The New Year started in Hong Kong with a million strong march, organised by the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF).
The huge turnout and strength of feeling of the protest marchers, from age 12 to people over 80, was a clear signal to the authorities that the protest movement still has plenty of fight and determination, despite the many thousand arrests since last June.
On the march there were many calls on people to join their trade union, which is a very positive development. So far in the six month protest, the only significant successful industrial action has been taken by air traffic controllers and Cathay Pacific aircrew on 5 August, when the airport had to close because of the thousands of people who called in sick on that day. This led to the sacking of Cathay’s CEO and a reign of white terror and sackings in the airline.
During the Christmas holidays, protesters occupied many shopping malls as a direct response to the arrests of four leaders of Spark Alliance, and the HSBC bank’s decision to freeze their bank account established to provide support to protesters in financial need, alleging money laundering. HSBC branches quickly became attacked by Molotov cocktails, alongside Chinese banks.
The world-famous bronze lions outside HSBC’s Hong Kong head office in Central were daubed with red paint and set alight after being doused with inflammable fluids.
£6 million in that bank account is not a large sum of money, compared to the gigantic sums involved in global money laundering by the criminal world or by corrupt Chinese Communist Party cadres. It represents the ongoing donations by many ordinary citizens over the past seven months, people who are keen to ensure that the protesting youth were supplied with food, clothing, protective gear and overnight shelters in cases when they have been homeless after being disowned by parents.
The crowd-funding bank account was set up legally by the registered NGO, and is not a private personal bank account, to reassure donors that the money is properly accounted for. Yet HSBC, no doubt under pressure because of its banking interests in China, have colluded with the authorities.
Time and again, the authorities have chosen to step up the oppression instead of addressing the demands of the protest movement, principally a commission of inquiry and an amnesty for those arrested.
In December, the Government suffered a series of setbacks, including the landslide victory by pro-democracy candidates in last month’s District Council elections and the pro-Beijing DAB publicly lashing out at the Government for their whitewash in the elections. This was followed by the very public withdrawal of the panel of international experts hired by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the HK police’s own watchdog, on the grounds that it was not equipped to carry out a proper investigation.
Its invocation of emergency powers from HK’s colonial past to ban protesters from wearing masks was then ruled out of order by the High Court.
Undeterred, the authorities moved to throttle the movement’s financial support, and also to threaten school principals with the sack if they did not discipline the dozens of teachers who have been arrested or had been the subject of complaints for brainwashing school students or supporting their protests.
The pro-democracy teachers’ union, the PTU, organised a protest rally on the evening of Friday 3 January, but it has not yet decided to ballot its members to take industrial action.
On 5 January, Beijing abruptly replaced its top official in Hong Kong by bringing in a political heavyweight with no previous track record in Hong Kong. There is no doubt that Beijing sees Hong Kong as a key arena in its ongoing conflict with the Trump administration, which will continue despite any trade deal about to be signed later this month.
The deeply rooted contradictions in a politically polarised city will ensure that there will continue to be ongoing conflict here in the year 2020.