perpetrated by any party” but adding the police were responsible for much of the chaos on Wednesday.
“These acts include the deployment of wholly unnecessary force against largely unarmed protesters who did not appear to pose any immediate threat to the police or the public at large,” the HKBA said, backing up its allegations with video evidence of unnecessary violence against demonstrators.
“Given the clear and plain opposition recently voiced by such a significant portion of the public, any responsible administration which sees itself to be accountable to the public should see the necessity to pause, engage in dialogue with the community and reconsider its stance,” the HKBA urged.
Hong Kong Police Commissioner Stephen Lo said his officers dealt appropriately with a “hostile and very unstable” crowd but promised to investigate complaints of police violence.
The Taipei Times was one of several media sources to note that few of the protesters seem to think they can actually stop the extradition law. Instead, they are venting their anger at the damage to Hong Kong’s sovereignty and attempting to draw world attention to their plight. Protest activities remain focused on the area around LegCo, with demonstrators indicating they intend to return every time the extradition bill comes up for hearings.
Inside LegCo, opposition politicians denounced the harsh police response to the protests.
“We are not a haven for criminals, but we have become a haven of violent police. Firing at our children?” lawmaker Fernando Cheung said at a press conference.
“None of the former chief executives dared to do that, but ‘mother Carrie Lam’ did it. What kind of mother is she? I have never seen such an evil-hearted mother,” Cheung continued, mocking Lam’s comment in an interview on Wednesday that she sees herself as the stern mother of Hong Kong’s misbehaving youth.
China’s state-run Global Times published an editorial on Wednesday warning Hong Kong dissidents that Beijing is running out of patience with their antics and insulting them as dupes of hostile foreign powers and Taiwan:
Since Hong Kong has adopted capitalism, it is normal to see Western-style symptoms. But Hong Kong should know how far to go and when to stop. Observers from the Chinese mainland sometimes go breathless with anxiety to see certain forces in Hong Kong addicted to political games and almost creating turmoil.
Other than Hong Kong society itself, the Chinese mainland cares most about the city. Because Hong Kong is part of China and the state it is in – good or bad – has to do with the country. Making Hong Kong better is important for China to progress in a harmonious way.
As for others, why should they wish for the good of Hong Kong? In our view, Taiwan island authorities want to see nothing but the decline of Hong Kong to prove that their separatist direction is correct. Washington cares more about turning Hong Kong into a tool to pressure Beijing and create trouble. In the meantime, the UK could be in a different mood and probably miss the old days of colonizing the city. But if Hong Kong is better than it was as a colony, won’t it be a case of sour grapes for London? We believe it is not difficult for Hong Kong society to see these subtleties.
The Hongkongers must keep a clear mind so that they won’t be fooled by Western political elites or trapped in Western-style political game. The “one country, two systems” policy is a new thing. When encountering problems, they should follow the Basic Law and find a solution through consultation.
A CNN analysis on Thursday saw Chinese Communist Party leader Xi Jinping in a tough spot, since backing down in the face of a popular uprising is unthinkable, but China’s weakening economy and difficult diplomatic position make it wary of cracking down too hard. Both continuing protests and brutal repression would pose serious risks for Hong Kong’s economy that Beijing cannot afford to take right now.
Chinese University of Hong Kong adjunct professor Willy Lam told CNN that handling the Hong Kong situation badly would reflect “very poorly” on Xi, who has been “subjected to internal criticism by senior party members for failing to handle Donald Trump, for failing to handle the larger Cold War between China and the U.S.”