A New HK Model of Social Movement

In early 2019, the Hong Kong government suddenly proposed amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance (FOO) [1], which put all Hong Kong people at risk of being extradited to Mainland China. So far, it led to some unprecedented large-scale protests, including the 130,000-person rally on April 28, but the government did not make any concessions; and then a record-breaking 1.03 million people came out on June 9, unfortunately, the government remained indifferent. Then on June 12, serious conflict and confrontation between the police and the demonstrators resulting in casualties and arrests finally broke out. The police fired 150 tear gas bombs, several rubber bullets, and 20 bean bag rounds. Many people were injured and arrested, causing anger and dissatisfaction among the citizens.[2]

The government finally made the so-called “suspension of the amendments”, but all other public demands, including a complete “revocation of the amendments”, were rejected. On June 15, a man committed suicide by jumping from the podium of Pacific Place at Admiralty for the purpose of urging the government to revoke the FOO amendments. On June 16 there was an unprecedented 2 million people rally opposing the extradition law amendments, complaining the police’s abuse of force on June 12, and sending condolence to the suicidal tragedy.

Unfortunately, with such unprecedented large-scale peaceful rallies and international attention, it can only get an apology from the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, without any actual responses to the public requests.

Based on the above two months of event development, some analysts, such as the New York Times’ News Analysis and some scholars, believe that the Hong Kong government disregards peaceful protests, and it is objectively perceived that the Hong Kong government would only be compromising at more impactful conflicts and confrontations:

‘The risk for the Hong Kong government is that the public, particularly the young, may develop the impression that the only way to stop unwanted policy initiatives is through violent protests. With each successive major issue since Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997, the level of violence at protests has risen before the government has relented and changed course.

… Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a political scientist at Hong Kong Baptist University, said “Without a bit of violence and political pressure on the authorities, you don’t get a thing”’ (Bradsher, 2019) [3]

The three peaceful demonstrations were organized by the Civil Human Rights Front (民間人權陣線), with the No-objection Letters approved and issued by the Police. During these few months, traditional Democrats have tried every means to explain to the public why the amendments could not be accepted and called on the masses to participate in the demonstrations. This type of social movement can be classified as the traditional Hong Kong model of social movement.

In contrast, the violent conflict on June 12 was analyzed by the media as a new HK model of social movement that is spontaneous without a leader. According to the analysis of the Los Angeles Times, Hong Kong has developed a new social movement model —one without leaders and spontaneous participation by the masses. The analysis refers to the learned experience from the large-scale demonstrations in the past, and the demonstrators have established a certain tacit understanding and consensus. [4]

Referring back to the “Occupy Central with Love and Peace” campaign initiated by Reverend Chu Yiu-ming, Benny Tai and Dr Chan Kin-man in 2013, it does not only fail to make the government listen to the urge of the people pursuing democracy, but it adversely resulted in a large-scale political arrest and heavily sentencing of the nine key Occupy leaders of the “Umbrella Movement” by exploiting the Public Order Ordinance (POO) which should have been abolished but was re-enacted by the Provisional Legislative Council in 1996.

With all these government’s political reactions, Hong Kong has entered into a chilling era, most of the traditional peaceful, rational and non-violent protesters feel a serious sense of powerlessness. The government’s political attacks are then in full swing, including disqualifying existing legislative councillors of democratic camp and disqualifying unwanted candidates’ eligibility of running elections (DQ), prohibiting some foreign political leaders and journalists from entering the city, banning the establishment of unwanted political associations, enacting the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link (Co-location) Ordinance, etc.

During all these events, the citizens have tried every peaceful means to persuade the government to listen to the voice of the public, unfortunately, there has NOT been a successful case in the past five years! All these government’s decisions passed without an exception.

In fact, on June 9, when the number of peaceful demonstrators reached such an unprecedented 1.03 million people, the public opinion against the FOO amendments has been absolutely clear. Together with the unprecedented opposition of the amendments from the international community, including the issuance of a Demarche from the European Union, and a co-signed letter from the US Congressmen, the voice of opposition is undoubtedly strong and solid. Yet, the government ignored all these oppositions and continued to move the amendment process forward at the Legislative Council. Objectively, it shows that the Hong Kong government has rejected all peaceful and rational objections!

On June 12, 2019, Wednesday morning, when the Legislative Council tried to resume the Second Reading of the Bill, an Occupation-of-the-Admiralty Campaign happened, which blocked some of the main roads leading to the Council and prevented the Legislative Council meeting from being convened. Then, on June 15, the government finally decided to suspend the amendments (though it has not been completely revoked), it objectively reflects the success of the actions of the new model in preventing the amendments! It is at least a plausible hypothesis reflected by the sequence of the events.

Such an interpretation is not only reflected by the responses of the government, but also by the reactions of investors: on April 28, when the 130,000 people demonstrated peacefully, the Hang Seng Index rose 287 points the next Monday; on June 9, when the 1.03 million people demonstrated peacefully, the Hang Seng Index rose by 613 points the next Monday. On June 16, when 2 million people demonstrated peacefully, the Hang Seng Index rose 108 points the next Monday (Figure 1). Does it imply that peaceful demonstrations, no matter how many people participate, would not affect investors’ confidence?

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Figure 1 On June 17, the Hang Seng Index went up 108 points and closed at 27,227.

On the contrary, during the impactful conflict and confrontation from early morning to late evening on June 12, the Hang Seng Index fell by 481 points, almost a 2% drop (Figure 2).

[And then on June 21 when there were crowds besieging Inland Revenue Tower and Immigration Tower in Wanchai in the afternoon [A], the Hang Seng Index also fell by 76 points. (Figure 3).]

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Figure 2 On June 14, the Hang Seng Index fell 481 points and closed at 27,308
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Figure 3 On June 21, the Hang Seng Index fell 76 points and closed at 28,473

Is this a coincidence or a reflection of the reactions of investors to peaceful and impactful campaigns? It may require further analyses though, objectively such a hypothesis of market response towards political upheaval is tenable and not yet be refuted.

One of the demonstrators who was reported to have participated in the action on June 12 told the reporter to the effect that peaceful actions have no way to stop the government, she hopes to use more vigorous actions to impact the Legislative Council. [5]

This may be the new model of Hong Kong social movement destined to be shaped by the deafness of the government. Firstly when the government does not implement universal suffrage but build-in a pro-government bias by means of the functional constituencies in the legislative council election system, it thus cannot prevent the government from being unscrupulous. When there is no effective counterbalancing measure in the system, the government does not have any incentives to respect and listen to any peaceful objections but have strong incentives to eliminate the opposition noise by arrests and prosecutions. The final result is self-evident.

(Postscript: On June 19, another confirmation of the above analysis: The Legislative Council Chairman suggested that the second reading of the National Anthem Bill should be postponed to the resumption of the meeting in October. [6] On the same day, the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs sent a letter to the Legislative Council to withdraw the second reading of the National Anthem Bill until further notice in the next legislative year. [7])

[A Chinese version of the article is available at https://vocus.cc/eyanalysispoliecon/5d033b67fd897800016c4c39]

References:

[1] Legislative Council (2019) Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019, March 29. https://www.legco.gov.hk/yr18-19/english/bills/b201903291.pdf

[2] Amnesty International (2019) Hong Kong: Police must end excessive force against largely peaceful protest, June 12. https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/news/2019/06/hong-kong-extradition-protest-excessive-force/

[3] Bradsher, Keith (2019) How Hong Kong’s Leader Made the Biggest Political Retreat by China Under Xi, NEWS ANALYSIS, New York Times June 15.

[4] 蘋果日報 (2019) 【引渡惡法】《洛時》:香港發展出無領袖自發社運新模式 「就像AI會自我學習」,6月17日。https://hk.news.appledaily.com/international/realtime/article/20190617/59721547?utm_campaign=hkad_social_hk.nextmedia&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook&utm_content=link_post&fbclid=IwAR0h5dYDp37sS1pczzRRBZx1k5fcUmn0V_qfJMAJN5Dua8cTX6q_xH128nM

[5] 立場新聞 (2019) [6.12再定性.2] 一場事先張揚的升級行動,衝擊者們:我們目標是進佔立法會,6月18日。http://thestand.news/politics/6-12-%E5%86%8D%E5%AE%9A%E6%80%A7-2-%E4%B8%80%E5%A0%B4%E4%BA%8B%E5%85%88%E5%BC%B5%E6%8F%9A%E7%9A%84%E5%8D%87%E7%B4%9A%E8%A1%8C%E5%8B%95-%E8%A1%9D%E6%92%83%E8%80%85%E5%80%91-%E6%88%91%E5%80%91%E7%9B%AE%E6%A8%99%E6%98%AF%E9%80%B2%E4%BD%94%E7%AB%8B%E6%B3%95%E6%9C%83/

[6] 明報 (2019)【逃犯條例】梁君彥建議《國歌法》二讀延至10月復會,6月19日。https://news.mingpao.com/ins/%E6%B8%AF%E8%81%9E/article/20190619/s00001/1560929192052/%E3%80%90%E9%80%83%E7%8A%AF%E6%A2%9D%E4%BE%8B%E3%80%91%E6%A2%81%E5%90%9B%E5%BD%A5%E5%BB%BA%E8%AD%B0%E3%80%8A%E5%9C%8B%E6%AD%8C%E6%B3%95%E3%80%8B%E4%BA%8C%E8%AE%80%E5%BB%B6%E8%87%B310%E6%9C%88%E5%BE%A9%E6%9C%83

[7] 聶德權 (2019) 有關國歌條例草案恢復二讀辯論事宜,香港政府政制及內地事務局,6月19日,CB(2)1686/18–19(01)。

[A] SCMP (2019) Hong Kong extradition bill protesters besiege police headquarters into Friday night after day of mobile rallies, June 21. https://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/politics/article/3015614/hong-kong-extradition-bill-protesters-besiege-police

ecyY is the Founder of Real Estate Development and Building Research & Information Centre REDBRIC

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