Days after the international commemoration of the Tienanmen Square massacre, China is cracking down on thousands of pro-freedom demonstrators with tear gas and non-lethal violence.
Hong Kong, governed by the British until 1997, was promised it would maintain its existing level of autonomy from the Chinese mainland government. Despite significant concerns both from Hong Kong residents and traditional Western outlets, China had generally stuck to that agreement. The fiscal and diplomatic benefits it received from Hong Kong outweighed any perceived value in exerting restrictive authority over the island.
As mainland China has developed, the unique fiscal value of Hong Kong has diminished. Now, as mainland China extends its diplomatic influence with its One Belt, One Road initiative, concerns are growing in Hong Kong that the government will eliminate the distinct system which provides greater freedoms.
Tens of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets of Hong Kong in demonstration against a new extradition bill which was to be voted on by their Parliament today. The bill would allow accused criminal suspects to be transferred from Hong Kong to mainland China for questioning and trial.
A similar demonstration happened earlier this week, which triggered not the withdrawal of the bill, as repeatedly requested by the mass of people, but rather its delay. Voting on the bill has since been again delayed, amidst calls for its removal. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam and many members of the legislation favor the bill, passage of which is strongly desired by the Chinese government. As yet, it appears that Lam is standing with mainland China on the matter.
Police attempted to disperse the crowd, most of whom refused to leave. Following hours of standoff and a continued defiance by the protesters – many of whom cursed at the police – the Chinese law enforcement fired tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets into the crowd in order to force them away. Although attacks were not made against the police, claims surfaced that some protesters had been gathering bricks in anticipation of an attack and the police were acting preemptively in their own defense.
Many in the crowd dispersed from their position near the Parliament, only to mass at transit points throughout the city. Further police standoffs have ensued.
Adding to the concerns of those participating in the street protests is the decision to term the demonstrations a riot. By doing so, the government has classified any participants as potential criminals, and paved the way for any involved to experience rendition to the mainland should the bill be signed into law.