Businesses and metro stations reopened as usual on Monday in Hong Kong, one day after the city again descended into chaos as violent clashes involving police, young pro-democracy protesters and older pro-Beijing supporters erupted.
In the neighborhoods near North Point and Fortress Hill, people from opposing sides traded insults and physical blows, leading to numerous injuries on Sunday.
While some pro-Beijing mainlanders rolled up their sleeves to remove posters on so-called "John Lennon walls," named for the late entertainer, another group of white-clad mainlanders was seen not only attacking black-clad pro-democracy protesters, but also using derogatory language toward them, chanting “Fujian people, beat the cockroaches.” Fujian is a province on the southeast coast of mainland China.
Elsewhere, six black-clad protesters, in return, were seen hitting a 49-year-old man with umbrellas and punching his back. He was reported to have lost consciousness at one point.
Analysts say such episodes suggest that Beijing may be resorting to a strategy of counter-mobilization by appearing to tolerate mainland immigrants who confront the anti-China demonstrators.
The protests began in June after the Hong Kong government, under Chief Executive Carrie Lam, introduced a controversial extradition bill that many Hong Kong residents saw as an example of the territory's autonomy being eroded under Chinese rule. Lam later withdrew the measure. The Hong Kong government has said violence is not the answer.
But that will not help ease the city's political tensions; instead, its young freedom fighters will become even angrier, the analysts add.
“Those protesters, in the eyes of the majority of the public, actually love Hong Kong and they are devoted to defending Hong Kong’s freedom. So, for the majority of the people, they will feel anger and the fire will be just in flame,” said Dixon Sing, associate professor of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology's social science division.
Sing cited polls Monday in the local Chinese language newspaper Ming Pao that said more than 70% of the city’s respondents remain unsatisfied with concessions, including the decision by Lam to withdraw the measure.
Hong Kongers’ determination
The majority polled said that all five demands requested by protesters, in particular, the creation of an independent commission to investigate police misconduct, should be met, the professor added.
Although there is little proof that China’s liaison office in Hong Kong was behind the counter-mobilization effort, Hong Kong is seemingly more tolerant to those who hold pro-Beijing views, say analysts.
“Clearly, they work very hard to build a united front in support of mainland policies and the Hong Kong government. So, the kind of counter mobilization, if it is peaceful, I think it’s quite tolerated,” said David Zweig, chair professor in the division of social science at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
With Hong Kong-China tensions escalating, China continues to build up narratives to discredit the city’s pro-democracy activism, while accusing Western governments of being behind the mass protests.
In a commentary posted Friday on China's messaging app WeChat, the party’s Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission urged the city’s young people not to pin hopes on the West solving their financial woes.
“The West can’t solve your problems…Those who call on people to take to the streets have nothing to offer but empty words of democracy and freedom,” the article read.
“The places helped by Western countries to usher in democracy and freedom are all in trouble. Western countries can’t even solve their domestic problems,” the commentary added, urging Hong Kongers to look north for economic opportunities in China.
The commentary is believed to be directed at pro-democracy movement leaders such as Joshua Wong, who has traveled to Taiwan, the United States and Germany to seek international support and foreign involvement.
Professor Zweig said that China has long looked at foreign power as the source of problems, which allows it to ignore internal conflicts.
What is truly facing Hong Kong is internal socioeconomic and political conflicts, not foreign interference, he said.
“The only place where foreigners can have a serious impact is if the United States revokes the Hong Kong Policy Act, because then China will no longer have access to American technologies through Hong Kong,” he added. Under the U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, the United States treats the former British colony separately from mainland China in matters dealing with trade and economic control in the wake of the 1997 handover.
Losing economic shine
There are also concerns about Hong Kong's economic future. The London Stock Exchange recently rejected a $39 billion takeover bid by Hong Kong's exchange. Separately, a survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong indicated a lack of investor confidence in the city.
The chamber’s survey showed that 67% of respondents believe the city’s reputation as a regional base of operations has been tarnished while 80% said the months-long turmoil has affected their investment decisions.
In addressing the city’s political and economic problems, China’s top leaders are at a crossroads, according to Professor Sing.
China wants to bring the city under its total control in the next 20 years, but then, it cannot afford to have the city lose its shine as the world’s third-largest financial center — an economic status that greatly benefits China especially when its economy is suffering from an ongoing trade dispute with the U.S., Sing said.