Predictably, the situation in Hong Kong deteriorated further over the weekend.
Police resorted to tear gas to disperse protesters who engaged in various shenanigans, including setting up barricades, breaking windows, setting cardboard boxes on fire, vandalizing the metro station and tagging stuff with graffiti.
It was the 14th week of protests in the city and quite clearly suggests that Carrie Lam’s belated decision to withdraw the extradition bill at the heart of the unrest was far too little, far too late.
“Five Demands. Not One Less.”, was the mantra on social media following Lam’s announcement on Wednesday and protesters reiterated it (loudly) over the weekend.
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As you can see, the American flag featured heavily. In a development that will doubtlessly serve to further inflame tensions between Washington and Beijing, a crowd of protesters gathered outside the US consulate and sang the Star Spangled Banner.
“Various groups on Sunday headed to Chater Garden in Central, some holding American flags, before marching to the consulate at noon”, SCMP recounts.
“We are here to urge the US government to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act”, one twentysomething told the paper. “We are not selling out Hong Kong but defending the Basic Law, which promises us democracy and human rights”.
The protesters on Sunday again called on Donald Trump to “liberate” Hong Kong. “They waved the Stars and Stripes and placards demanding democracy”, Reuters writes, adding that demonstrators screamed “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong” as they produced petitions at the consulate.
“While there have always been a handful of protesters waving US national flags in recent months, today’s march from the US consulate looks to be the most red, white and blue protest that Hong Kong has seen”, Bloomberg’s Aaron Mc Nicholas remarked. He also delivered running (figuratively and literally) accounts of the action as follows:
Another report of police approaching prompted protesters to run in all directions around Times Square. But even in the brief panic, people gave loud reminders not to go the underground MTR entrance Reports of tear gas being fired then prompted that same group to change direction.
The group I’m following just took shelter in a local church to change their clothes and disappear again into the streets of Causeway Bay. The MTR stations used to be the most common place to do this, but times have changed.
This weekend’s proceedings raise the stakes again for Beijing. The fact that the American flag and the US national anthem have become a fixture of these protests is an embarrassment to Xi and an affront to the Mainland. Various ministries have suggested the US State Department is behind the unrest and Chinese officials have repeatedly warned the Trump administration against conflating the Hong Kong situation with the trade negotiations.
For his part, Trump is walking a fine line between the temptation to use the drama as leverage and his own palpable disdain for dissent and affinity for autocratic rule.
The White House’s standard line is that Beijing should “exercise restraint” and handle the protesters “humanely”, something which becomes less and less likely with each passing weekend.
The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which protesters are championing, would entail the US government evaluating political autonomy in Hong Kong at regular intervals, and could also green-light sanctions against officials (either in the city or on the Mainland) found to be involved in abductions or the curtailment of basic human rights.