14 November 2019
- Death of protester and lack of government concessions mean violence in Hong Kong will continue to rise ahead of district council elections
- Beijing’s efforts to strengthen Hong Kong’s security legislation and economic ties with mainland will fuel further unrest
- Politically motivated violence against individuals will increase around district council elections, but impact on businesses will be limited
An unarmed protester was shot in the stomach by a police officer on 11 November in Sai Wan Ho, a largely residential district in the east of Hong Kong Island. This was the third person to be shot by police since protests began in June, though none have been fatal. The same day, protesters set fire to a pro-Beijing supporter during an argument in Ma On Shan, 20 km north of the central business district. Both incidents took place during city-wide protests on 11-12 November attended by a few thousand people, including in Central where protesters set up road blocks and police fired tear gas. That these protests took place during business hours was unusual, as most violence in recent weeks has occurred during evenings and weekends.
The escalation in violence and the protesters’ decision to target the central business district during office hours, thereby causing greater disruption, were largely in response to the death of a protester on 8 November. This was the first protest-related death to be blamed on police action, which occurred after the individual fell from a building as officers dispersed demonstrators on 3 November. The police’s increasing use of live ammunition also reflects that the protests have grown more violent and unpredictable in recent weeks, (see our 17 October Report), a trend which will continue as the protestor’s death and subsequent unrest will further inflame tensions, narrowing the scope for de-escalation.
Protest against extradition law in Hong Kong turned into another police conflict
The impasse between the protesters and the Government will therefore persist, as officials will want to avoid being seen to reward violence. This was demonstrated on 11 November, when Chief Executive Carrie Lam described protesters as “enemies of the people” and reiterated that she will not concede to the four remaining protest demands, including her own resignation. Lam will be able to sustain this approach while she retains Chinese Government support, which was confirmed by President Xi during a meeting between the two on 4 November, in which Xi emphasised his “high degree of trust” in Lam. This suggests Lam will remain in her post at least until the current protest movement recedes, after which Beijing will likely seek to replace her with a less politically damaged – but nonetheless broadly pro-establishment – candidate.
Citizens protests call for Carrie Lam Hong Kong Chief Executive to step down
Meanwhile, the Communist Party will seek to stabilise Hong Kong by increasing its political and legal influence in the territory, as demonstrated at a high-level Party meeting last month (see our last Report). In the coming weeks this may include attempts to strengthen security legislation, although a previous attempt to introduce such legislation was abandoned in 2003 after large-scale protests. In the longer term Beijing will also seek to ease unrest by increasing Hong Kong’s economic integration with the mainland, for example with the Greater Bay Area project.
However, unrest in Hong Kong is not driven by economic issues, but rather a legacy of longstanding resistance to growing Chinese political control, and a desire among young people for greater participatory democracy. Efforts to economically integrate Hong Kong with the mainland will therefore ultimately inflame tensions, as will any increased security measures. Any such actions will in turn increase the risk of sporadic clashes between police and protesters, including in central areas during working hours, although violent protests will continue to be more common in Kowloon and the New Territories. Violence between rival groups, reflected by the burning of the Beijing supporter on 11 November, will also increase in the coming weeks particularly around the district council elections due on 24 November. However, this will largely target individual activists or election candidates, limiting risks to businesses.