A confusing situation whose developments are increasingly hard to predict. One thing is certain: in Hong Kong, despite a total ban on demonstrations, young people have continued to take to the streets. At first, it was to protest against the extradition law and call for the resignation of local chief executive Carrie Lam. Then clashes with national security officers broke out, and demonstrators today are calling for an end to the ” brutality of the police.” The protests continued unremittingly for eight weeks and the city centre has turned into a battlefield, with barricades, tear gas and riot police.
At least 49 people were arrested and another 16 injured during the latest mass demonstration on Sunday. The situation has escalated to the extent that the spokesperson of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office Xu Luying held a press briefing on the city. The Beijing Government has called on the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Executive to punish the perpetrators of violence and to “restore social order as soon as possible.”
Who they are. “There are those who demonstrate peacefully and those who provoke clashes with the police.” It’s hard to say why and by whom they are being driven. In this way, they certainly achieve the goal of internationalizing the problem, attracting international public attention and showing that UK-China Joint Declaration accords on Hong Kong are not being respected.” Contacted by phone by SIR, Father Renzo Milanese, PIME missionary in Hong Kong for the past 47 years and parish priest of the Mother of Good Counsel parish of Kawloon in San Po Kong, gave us an overview on the situation in the city and on the young protestors (“all of them very young, including 15 and 18 years old, university students as well as secondary school students”) who have been taking to the streets in recent months. Clashes always occur at “sunset”, the missionary said. It is an obvious strategy to not be recognized by the police, to create more confusion and to make authorities lose tracks of them amidst the city’s narrow streets. Unlike the Umbrella Movement of 2014,
“there is no recognised leadership, no common point of reference”. This “liquidity” makes it more difficult for the local government to initiate dialogue negotiations, address the situation, identify the people responsible.
Why they are protesting. The rallies began past June to protest against the controversial law that would have facilitated the extradition of criminals from Hong Kong to China. This measure was seen as a dangerous sign of interference in Hong Kong’s internal affairs by the Chinese government, resulting in millions of people taking to the streets of Hong Kong. “Core demands now include an independent inquiry into the clashes, the release of arrested demonstrators and a ban on using repressive systems against demonstrators,” said the PIME missionary.
The “underlying issue.” The protests – said Father Renzo – stem from “an underlying misunderstanding”, i.e. from the lack of ‘clarity’ inherent in the 1997 accords between the United Kingdom and China on the restitution of Hong Kong. “These agreements provided for a period of 50 years of transition during which Hong Kong was to retain its basic features and democratic participation in Hong Kong’s local administration.” Moreover, Beijing guaranteed Hong Kong the “one country, two systems” principle enshrined in the Agreement, until 2047. In the eyes of the protestors, however, this is not happening. “The current electoral law continues to reward political groups close to China” and what is most worrying is the gradual erosion of autonomy and freedom.
The role of the Churches. The Catholic diocese of Hong Kong has been following the situation with apprehension and “sadness”, and has repeatedly condemned “all forms of violence, carried out by any means”, invoking justice. “During the rallies – said the Italian missionary – the churches located nearby offered to remain open to welcome whoever needed solace or protection. Today it is difficult to predict how the situation will evolve. For sure – concluded the religious –without dialogue there is no way out.”