Hong Kong Protesters Expand Their Tactics, Meet More Resistance

Aug 5, 2019
Originally published on August 5, 2019 11:39 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

More developments in Hong Kong's summer of protest. Residents of the former British colony have been pushing back against what anti-government protesters describe as an increasingly overbearing China. Today protesters called for a general strike. NPR's Julie McCarthy is in Hong Kong and joins us now. Hi, Julie.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Hi, Rachel.

MARTIN: So I understand the strike - the intention of this was to shut down the entire city. You've been out and about. Has it had that effect?

MCCARTHY: Well, I saw protesters shut down Hong Kong's metro system today. Early this morning, they fanned out across train platforms and managed to block the doors of the trains and stop them. And predictably, there was commuter chaos. This is what it was like when I was standing on the platform of Fortress Hill metro station in Hong Kong's island at 7:30 in the morning. Give a listen to this.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PEOPLE: (Shouting in foreign language).

MCCARTHY: Some commuters said it was just too disruptive. Others said my office can wait, but my freedoms cannot. They said they supported the protesters. But this afternoon we saw a serious deterioration here. We are getting reports that police have used tear grass at rallies across Hong Kong, Kowloon and the new territories. Police say that they wanted to disperse the crowd. They had been blocking roads, vandalizing buildings, including the government complex just below where I am sitting. I heard the protesters earlier. I look and see and it appears now that they have been completely cleared away, and there were tens of thousands of them.

MARTIN: Wow. So let's talk about the heart of these protests. I mean, the demonstrations are entering Week 9. And the whole question for protesters is - what's the line when it comes to China's influence over - mainland China's influence over Hong Kong? Can you talk about the effects of these demonstrations? I mean, what have they changed?

MCCARTHY: Well, you know, what's changed is the atmosphere here, Rachel. They've gotten - it's gotten much more charged and emotionally inflamed - and both sides have become much more entrenched in their positions. The protesters are escalating their actions. They're barricading roads; they're setting fires; they're hurling bricks - it used to be eggs - at police stations. And police are responding with canister after canister of tear gas. It's intensifying. But the demonstrators' demands remain the same - full withdrawal of this controversial extradition bill, a public inquiry into alleged police abuse, amnesty for all the protesters under arrest and universal suffrage. They want to elect, not have Beijing appoint their own local officials.

MARTIN: So the local official there being Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong. And today she condemned what she described as escalating violence. What's been the effect of that? How's that being received?

MCCARTHY: Well, it wasn't received very well. You know, it was the first time in two weeks that she briefed the media. And she came out with a bottom line that really grates here. She said these were indiscriminate disruptions and that they were challenging the "one country, two system" formula of government of Hong Kong and putting it, quote, "on a road to no return." Rita Chan (ph) was a rallygoer today and said, look, a general strike is non-violent, it demonstrates solidarity. And she also said she respects the one country, two system model of governing Hong Kong. However, she says, the freedoms meant to be protected in the two systems part of that equation are shrinking. Here she is.

RITA CHAN: (Speaking foreign language).

MCCARTHY: "I think that a lot of Hong Kong people," she says, "are worried that in 10 years, the one country, two system model will be a one country, one system and that we'll lose our rule of law and freedom of assembly." She says, "we're not challenging the one country. We want to preserve the two systems part of that. And we're not putting Hong Kong on the road to no return," she says, "it's Carrie Lam's government who did that."

MARTIN: Is Beijing saying anything at this point?

MCCARTHY: Oh, yes, are they ever. The Chinese are getting pointedly accusatory. As these protests persist and trade tensions with the United States drag on, Beijing is blaming the United States for the turmoil in Hong Kong and has escalated those statements in recent weeks. Beijing has spoken of the foreign hand in Hong Kong before but not this pointedly.

MARTIN: Julie McCarthy, NPR South East Asia correspondent covering the ongoing demonstrations in Hong Kong. Julie, we appreciate it.

MCCARTHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.