More observers warn of a possible violent crackdown by the mainland Chinese authorities in Hong Kong as millions of residents continue to resist what they see as the dismantling of their city’s autonomy and rule of law.
Officials of the People’s Republic of China have repeatedly denounced the protests as unlawful riots, accusing participants of enjoying foreign support, and more recently, showing “the first signs of terrorism.”
Over the weekend of Aug. 10 and Aug. 11, videos circulated on social media show armored vehicles and trucks of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) driving through Shenzhen, the Chinese city that borders Hong Kong. Hu Xijin, editor of the Chinese Communist Party-run Global Times, said the footage was “a clear warning to rioters in Hong Kong” that the “possibility of Beijing intervening in Hong Kong’s situation is rising.”
The mass protests began more than two months ago, as Hong Kong residents rallied against an extradition bill that would allow people in the city to be transferred to the mainland for trial. Now, demonstrators are making broader demands, such as universal suffrage, the resignation of Hong Kong’s Beijing-picked chief executive Carrie Lam, and investigations into police brutality.
On June 16, 2 million Hongkongers took to the streets to voice their opposition to Carrie Lam, less than a week after 1 million protested to demand the withdrawal of the mainland extradition bill.
While the Hong Kong protesters were generally noted for their civil and law-abiding nature, a number of violent clashes and other incidents have escalated tensions in the city.
Many suspect that escalating tensions in the city are largely the result of undercover CCP operations to sow chaos, turn Hongkongers against each other, and justify a crackdown.
Starting on June 12, Hong Kong police have used copious amounts of tear gas and other non-lethal munitions on the crowds. Footage from the streets showed demonstrators being knocked to the ground and repeatedly beaten by officers. Police have notably fired tear gas rounds in the confined environment of subway stations, showing less restraint in their handling of the protesters.
Many Hongkongers suspect that security personnel are being secretly shipped in from mainland China to fill in for local police. These officers refuse to produce identification numbers, which is required by Hong Kong law, and in one case, a male officer was found wearing the number belonging to a Hong Kong policewoman. Protesters have also seen police speaking in Mandarin Chinese, which is not the primary dialect of Hong Kong, and aiming for torsos and heads when firing their crowd control weapons, rather than shooting for extremities such as the legs. Additional reports claim that police have been spotted changing into the white shirts worn by alleged triad members.
Last month, a group of white-shirted men alleged to be gang members stormed the metro station in the Yuen Long district, indiscriminately attacking anyone they suspected of being a demonstrator with bamboo canes and other weapons. One of the victims reportedly included a pregnant woman, who lost her unborn child after being beaten. Police reacted to the violence with a significant delay, leading many to accuse the authorities of coordinating with pro-Beijing triads.
Standing up to tyranny
Ah Yeen, an 18-year-old man, told The Epoch Times that police intervention was in most cases responsible for escalating the situation. “In the elderly march, there was no police presence, so it was peaceful; same with the airport sit-in,” Ah Yeen said.
“But during the marches, the police send out riot police. That’s when it gets bloody.”
According to emeritus professor Ming Chu-cheng of National Taiwan University, the Communist Party hopes to quell unrest in Hong Kong by using front groups in a battle of attrition against the protesters, while intimidating the rest of the city’s residents into inaction.
In the best-case scenario, the CCP could avoid having to directly use PLA or Armed Police troops, which would trigger international sanctions and the loss of Hong Kong as a key financial hub.
However, in an interview with Taiwanese media in late July, Ming warned of a “head-on train collision,” owing to intense feelings of desperation across large segments of Hong Kong society. This is particularly true among the youth, who struggle to find work and affordable housing.
Ming’s statements are reflected in the sentiments of many young protesters. On Twitter, one reporter posted a short exchange with a masked demonstrator on July 29. “Aren’t you scared to be in the frontline?” the reporter asked. The man responded nonchalantly: “We are willing to die for Hong Kong’s future.”
“I’d be lying if I claimed to be unafraid, but if we give ground, then we would be giving up Hong Kong,” Ah Yan, a 16-year-old girl, told The Epoch Times. “No matter if we’re beaten or tear-gassed, it won’t bother us too much because we already prepared for it,” she said.
The protesters enjoy support from much of Hong Kong society, including tens of thousands of public servants, legal workers, and finance professionals who have taken part in the marches. The Hong Kong government exhorted officials to remain loyal and perform their duties.
Threats or reality?
According to SinoInsider, a New York-based think tank specializing in Chinese political analysis, while Beijing seems to be merely putting on a show of force for the time being, the CCP would not hesitate to deploy troops and crush the opposition if it felt the situation had spiraled out of control.
“If Hong Kong is still valuable, the CCP will prefer not to order a military crackdown and destroy the current status quo,” an Aug. 15 SinoInsider newsletter said.
“We would like to stress that while the CCP does not seem like it wants to intervene militarily in Hong Kong just yet, it does not mean that the CCP is not prepared to deploy troops in the future.”
SinoInsider also cited Hong Kong reports and social media on a citywide “bank run,” with residents withdrawing their Hong Kong dollars en masse and converting them to foreign currencies.
According to Hayman Capital founder Kyle Bass, “the Hong Kong financial system could collapse if four to five percent of the people in Hong Kong participated in a run on the banks,” SinoInsider reported.