Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

Michael Bociurkiw is a global affairs analyst and former reporter for the South China Sunday Morning Post.

A second consecutive summer of violent street protests is the last thing Hong Kong needs right now in order to overcome the economic contagion from the COVID-19 epidemic.

But that is exactly what the administration of Chief Executive Carrie Lam is setting the Asian financial hub up for, after police arrested at least 15 pro-democracy leaders on Saturday.

Story continues below advertisement

The authorities said the arrests related to the alleged organization of and participation in unauthorized protests between August and October of last year, which escalated into violent confrontations with police, paralyzed the city and brought the economy to its knees.

But the crackdown appears to be more of an attempt to tamp down dissent ahead of anniversaries in June and July, as well as crucial Legislative Council elections in September.

To begin, the people arrested were by no means participating in the violence that included petrol bombs being lobbed at police lines or subway stations and private enterprises being vandalized. Among the detained are Martin Lee and Margaret Ng, foreign-educated barristers who have a distinguished record in fighting for the civil rights of the Hong Kong people. And in another blow toward the eroding of press freedoms in Hong Kong, Jimmy Lai, the owner of the immensely popular newspaper Apple Daily, was also arrested.

Mr. Lee, also known locally as the “father of democracy,” is a former chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association and helped draft Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the city’s mini constitution. Ms. Ng is a former employee of Chase Manhattan Bank and earned degrees from Cambridge and Boston University.

The roundup – the largest of pro-democracy leaders in Hong Kong in a single day – is a clear signal that Beijing, and its obedient administrators in Hong Kong, will not allow the COVID-19 pandemic to dull its ability to quash dissent, whether in the former British territory, Xinjiang or elsewhere. Since the outbreak of protests last year, police have arrested more than 7,800 people, including many on rioting charges that carry jail terms of up to 10 years.

There are indications that Beijing’s patience is running thin with the deteriorating situation in Hong Kong, even though the violent protests have mostly subsided since the COVID-19 pandemic struck the city several weeks ago. Tensions ratcheted up after Beijing’s top official in Hong Kong, Luo Huining, repeated calls for the urgent introduction of draconian national security laws that had been shelved since 2003.

Ever since the protests started last June, sparked by Ms. Lam’s introduction of a controversial extradition law that could pave the way for fugitives to be sent to China for trial, authorities in Beijing have blamed the unrest on foreign entities such as the United States.

Story continues below advertisement

The central authorities are also no doubt irritated by paralysis in the Legislative Council, where 14 bills and 89 pieces of subsidiary legislation – including a bill highly prized by Beijing that would punish those who abuse the national anthem – have been stuck in committee because of months of filibustering by opposition lawmakers. It now appears that Beijing, through its representative officers in Hong Kong, intends to take a more aggressive role in the internal affairs of the city, arguing that they are above the Basic Law.

What can the West do to help support the pro-democracy movement? The U.S. and British governments have condemned the arrests, but loud rhetoric has not appeared to be an effective deterrent for Beijing up to this point. But, as some American lawmakers suggested over the weekend, now may be the time to test the effectiveness of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which would suspend Hong Kong’s special trade status with the U.S.

And then there’s the matter, of course, of the COVID-19 pandemic. With around 1,000 cases – and with no new cases reported on Monday, the first time that has happened thus far – it may not be long before lockdown restrictions are loosened. But the situation will be determined by whether or not police reach for the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance, which bans gatherings of more than four people, to use infection as a cover for quelling dissent.

The aggressive actions against pro-democracy leaders, coupled with threatening talk from Beijing, shows that even though the city may have the COVID-19 crisis under control, it is far from being able to keep the streets calm. It’s all adding up to another long hot summer of angry protests in Hong Kong – pandemic or not.

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

If you do not see your comment posted immediately, it is being reviewed by the moderation team and may appear shortly, generally within an hour.

We aim to have all comments reviewed in a timely manner.

Comments that violate our community guidelines will not be posted.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies