The pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong have only grown more intense as time has progressed, despite the introduction of measures designed to curb frequent and massive demonstrations such as the withdrawal of a bill that would have allowed extradition of political dissidents to China and the instatement of a face-mask ban and curfews designed to discourage dissent. While the loosely-organized but nonetheless formidable protestors remained non-violent for several months, recent escalations by both demonstrators and police have led to the development of a more dangerous and confrontational relationship between the two, with no signs of de-escalation anytime soon. In fact, the situation has become so precarious that Hong Kong police worry about the impending collapse of the rule of law, particularly in the aftermath of the shooting of one protestor and the setting on fire of a supporter of Beijing on Monday.
After five months of intense protests and the ongoing failure of the Hong Kong government to satisfy most of the protestors’ demands, demonstrators remain unrelenting despite growing increasingly frustrated with government inaction, creating an environment more hospitable to violence and other anti-social behavior. As the protests went on, police resorted to increasingly-violent counter-protest strategies, deploying tear gas and using water cannons and rubber bullets against demonstrators who threw bricks and molotov cocktails, destroying property. October 1st of this year marked a turning point in the use of violence against protestors in Hong Kong, as police shot an 18-year old protestor in the chest at point-blank range, leaving him in critical condition.
As neither demonstrators nor the government seem willing to compromise or relent, the ongoing intense protests are bound to gradually erode Hong Kong society for as long as they continue.
Yesterday, police again used live rounds against a protestor, firing at point-blank range in an area where demonstrators were blocking traffic, after which police deployed pepper spray to disperse protestors as onlookers accused them of murder. In a separate, unrelated incident yesterday, protesters doused a man who was criticizing the protests with gasoline and lit him on fire. Both individuals survived the attacks and are being treated in hospitals, in serious condition. The city’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, has been ramping up her rhetoric against the protests, warning that they could “take Hong Kong to the road of ruin” and placing blame squarely on pro-democracy advocates, calling them “the enemy of the people” and accusing them of selfishly paralyzing the city. She added that she thought it was extremely unlikely that more protests would lead to further concessions from the government. In addition to physical violence, the unrest has included property destruction, as protestors have swarmed universities, destroying windows and fixtures by throwing bricks and setting things on fire. Throughout Hong Kong, classes at many universities were canceled as officials grappled with repairing the damage and preparing for future unrest.
Nine people have committed suicide in connection with the protests, as political frustration and the erosion of democratic norms have caused mental health issues among Hong Kong’s youth, many of whom are deeply politically engaged. In addition, a man died after sustaining serious injuries during a fall in a car park where police were using tear gas to break up protests. Though no one has yet been directly killed by police or protestors, further deaths are all but inevitable as long as protests continue. Police say that in the last week they have arrested 266 people in connection with the protests, and as the number of active protesters is estimated to be in the millions, the number of arrests is sure to climb. Furthermore, months of protests have had a destructive effect on Hong Kong’s tourism industry and economy more broadly, as the once-safe city is now subject to frequent, violent interruptions to everyday life, and critical city infrastructure remains in a state of disrepair.
Hong Kong is scheduled to hold local elections this month. Due to Hong Kong’s political structure, however, the outcome of these elections are unlikely to have a strong impact on the government, and are especially unlikely to appease protestors. As neither demonstrators nor the government seem willing to compromise or relent, the ongoing intense protests are bound to gradually erode Hong Kong society for as long as they continue.