2019–20 Hong Kong protests
Part of democratic development in Hong Kong
and the Hong Kong–Mainland China conflict
反送中遊行 002.jpg
Hong Kong anti-extradition bill protest (48108527758).jpg
2019-09-15 Hong Kong anti-extradition bill protest 036.jpg
2019-09-13 Lion Rock, Hong Kong 04.jpg
Hong Kong protests - Panorama.jpg
Demonstration against extradition bill, 12 June 2019.jpg
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Various protest scenes in Hong Kong Clockwise from top: Protesters on 16 June 2019 • Makeshift roadblock ablaze on 15 September 2019 • Protesters flooding the streets on 18 August 2019 • Mourning the death of Chow Tsz-lok • Police tear-gas dispersal on 12 June 2019Hong Kong Way campaign 13 September 2019 • Protesters on 12 June 2019
Date15 March 2019 (2019-03-15)[1] to present
(1 year, 3 months, 3 weeks and 6 days)
Location
Caused by
GoalsFive Demands
  • Full withdrawal of the extradition bill from the legislative process
  • Retraction of the characterisation of the 12 June 2019 protests as "riots"
  • Release and exoneration of arrested protesters
  • Establishment of an independent commission of inquiry into police behaviour
  • Universal suffrage for the Legislative Council and the chief executive elections
MethodsDiverse (see tactics and methods)
StatusOngoing
Concessions
given
  • Bill suspended on 15 June 2019 and officially withdrawn on 23 October 2019[8][9]
  • Police partially retracted characterisation of protests on or before 12 June 2019 as "riots", except for five individuals in Admiralty on 12 June[10]
Parties to the civil conflict
Lead figures
Protesters
(no centralised leadership)

Supported by:

Deaths, injuries and arrests
Death(s)2
Injuries
  • 2,600+ (as of 9 December 2019)[20][a]
Arrested9,113 (as of 15 June 2020)[22][b]
DamageHK$3 billion+[25][26] (US$387 million)
Charged1,749+ (as of 10 June 2020)[27][28]

The ongoing 2019–20 Hong Kong protests were triggered by the introduction of the Fugitive Offenders amendment bill by the Hong Kong government. The now aborted bill would have allowed extradition to jurisdictions with which Hong Kong did not have extradition agreements, including mainland China and Taiwan. This led to concerns that Hong Kong residents and visitors would be exposed to the legal system of mainland China, thereby undermining Hong Kong's autonomy and infringing civil liberties. It set off a chain of protest actions that began with a sit-in at the government headquarters on 15 March 2019, a demonstration attended by hundreds of thousands on 9 June 2019, followed by a gathering outside the Legislative Council Complex to stall the bill's second reading on 12 June which escalated into violence that caught the world's attention.

On 16 June, just one day after Lam suspended the bill, an even bigger protest took place to push for its complete withdrawal and in reaction to the perceived excessive use of force by the police on 12 June. As the protests progressed, citizens laid out five key demands, namely the withdrawal of the bill, an investigation into alleged police brutality and misconduct, the release of all the arrested, a retraction of the official characterisation of the protests as "riots", and the resignation of Carrie Lam as chief executive along with the introduction of universal suffrage in the territory. Police inaction when suspected triad members assaulted protesters and commuters in Yuen Long on 21 July and the police storming of Prince Edward station on 31 August further escalated the protests.

Lam withdrew the bill on 4 September, but refused to concede the other four demands. Exactly one month later, she invoked the emergency powers to implement an anti-mask law, to counterproductive effect. Confrontations escalated and intensified – police brutality and misconduct allegations increased, while some protesters resorted to using petrol bombs and vandalising pro-Beijing establishments and symbols representing the government. Rifts within society widened and activists from both sides assaulted each other. The storming of the Legislative Council in July 2019, the deaths of Chow Tsz-lok[29] and Luo Changqing,[30][31][32][33][34] the shooting of an unarmed protester, and the sieges of two universities in November 2019 were landmark events.

After the siege of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, the unprecedented landslide victory of the pro-democracy camp in the District Council election in November and the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 brought a little respite. Tensions mounted again in May 2020 after Beijing's decision to promulgate a national security bill for Hong Kong before September. This was seen by many as a threat to fundamental political freedoms and civil liberties ostensibly enshrined in the Hong Kong Basic Law, and prompted the international community to re-evaluate their policies towards Hong Kong, which they deemed was no longer autonomous.

The approval ratings of the government and the police plunged to the lowest point since the 1997 handover; the Central People's Government alleged that foreign powers were instigating the conflict, although the protests have been largely described as "leaderless". The United States passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act on 27 November 2019 to support the protest movement. The tactics and methods surrounding the 2019–20 Hong Kong protests have been cited as inspiration for other protests in 2019.

Background

Direct cause

The Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019 was first proposed by the government of Hong Kong in February 2019 in response to the 2018 murder of Poon Hiu-wing by her boyfriend Chan Tong-kai in Taiwan, where the two Hong Kong residents were visiting as tourists. As there is no extradition treaty with Taiwan (because the government of China does not recognise its sovereignty), the Hong Kong government proposed an amendment to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance (Cap. 503) and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance (Cap. 525) to establish a mechanism for case-by-case transfers of fugitives, on the order of the chief executive, to any jurisdiction with which the city lacks a formal extradition treaty.[35]

The inclusion of mainland China in the amendment is of concern to Hong Kong society: Citizens, academics and the legal profession fear the removal of the separation of the region's jurisdiction from the legal system administered by the Communist Party would erode the "one country, two systems" principle in practice since the 1997 handover; furthermore, Hong Kong citizens lack confidence in China's judiciary system and human rights protection due to its history of suppressing political dissent.[36] Opponents of the bill urged the Hong Kong government to explore other mechanisms, such as an extradition arrangement solely with Taiwan, and to sunset the arrangement immediately after the surrender of the suspect.[35][37]

Underlying causes

The 2019–20 Hong Kong protests came four and a half years after the Umbrella Revolution of 2014 which begun after the decision of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC) regarding proposed reforms to the Hong Kong electoral system, which were largely seen as restrictive. However, the movement ended in failure as the government offered no concessions.[38] Since then, democratic development has stalled: only half of the seats in the Legislative Council remain directly elected, and the chief executive of Hong Kong continues to be elected by the small-circle Election Committee. The 2017 imprisonment of Hong Kong democracy activists further dashed the city's hope of meaningful political reform.[39] Citizens began to fear the loss of the "high degree of autonomy" as provided for in the Hong Kong Basic Law, as the government of the People's Republic of China appeared to be increasingly and overtly interfering with Hong Kong's affairs. Notably, the NPCSC saw fit to rule on the disqualification of six lawmakers the Legislative Council oath-taking controversy; fears over state-sanctioned rendition and extrajudicial detention were sparked by the Causeway Bay Books disappearances.[40][39] The general trend of the loss of freedoms in Hong Kong is marked by its steady fall on the Economist Intelligence Unit's Democracy Index.[41][42] After Xi Jinping succeeded as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China and assumed power in 2012, his office appeared to be more authoritative when compared to his predecessors, most notably with the construction of re-education camps in Xinjiang. Protesters saw these incidents as a warning, and believed that should they not make a stand now, Hong Kong may ultimately became Xinjiang in the near future.[43] With the approach of 2047, when the Basic Law is set to expire, along with the constitutional guarantees enshrined within it, sentiments of an uncertain future drove youth to join the protests against the extradition bill.[38]

Anti-Mainland sentiment had begun to swell in the 2010s. The daily quota of 150 immigrants from China since 1997, the massive flows of mainland visitors strained Hong Kong's public services and eroded local culture; mainlanders' arrogance drew the scorn of Hongkongers.[43] The rise of localism and the pro-independence movement during the tenure of CY Leung as chief executive was marked by the high-profile campaign for the 2016 New Territories East by-election by activist Edward Leung.[44] As fewer and fewer young people in Hong Kong identified themselves as Chinese nationals, pollsters at the University of Hong Kong found that the younger respondents were, the more distrustful they were of the Chinese government.[40] Scandals and corruption in China shook people's confidence of the country's political systems; the Moral and National Education controversy in 2012 and the Express Rail Link project connecting Hong Kong with mainland cities and the subsequent co-location agreement proved highly controversial. Citizens saw these policies as Beijing's decision to strengthen its hold over Hong Kong. By 2019, almost no Hong Kong youth identified themselves as Chinese.[45]

The Umbrella Revolution was an inspiration that brought about a political awakening to some.[38] Its protesters have been praised for their politeness and order.[46] However, its failure and the subsequent split within the pro-democratic bloc prompted a re-evaluation of strategy and tactics. In the years that followed, there was a general conclusion that peaceful and polite protests were ineffective in achieving the movement's goals, and became an example of what not to do in further protests. Unlike the Umbrella Revolution, the 2019–20 protests are leaderless, and some protesters resorted to using increasingly radical methods; police violence was also at a different level.[6][47] Media noted that protests in 2019 were driven by a sense of desperation rather than the optimism in 2014.[48][49] The aims of the protests had evolved from withdrawing the bill, solidifying around achieving the level of freedom and liberties promised.[50]

Economic factors were also cited as an underlying cause of anger among Hongkongers.[51][52] Hong Kong is "the world's most expensive city to buy a home",[53] and there is a shortage of affordable or public housing for the city's population.[54][55] With powerful business cartels, Hong Kong also suffers from income disparity[56] – the city had the second highest Gini coefficient in the world in 2017.[57] Youth, in particular, have little social mobility and have to compete for jobs with Mainland Chinese.[56][58] Salaries for university graduates in 2018 were lower than those of 30 years ago.[56] Many protesters in Hong Kong were young and educated: A survey conducted by three local scholars, who handed out questionnaires to 6,600 individuals during 12 protest events between 9 June and 4 August 2019, revealed that nearly 60% of the protesters were under the age of 30, and about 75% of the protesters had received tertiary education.[59] The youngest individual police arrested was 11 years old, while the oldest was 83 years old.[43]

Objectives

Initially the protesters only demanded the withdrawal of the extradition bill. Following an escalation in the severity of policing tactics against demonstrators on 12 June 2019, the protesters' objective was to achieve the following five demands (under the slogan "Five demands, not one less"):[60]