Mass protests in Hong Kong have entered their tenth week. Worryingly, there is no sign of a peaceful resolution. It was a proposed law that allowed for extradition of suspects from Hong Kong to China that first triggered the angry demonstrations. Protesters achieved an early success in July when Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced suspension of the controversial Bill. The demonstrations have continued, however, and the demands have increased to include withdrawal of the Bill, retraction of the government’s depiction of the protests as riots, an independent investigation into police violence, amnesty for arrested protesters, and implementation of universal suffrage. This has become a movement for greater democracy. Protesters have also evolved more fluid forms of protest, such as ‘moving occupations’ around the city. They have stormed Hong Kong’s Legislative Council building and have even shut down the city’s international airport.
Since its suspension of the extradition Bill, the Hong Kong government has not conceded any ground and, egged on by Beijing, has used extreme force to disperse the protesters. It is increasingly evident that the protests have been infiltrated by Hong Kong government loyalists and pro-China elements with a view to disrupting what has largely been a peaceful protest. They are attacking protesters from within and carrying out violent acts to justify police brutality. If in the initial weeks of the protests, the media in China was silent on the unfolding events in Hong Kong, now the reporting is extremely hostile — protesters are being described as ‘violent mobs’ and ‘criminals.’ China’s top body in charge of affairs in Hong Kong has said the protests show signs of ‘terrorism.’ Clearly, the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities are preparing the ground for a brutal crackdown on the protesters.
Satellite images reveal a large build-up of Chinese paramilitary forces and militarized vehicles at China’s border with Hong Kong. While this build-up may be just a show of force to intimidate protesters into calling off their demonstrations, the possibility of China sending them into Hong Kong to crush them cannot be ruled out. Nothing good can come out of such a move. The cost in terms of human lives will be immense. Repeating the horrors of Tiananmen Square 30 years ago will only do immense harm to China’s global image. As a rising power, it must conduct itself sensibly, sensitively and with responsibility. Although a crackdown may work to get the protesters off the streets, it will only fuel the pro-independence movement in Hong Kong. China will do well to avoid a violent face-off on the streets of Hong Kong at all costs.