The Hong Kong protest movement filled the streets on Sunday with an estimated 1.7 million people, almost a quarter of the city’s population, eleven weeks after protest marches began. The rally was a remarkable demonstration of defiance against Communist China, which has been sending ominous signals that a crackdown is imminent and ratcheting up pressure against supporters of the movement, including foreign companies that do business in Hong Kong.
Organizers quoted by the Hong Kong Free Press said the 1.7 million estimate might be a bit low, as other marches came together spontaneously and spread far beyond the streets originally designated for the rally. Heavy raids did nothing to dissuade people from joining the demonstration.
Hong Kong police provided a far lower estimate, stating only that 128,000 people attended the rally in Victoria Park. The police estimate was easily debunked with photographs of the event, which grew to titanic proportions as Hong Kongers who could not get into Victoria Park defied a police order against marching and began moving through the streets.
The Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), chief organizers of the rally, restated the five key demands of the movement – beginning with permanent and irrevocable withdrawal of the extradition bill that launched the movement and ending with a demand for true representative democracy with universal suffrage.
The immense demonstration was adroitly coordinated through social media and secure messaging platforms. The marches remained peaceful, aside from a few police reports of laser pointers and slingshots directed at them, and avoided hot spot areas such as the China Liaison Office
The nominal purpose of Sunday’s rally was to protest the excessive use of force against demonstrators and rebuke the Chinese Communist Party for dismissing the protesters as “violent radicals” manipulated into starting “riots” by sinister “foreign forces.”
The theme of the rally was “Stop the Police and Organised Crime from Plunging Hong Kong into Chaos,” a reference to both police brutality and the use of hired thugs with gang connections to beat and intimidate protesters.
“From front-line activists, to the elderly in nursing homes, to public housing residents, Hong Kongers have faced police brutality in the forms of tear gas, bean bag rounds, and rubber bullets, which they used to disperse and arrest us,” the CHRF said in a statement on Sunday, adding, “We’ve also endured non-discriminant attacks by the triads. Hong Kongers are deeply outraged and abhor the actions of the Hong Kong Government and the Hong Kong Police.”
The CHRF provocatively compared the tactics used against them to the totalitarian horrors of the 20th century:
Police brutality not only causes physical injuries, it can also create a dehumanizing atmosphere of fear. When the chair of the Junior Police Officers Association and legislative councilors repeatedly call protesters ‘cockroaches,’ it brings up the painful memories of genocide to both Hong Kongers and the international community: the Nazi government of Germany called Jews ‘rats,’ while the Hutus called the Tutsis “cockroaches” during the Rwandan genocide. The international community’s image of a civilized Hong Kong is being destroyed by the Hong Kong Police, step by step.
This might have been said in response to Chinese state-controlled media, who over the weekend compared the protesters to Nazis and terrorists. One of these insults was delivered via a poem that aped the famous “First they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out, because I was not a Jew” indictment of Nazi Germany written by Pastor Martin Niemoller.
The poem the Communist media pushed over the weekend assumed the voice of average Hong Kongers regretting that they did not speak up against the protesters sooner:
First they hurled bricks and iron barriers,
And stormed the Legislative Council building,
And I did not speak out,
Because they were young and should be forgiven.
Then they attacked police officers,
And I did not speak out,
Because the police have weapons and could protect themselves.
Then they blocked the roads,
Seized and tortured the drivers,
And I did not speak out,
Because I was not a driver.
The Communist Party also threw together a couple of rap songs that insulted the protesters as “evil,” “liars,” and foolish puppets of “foreign forces,” compared them to bomb-throwing Middle Eastern terrorists, and included a sample of U.S. President Donald Trump saying, “Hong Kong is a part of China.”
Beijing enjoyed more support from the music world as a string of Chinese pop singers publicly declared their allegiance to mainland China and recognized its control of Hong Kong, as Voice of America News (VOA) reported on Monday:
Many of the statements came after protesters opposed to Beijing’s growing influence over semi-autonomous Hong Kong removed a Chinese flag and tossed it into Victoria Harbor earlier this month.
Lay Zhang, Jackson Wang, Lai Kuan-lin and Victoria Song were among the K-pop singers who recently uploaded a Chinese flag and declared themselves as “one of 1.4 billion guardians of the Chinese flag” on their official Weibo social media accounts. Wang is from Hong Kong and Lai is from Taiwan.
Some see the public pronouncements as the latest examples of how celebrities and companies feel pressured to toe the line politically in the important Chinese market. Yet they also coincide with a surge in patriotism among young Chinese raised on a steady diet of pro-Communist Party messaging.
Song and Zhang, a member of popular group EXO, have shown their Chinese pride on Instagram, in Song’s case uploading an image of the Chinese flag last week with the caption “Hong Kong is part of China forever.” Such posts would only be seen by their international fans because Instagram, like most Western social media sites, is blocked by the ruling Chinese Communist Party’s censors.
VOA noted it was “difficult to know whether loyalty vows to Beijing are heartfelt or for commercial reasons.” The Chinese Communist Party is stepping up its “sharp power” game as the Hong Kong protests continue, pressuring both Chinese and foreign corporations to denounce the protesters and state their support for the “One Country, Two Systems” policy.
CNN reported on Monday that the world’s “Big Four” accounting firms – Deloitte, EY, KPMG, and PwC – distanced themselves from an advertisement supporting the protesters that was taken out by people claiming to be their employees.
“We stand with all fellow Hong Kongers,” declared the authors of the advertisement, which restated the “five demands” of the protest movement.
The firms they claimed to work for rushed to either make it clear the ad did not represent the company’s position or denounce it and embrace Beijing’s position:
“While we cannot verify the source of the statement and we respect the right of individuals to peacefully express their views, we want to clarify that this statement does not represent the views of the firm,” said Deloitte.
EY also said it could not confirm the ad’s authenticity, and added that it “does not share the views expressed in the statement.”
PwC said it firmly opposed “any action and statement that challenge national sovereignty.” And KPMG said it “opposes any illegal acts and violence.”
“We hope that Hong Kong remains peaceful and continues to prosper as one of the world’s most important international financial centers based on the rule of law and the principle of ‘One Country, Two Systems,” KPMG added, referring to the arrangement that affords the city political and legal freedoms that are not available on the Chinese mainland.
CNN speculated the resignations of top executives from Hong Kong airline Cathay Pacific and termination of several employees last week sent an unmistakable message to other corporations that Beijing is willing to “put big companies under pressure over the protests.”