HONG KONG: WEEK 24


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It’s non-stop. Another day, another wave of violent confrontations between Hong Kong protesters and police… this time closing down universities and virtually bringing commercial traffic to a halt.

Unable and unwilling to deal with escalating conflict, some colleges ended the semester early while others have been become barricaded fortresses behind which protesting students are in battle with police who are trying to clear them out.

Police describe these campus scenes as a “refuge of rioters and criminals.” They fired thousands of rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters, who retaliated by throwing homemade gas bombs.

The ongoing violence throughout the city also forced the shutdown of all classes from kindergarten to secondary schools.

From a movement that began as opposition to a Chinese-sponsored extradition law, among the issues in the latest round of protests are assurances that the city government will not interfere with upcoming district council elections scheduled for later this month.

These local elections are seen as a referendum supporting either the protest movement calling for more democracy and freedom from Chinese authority or supporting the current Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, who was appointed by Beijing.

At this time, considering a dramatic rise in voter registration generated by the ongoing protest movement, the upcoming vote later this month is expected to go against the government.

Last Friday, a new element to the scene occurred: troops from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) were brought in to help with a massive cleanup of the business districts strewn with barricades, broken glass, and other remnants of the week’s heightened confrontations.

While not dressed in military uniforms, so as not incite protesters, the pro-democracy advocates saw the bringing of Chinese troops to Hong Kong as an ominous precedent.

Their concern was reaffirmed by Chinese President Xi Jinping’s statement that the protest movement was endangering Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” principle and specifically said the most important priority of the Hong Kong government is “controlling chaos.”

Echoing Beijing, Carrie Lam condemned protesters as the “enemy of the people.”

Another sign of concern to the pro-democracy movement was a commentary published by China’s People’s Daily newspaper, which supported police crackdowns aimed at tamping down the ongoing protests, stating that the upcoming Hong Kong local elections can only be held if there is an end to all violence.

With recent coverage of the firestorms on Hong Kong’s campuses, the majority of coverage by the media paints the protest movement as being mostly students and young people under the age of 25.  The anti-government/pro-democracy support, however, is also coming from thousands of white-collar workers, including bankers and lawyers who also took the streets.

Some of them helped erect barricades in the central financial district. They were among those detained by police during the escalating confrontations last week.

Two-Sided

With clashes spilling into the heart of the city’s business district, and Hong Kong being the financial hub of Asia falling into recession, the economic decline and disruptions to everyday life – traffic jams, barricaded street tunnels, mass transit lockdowns, mall/store closings, and some 80 percent suffering from tear gas exposure – there is growing resentment against protester violence.

Last Saturday, pro-China supporters organized a rally to voice their impatience with the ongoing chaos.

On Sunday night, Hong Kong Polytechnic University was the scene of the most intense confrontations.

The standoff between protesters barricaded inside the campus grounds and riot police continued into this morning without a solution.

A number of students and those from the outside who had joined them tried to get out and were hit with tear gas by police gathered at the gates.

By this morning, over 600 students surrendered.

According to City Executive Carrie Lam, 200 were children.

Tens of thousands of Hong Kong citizens marched toward the university in support of the ongoing demonstrations and hundreds took to the streets in the financial center in support of the student protesters.

Scores of students remain barricaded in on the campus, refusing to leave.

Over the past three days, police have arrested over a thousand people and some 300 ended up in hospitals with severe injuries from tear gas, rubber bullets, and a few with live bullet wounds.

TREND FORECAST:  Last week, Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index dropped 4.8 percent. As business conditions continue to deteriorate and violence between protesters and police escalates, we forecast Hong Kong protesters will lose both local and global support.

Moreover, as noted since the movement began, and now reinforced by Beijing’s harsh language condemning the violence in addition to bringing troops into the city, we forecast that despite jeopardizing its status as the financial hub of Asia, the Chinese government will use military power to subdue the movement.

Further, with polls predicting victories for pro-democracy candidates, it remains questionable if China will permit Hong Kong’s 24 November District Council elections to be held.

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