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Hong Kong Heat Part 4
By Bill Stork

As I write this, reports are coming in of protesters having closed off the exit to the Cross-Harbour Tunnel that connects Central Hong Kong Island with the Kowloon peninsula to the north, and clashes with the police who are trying to remove them and their improvised barricades. Additional marches are scheduled for tomorrow, Sunday.

Some background:

Young people have been at the forefront of continuing protests against a proposed extradition bill that have shaken Hong Kong. At the root of the turmoil is concern over what many people see as the inexorable erosion of civil liberties and the city’s autonomy by an ever-meddling central government that refuses to grant full democracy in the former British colony.

But many young people, in what is one of the world’s most densely populated and expensive cities, are also infuriated by sky-high living costs and a feeling that a home of one’s own will never be more than a dream. Over the past decade, Hong Kong’s residential property prices have skyrocketed by 242 per cent, and for the ninth year in a row, the city’s property market has been rated the world’s most unaffordable. The average monthly salary is HK$19,100 (US$2,446) for men and HK$14,700 for women. The average monthly rent for a one-bedroom flat in the city centre is HK$16,551. In 2018, average home prices were 20.9 times the gross annual median household income, according to the Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey.
You could buy a French chateau for what you would pay for your Hong Kong shoebox in the sky. With figures like these it is clear that young Hongkongers’ anger will not be easily dispelled.

This controversy over the shelved extradition bill, which would have allowed the transfer of fugitives to jurisdictions Hong Kong lacked an agreement with, including mainland China, has plunged Hong Kong into its biggest political crisis since its 1997 return to Chinese rule. The city continues to be rocked by mass protests with demonstrators demanding a full withdrawal of the bill, and additional demands include an independent commission of inquiry into the extent of violence on the part of the police
As mentioned in the previous report, protests have escalated and taken an increasingly violent turn. Hong Kong’s police have struggled to restore order while facing a massive public backlash over their handling of demonstrators. The turmoil has not only worried Beijing’s leaders but also put Hong Kong under the international spotlight as investors wonder if the financial hub has stumbled.

There have been some dramatic developments in the recent days, but first a brief chronology of some of the major events:
Sunday, 21 July – about 75 white-shirted triad thugs descend on the Yuen Long MTR (mass transit railway) station, with metal bars, poles, and bamboo sticks, intending to beat up protesters returning to Yuen Long, The attackers do not discriminate, and others are also beaten. Forty-five injured.

Rumors circulate that the police were in collusion with the triad hugs.

Friday, 26 July – Following massive public outcry that the Yuen Long police delayed over a half-hour to respond to the incident, Hong Kong’s Chief Secretary (the number 2 government official) held a press conferrence to apologize for the police handling of the event. Police and the four police unions reply angrily, feeling that they are carrying the burden of the government’s efforts.

A local Yuen Long resident files for a Saturday march to protest the police inaction.

Police deny the petition and refuse to issue a ‘letter of no objection.’

The Chinese government’s liaison office in Hong Kong denied rumors that they were behind the triads’ beating of protesters and others in Yuen Long.

Saturday, 27 July – the march occurs anyway, joined by many black-shirted protesters, and facing police in riot gear[This event described earlier in detail as it unfolded].

Sunday, 28 July – Protest

Beijing announces the State Council Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office will hold a media conference on Monday afternoon to “brief its stance and views on Hong Kong’s current situation”. (Interesting as journalists have been ignored and during protests, have been targeted for direct pepper spray.) The planned ‘conference’ was intended to both make a statement and then be open to questions from the journalists. [Full transcript is below]

Monday, 29 July – Beijing ends silence and reports ‘resolute support’ for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam
American Chamber of Commerce-HK urges clear leadership to address political crisis.
Government announces that anti-riot vehicles with water cannons will begin road tests. [More on this, below]

Tuesday, 30 July – Rumors surface of ‘people close to the government’ working towards an independent commission of inquiry to look into the protests and reports of police extreme violence. Government says the police are opposed, and that the issue will not move forward.
44 of the 49 arrested at the Sunday protest, including a 16yo girls and a Cathay pilot, will be charged will be charged with ‘rioting’. This charge is punishable by a prison sentence of up to ten years
Protesters arrive at Tin Shui Wai police station where arrested protesters were held, and attack the station. A car drives by and shoots fireworks at the protesting crowd; seven injured.
Kwai Chung police station also visited by protesters who were alerted about a person tearing down messages on a ‘Lennon Wall’. Major confrontation results:

Guns drawn and pepper spray used without warning at Kwai Chung.

Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) announces investigation of Yuen Long police force’s delayed action in the 21 July Yuen Long triad activity.

Wednesday, 31 July – Tung Chee-wah, Hong Kong’s first Chief Executive claims that the U.S. and Taiwan are the masterminds behind the protests. He is currently vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. [He has made ‘distracting’ statements in the past.]

Chinese People’s Liberation Army garrison commander in Hong Kong, says that violent clashes would not be tolerated, and the garrison would protect China’s sovereignty in Hong Kong.

Thursday, 1 August – Chinese army garrison in Hong Kong releases short video showing drill of them quelling a Hong Kong riot; notice the weapons used and tanks.

Click to view the South China Morning Post YouTube of Protests.

troops are heard telling rioters to “stop charging, or we use force”

Friday, 2 August – Hong Kong government informs civil servants to ‘remain neutral or face the consequences’.

Regardless, forty thousand civil servants hold rally to urge the government to address the protesters’ demands; simultaneously, twelve thousand health workers hold a similar rally.


People leaving the civil servants rally start a Lennon Wall

Protesters meanwhile besiege the Ma On Shan police station where arrested founder of the H K Independence Party was being held.

Petitions for a general strike on Monday, 5 August, continue to be circulated; supported by many unions; rallies scheduled for different areas of HK.

Employers are indicating they will not stand in the way of those that want to participate.

Interesting that this is extending the pressure on the government, not just a group of activists.

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Peaceful protests against the now-shelved bill, have often descended into violent clashes with police. Now some non-violent rallies are planned. Some detailed commentary continues …

There seem to be daily activities by protesters at Hong Kong International Airport, but all done in quite a civil manner, with ‘black shirts’ holding posters of recent police violence and handing to international arrivals a leaflet about the HK situation and the call for democracy. Interestingly, they have taken the effort to prepare the leaflets in many different languages!

There is in Hong Kong a liaison office of the People’s Republic of China, commonly referred to as the ‘Beijing liaison office’ Two weeks ago protesters marched there, and surprisingly there was no police presence or prepared security protection. The building did get a showering of eggs and the Chinese government emblem in the front of the building was defaced. This past week they were better prepared, with construction barricades in place in front of the building and a plexiglass shield covering the new Chinese government emblem, and a greater police presence was evident. But, with the new ‘guerrilla tactics’, this was but one area that the activists ventured to. Activities by the triads are available to anyone with the cash, and on 26 July the Beijing liaison office dismissed the word-of-mouth that their office had hired the white-shirted thugs to beat up protesters returning to Yuen Long … “Malicious rumours” that it was behind Yuen Long attacks.

On 29 July it was announced that three controversial anti-riot vehicles armed with water cannons will hit the streets of Hong Kong this week and be ready to handle unrest by mid-August if they pass road tests. Operational guidelines had been finalized and the force was weighing up whether to use the vehicles to spray liquid dye on radical protesters to make identifying suspects easier, a senior police insider revealed. Designed for crowd control and costing a total of HK$16.59 million (US $2.12 million), the Mercedes-Benz vehicles arrived in the city in May last year and have since been stationed at the Police Tactical Unit headquarters in Fanling for training. While some top brass want to deploy the new alternative “as soon as possible” in light of escalating violence in recent protests, the armoured cars still need to pass road tests as requested, the insider said.

Here, from a government leaflet obtained by Hong Kong’s English-language newspaper:

NOTE the title of the illustration!

And with: Two roof cannons, three lateral and rear cannons, one forward cannon, and NINE underbody cannons. [Aside: that’s a lot of cannons!]

“The whole process and examination will take more than a week. If everything goes well, the specialised crowd-management vehicles can be deployed at large-scale assemblies from mid-August at the earliest.” The government source went on to say, ‘

Three controversial anti-riot vehicles armed with water cannons will hit the streets of Hong Kong this week and be ready to handle unrest by mid-August if they pass road tests, the Post has learned.

Operational guidelines had been finalised and the force was weighing up whether to use the vehicles to spray liquid dye on radical protesters to make identifying suspects easier, a senior police insider revealed.

Designed for crowd control and costing a total of HK$16.59 million (US$2.12 million), the Mercedes-Benz vehicles arrived in the city in May last year and have since been stationed at the Police Tactical Unit headquarters in Fanling for training.

While some top brass want to deploy the new alternative “as soon as possible” in light of escalating violence in recent protests, the armoured cars still need to pass road tests as requested, the insider said.

“A test has been scheduled. We will drive the vehicles onto the streets later this week and test them for several days,” the source said.

“The whole process and examination will take more than a week. If everything goes well, the specialised crowd-management vehicles can be deployed at large-scale assemblies from mid-August at the earliest.”

The insider added the vehicles would provide an alternative way of dispersing radical charging crowds, and create a safe distance between protesters and officers, minimising the possibility of physical confrontation and the risk of injury to those at the scene.

“Tear gas has not always dispersed crowds effectively at recent mass demonstrations. Protesters still attack us with bricks and metal rods. They even threw petrol bombs or our own tear gas canisters back at us over a very short distance,” the source said.
“If the situation and location allow, these vehicles are a better option to reclaim ground.”

According to operational guidelines, the use of the vehicles would only be considered if there was a serious injury, loss of life, widespread destruction of property or disruption of traffic by occupation of major thoroughfares resulting in significant consequences for public order or safety.

Human rights groups and some legislators have raised concerns over the potentially fatal water cannons. A South Korean farmer was seriously injured during a protest in 2015 when a police water cannon knocked him off his feet, causing him to smash his head on the road. He later died.

In a study by a local police monitoring group in 2015, Civil Rights Observer said jets of water could hit with 145kg of force from a distance of five metres and 127kg at 10 metres.

The assistant commissioner of police overseeing operations could authorise the vehicles’ deployment following a threat assessment.

The guidelines also stated any use should be in line with the Police General Order governing the use of force by officers.
The French custom-built vehicles each boast 15 high-pressure cannons. Tender documents show two cannons on the roof can fire more than 1,200 litres of water a minute over a distance of 50 metres.

The water can be mixed with tear gas or liquid dye that would allow police to identify the main protagonists after they are dispersed. The source said the colour spray was not a weapon but a tool to gather evidence.

Six cameras are installed on each vehicle.

“Those at the forefront charging at us could be sprayed with paint. The paint is hard to remove, so it is useful for us to identify who charged us,” he said. “But at this stage, we are still discussing whether it is an option.”

The force has repeatedly stressed over the past few weeks that officers were still being trained to use the vehicles, when asked whether water cannons would be deployed to handle mass extradition bill protests that have rocked Hong Kong since June 9.
Officers have used tear gas, rubber bullets, beanbag rounds, sponge grenades and pepper spray to try and disperse radical protesters occupying roads overnight, with mixed results.

A police spokesman often responded to the question of using the water cannons by saying the force did not see the need to deploy the vehicles if the protests were peaceful.

Police proposed buying the cannons in the government’s annual budget announced in February 2015, two months after the 79-day Occupy protests ended.

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Hong Kong police’s decision to fire tear gas in the heavily populated and residential district of Yuen Long on Saturday has come under fire, after a viral video showed residents of an old people’s home choking on the noxious substance.

The footage shows a cloud of tear gas spreading inside the room through a window, which is soon completely blocked from view. It contradicts the police’s earlier claim that no nursing homes had been affected by their clearance operation.

Sounds of coughing can be heard on the video, with an old lady saying: “Why aren’t the windows closed?”

The woman is believed to be a resident on the first floor of the Kwan Yue Elder Nursing Home in Yuen Long. The building faces On Lok Road, where tear gas was fired by riot police against protesters.

On Sunday, a staff member from the nursing home said no residents had been sent to hospital because of the tear gas. He said police had called them in advance to take precautionary measures against possible chaos.

An estimated hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers had defied a police ban on Saturday to march in the northern town to protest the brutal violence in Yuen Long MTR station last week, where a mob indiscriminately attacked passengers and protesters returning from a march against the extradition bill.

On Saturday afternoon, protesters advanced along On Lok Road with their umbrellas up as they hurled objects at the police, who used tear gas, sponge grenades, pepper spray and batons to drive them back at multiple spots.

Senior Superintendent Yolanda Yu Hoi-kwan had earlier said no elderly care homes had been affected and said the force had called 22 of them nearby on Saturday. Staff from two other nursing homes confirmed they had received such calls, and added they were not affected with the windows closed.

Some residents recounted their experiences of Saturday’s chaos.

Cheryl Yuen, a resident living in a building on Tai Cheung Street, said she had stayed at home for the whole day, but could smell the tear gas even in her home on the 11th floor.

“We could smell the gas and it was irritating our eyes. We immediately closed the windows and turned on the air con,” she said.
A 35-year-old resident, who only gave her name as Mable, said she was stung by tear gas when she went to buy food on Saturday. “From where I was standing, I did not notice the police putting up warnings,” she said.

Joyce Leung, a resident who lives on Shui Che Kwun Lane, said the impact of tear gas was limited as she thought all staff of the nursing homes nearby had prepared well and closed all the windows in advance.

But Cyrus Wong Ka-ho, who owns an interior design business on the same lane, criticised the police’s arrangement.

“It was not necessary to use tear gas and deploy the riot police,” the 30-year-old said. “Most protesters were peaceful and polite at first and the area is close to residential area and elderly homes after all.”

Lawmaker Claudia Mo Man-ching, convenor of the pro-democracy camp, agreed as she lashed out at the decision to fire tear gas in crowded neighbourhoods where nursing homes are located.

“The aggressiveness of the police force has become almost out of control and unchecked,” she said.

Hong Kong police under fire as video shows tear gas in old people’s home

Protesters use ‘guerilla tactics’ in clashes stretching from Sai Wan to Causeway Bay

Chaos, tear gas and anger as protesters descend on Hong Kong suburb

Police are required by law to announce by way of a ‘warning’ about the intended use of tear gas

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Now back to the above-mentioned news conference. The press conference on Monday by the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office under the State Council, the first by Beijing’s top policy office on Hong Kong since the handover, suggested top leaders had arrived at a view and formulated a response to the deadlock.

The ‘conference’ was billed as an opportunity for journalists to ask questions following the initial presentation.
Below is the main transcript of the question and answer session with the office’s spokespersons Yang Guang and Xu Luying:

Q: What’s your view on protesters who use violence?

Yang: “The rule of law is what Hongkongers are proud of. Violence is violence; unlawful acts are unlawful. It doesn’t change, no matter what the target is. The central government supports the relevant departments and police to protect the rule of law.”

Q: What would Beijing do to assure Hong Kong that “one country, two systems” is in place?

Yang: “This depends on how they understand the situation. It is a complete ideology. There are three bottom lines: no harm to national security, no challenge to the central government’s authority and the Basic Law, and no using Hong Kong as a base to undermine China.”

Q: What does Beijing think of Carrie Lam’s performance?

Xu: “She has done lots of work since taking office. We have noted that the government has done a thorough review of its deficiencies … The government will be more inclusive and listen to different opinions.”

Q: Would the Hong Kong garrison of the Chinese army be deployed on streets?

Yang: “The Basic Law has clear statements on that question, and I have nothing to add.”

Q: What are your views towards foreign countries’ roles in Hong Kong?

Yang: “Some irresponsible people from Western countries have made irresponsible remarks. I have paid attention to some people’s speeches. They have weird logic: they expect empathy for violent and illegal actions, but when it comes to police work in maintaining law and order and stability in society, protesters believe officers should be held accountable and be condemned. This is ridiculous.”

Q. Do you support an independent commission of inquiry into police actions, as some have claimed that the Yuen Long attacks were allowed by officers?

Yang: “Hong Kong police in the past month have been under a lot of pressure. They have done their best to protect society and maintain stability, and have made a great degree of sacrifice.”

3:51PM Conference ends, journalists rush to podium. [The two spokespeople have left without taking further questions.]

The Yuen Long mob had primarily targeted people returning from a protest but attacked citizens indiscriminately

Hong Kong’s corruption watchdog has initiated an investigation into allegations of police misconduct over the force’s much-criticised failure to protect the public from mob violence on July 21 in the northern town of Yuen Long. The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) had set up a dedicated group to handle the investigation even as anti-graft officers were seen collecting security camera footage from shops and businesses in Yuen Long.

The official probe would be another blow to the morale of the city’s embattled law enforcers, who have borne the brunt of public rage over the government’s now-abandoned extradition bill, with frontline officers accused of using excessive force while dispersing protest crowds and clashing with radical demonstrators.

Many have questioned why police did not deploy enough personnel in the Yuen Long area after being warned in advance there was trouble brewing, and only arrived at the scene after the attackers had fled.

Critics have also accused police of colluding with those behind the late-night attacks in the Yuen Long MTR station by gangs of men in white shirts who indiscriminately assaulted anti-government protesters returning from a mass rally as well as bystanders and even terrified train passengers. Some of the attackers were suspected triad gangsters.

Hong Kong Heat, Parts 1 and 2
Hong Kong Heat, Part 3