- Tens of thousands of people marched through Hong Kong’s streets on Tuesday, undeterred by police tear gas and water cannons, chanting slogans against Chinese rule as China observed the 70th anniversary of Mao Zedong’s declaration of the Communist state. Police shot one protester in the shoulder at close range as the crackdown on pro-democracy protests escalated throughout the day.
- Protesters had vowed to use National Day to propel their calls for greater democracy onto the international stage, hijacking an occasion when Beijing planned to showcase China’s economic and military might. Some protesters combined the Chinese flag with the Nazi swastika to denounce Beijing as a “Chinazi” government. The symbol has been controversial among the protesters, with some fearing it would cause too much global offence.
- Hong Kong’s embattled chief executive, Carrie Lam, spent National Day in the Chinese capital, where President Xi Jinping oversaw a military parade. In a speech, Mr. Xi, dressed in a slate-grey Mao suit and accompanied by his predecessors Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, singled out Hong Kong as a national-unity issue: "“China must maintain lasting prosperity and stability in Hong Kong ... and continue to strive for the motherland’s complete reunification.”
What the protesters want
When Hong Kong changed hands from British to Communist Chinese rule in 1997, the superpowers agreed to a “one country, two systems” policy that guaranteed semi-autonomy. But since China’s President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, Beijing’s apparent efforts to weaken that policy have been met with sometimes violent protests. In 2014′s Umbrella Revolution, the point of contention was China’s plan to take a more active role in choosing Hong Kong’s political leaders. Two years later, the abduction and interrogation of several Hong Kong booksellers raised fears of China’s suppression of free speech and dissent.
This time around, it started as a debate about extradition law. Earlier this year, chief executive Carrie Lam’s government considered a bill that, for the first time, would allow Hong Kong citizens accused of crimes to be extradited to mainland China to face trial. The bill was a response to the case of Chan Tong-kai, a Hong Kong man who told police there that he killed his girlfriend in Taiwan, which does not have an extradition deal with Hong Kong. Ms. Lam said the laws needed to be amended to prevent Hong Kong from becoming a “fugitive offenders’ haven.” But opponents said it would erode Hong Kong’s independence and subject residents to a Chinese justice system dominated by the Communist Party, with few protections for civil rights.
Since March, waves of demonstrations against the proposal eventually led Ms. Lam to suspend it indefinitely and declare that “the bill is dead,” and then to officially withdraw it on Sept. 4. But withdrawing the bill was only one of five of the protesters’ key demands, and Ms. Lam has still refused to agree to the other four. They are:
- an inquiry into the police violence that demonstrators have faced over recent months;
- Ms. Lam’s resignation;
- amnesty for the demonstrators who’ve been arrested;
- guarantees of genuine democracy in Hong Kong.
Key moments in the protests so far
Mid-June: As the legislature prepares for the extradition bill’s second reading, thousands of protesters occupy the main government complex until police with tear gas and rubber bullets disperse them by force. Dozens are injured. By June 16, Ms. Lam says the bill is delayed, offers a statement of contrition for “deficiencies in our work” but does not apologize for the law and refuses to withdraw it.
Aug. 5: Demonstrators hold Hong Kong’s first general strike in 50 years, bringing transportation to a halt. Many businesses close to support the strike and scores of flights are cancelled as airport employees call in sick in apparent solidarity with the strikers. Police fire an estimated 1,000 rounds of tear gas and about 160 rubber bullets to suppress the uprisings. Hundreds are arrested.
Aug. 12-13: Demonstrators hold peaceful sit-ins at Hong Kong’s International Airport, singing and chanting by the thousands in the terminal. The occupation takes an ugly turn when protesters detain an injured man and a reporter from the state-run Global Times newspaper, each of whom they suspect of being Chinese undercover agents. Busloads of armoured riot police break up the protest. When flights reopen on Aug. 14, a few dozen protesters remain at the airport, some holding signs with contrite messages: “We’re deeply sorry about what happened yesterday. We were desperate and we made imperfect decisions. Please accept our apologies.”
Aug. 23: Taking a cue from anti-Soviet demonstrations in the Baltic countries in the final years of the Cold War, Hong Kong protesters form a human chain, dubbed the “Hong Kong Way,” in public places throughout the city. Organizers say some 119,000 people stood in line over more than 50 kilometres to show peaceful opposition to Ms. Lam’s government.
Sept. 4: Ms. Lam gives a televised announcement saying the extradition bill has been withdrawn “in order to fully allay public concerns.” She does not accede to the other four demands of the protest movement, and several pro-democracy leaders describe the move as too little, too late.
What’s at stake for China
From Hong Kong’s democracy protesters to the Uyghur Muslim minority in Xinjiang, Mr. Xi’s government has spent recent years cracking down aggressively on what he perceives as threats to Chinese unity and public order.
Beijing has labelled the Hong Kong protests as an extremist movement and mobilized the mainland’s military to combat it. In Shenzhen, across the bay from Hong Kong, a sports centre has been turned into a staging area for armoured personnel carriers and soldiers practising detention tactics.
How the West has responded
Canada: “It is crucial that restraint be exercised, violence rejected and urgent steps taken to de-escalate the situation,” Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said on Aug. 17 in a joint statement with her European Union counterpart.
United States: President Donald Trump’s response to the standoff has so far been muted, with some media reports suggesting that he’s resisted appeals from aides to take a tougher stand. On Aug. 18 he said that a Tiananmen Square-style bloodbath in Hong Kong would make it “very hard” for Beijing and Washington to settle their months-long trade war.
The Globe in Hong Kong: Reports from Nathan VanderKlippe
Opinion and analysis
Compiled by Globe staff
With reports from Associated Press, Reuters and Nathan VanderKlippe
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.