Irish in Hong Kong: ‘The situation is getting dangerous’

A group of protesters stormed Hong Kong’s legislature on the 22nd anniversary of city’s return to China

 

Protests in Hong Kong turned violent this week after police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd that had stormed the legislature on Monday, the 22nd anniversary of Britain’s handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997. A representative of China’s Hong Kong affairs office denounced the demonstrators, who are furious about proposed legislation allowing extraditions to China, saying they were an “undisguised challenge” to the formula under which the city is ruled.

Here, Irish Times Abroad readers living in Hong Kong share their observations and views.

Kevin Forkan: ‘ I fear that real violence may ensue’

Living in Hong Kong, the bravery of the protesters (who include some of my colleagues) has made me admire the city’s resilience in the face of the last 20 years of grinding pressure from Beijing even more. But we have a young family, and so need to keep a careful eye on the situation in China and Hong Kong for our children’s safety.

There is a deep frustration among the young people of Hong Kong that their views are not being heard and that Beijing plans to turn Hong Kong into simply another Chinese city.

There is an absolute and irrevocable breakdown in trust between a large segment of the Hong Kong population, and their government, administration, and police. The situation is getting dangerous, as there is now no forum for this political identity other than the streets; this is being met with increased repression.

The outcome of this formula is depressing familiar to us in Ireland, and I fear that real violence may ensue, which may actually be the goal of the Chinese Communist party and People’s Liberation Army in order to fully clamp down on the city. This is also a reason that many westerners are staying away from the protests, not out of lack of sympathy, but in the knowledge that their presence will be used by the CCP as proof of foreign influence over the movement and therefore an excuse to intervene.

Kevin Forkan is the Head of Archives and Library at M+, the new museum for visual culture in Hong Kong. He has been living in the city with his family since early 2016

Michael O’Sullivan: ‘Our well educated young people have begun to see protest as a way of life’

They come with goggles, umbrellas, water bottles, a water hose to douse burning tear gas, yellow hard hats, plastic binders for steel barriers, and then bricks ripped from the pavements. With each generation comes an education. With each student generation’s return to government buildings comes evidence of a little more learned.

This time they learned that tear gas could be dealt with. You could see the education blossoming in front of your eyes: running forward from the front lines the second a tear gas pellet or canister was fired, you discovered you could douse it in water as soon as it landed, its furling spume of smoke giving its location away. Then you smothered it in a towel with your feet and covered the minor explosion on the concrete in a yellow hard hat. You could buy your group more time in the stand-off with police. What matter that your eyes and throat burned like charcoal, you are being educated in the ways of protest unique to Hong Kong.

As I rounded the walls of the PLA encampment in Admiralty with the legions of young people dressed in black, a high-pitched shout in Cantonese rang out. The words were familiar - Carrie Lam resign, withdraw - but there was something different about the voice. I looked to my right. A group of young teenage girls, dressed in black t-shirts, all wearing facemasks, looked red-faced and a little unsure after having shouted out to the group their first rallying cries. There was a slight lull, and then applause and cheering rose up from the throngs around us.

They seemed to sense a new voice had been added to their ranks, a new voice that needed support and encouragement. The girls took heart and shouted out more rallying cries, and this time the crowd applauded and laughed.

If you are well educated and have no vote, no political representation, no decent job, are being underpaid, can’t buy your own place, can’t settle down with your partner, will most likely live with your parents until well into your 30s, see your language being pushed out of the school system, see well-heeled immigrants buying up all the new apartments, see basic human rights you have been taught to respect being eroded in your city by external powers who can’t even speak your language, feel passionately about the place you’re from - then taking to the streets to protest is a vital lifeline.

The protest movement gives you a voice on a local and international stage to stand up for what you believe in. You see what previous generations of students have done and achieved and their example inspires you. You see it as an education that can make real change in a city where education has been sold to the highest bidder, liquidated, and reduced to a formula that certifies you to begin again right back where you started.

They have learned too that even though they put their bodies on the line, and risk injury and prison time, there is a proven future in protest where you can give yourself up to something you truly believe in, maybe even for the long haul, and see results.

Our well educated young people have begun to see protest as a way of life. On top of the unparalleled sense of commitment that comes with standing up for Hong Kong Core Values, there is the awareness that their protesting is recognised worldwide.

Hong Kong’s youth know the value of education. At a time when undergraduate degrees have been lengthened to four years and graduate salaries are falling with house prices the highest on the planet, a generation of Hong Kong’s well educated and passionate youth have taken it upon themselves to give their education meaning, to make it something that can offer them a way out when the government no longer cares.

It is an education with no final exam and one where graduation is dangerous and uncertain but it is offering many young people a stronger vision of how they can contribute to their society.

Dermot Cooper: ‘Locals are furious that the students have given China the excuse it needs to tighten her grip’

I live in Causeway Bay, a 15-minute walk from where the protests took place at the Legislative Council. I have witnessed the protests. It seems like to students have lost the support of the population because of their actions thrashing the Legislative Council. It seems to be accepted that there are two reasons the police allowed the protesters to destroy the Legislative Council:

1) The police have had enough of Carrie Lam (for the last two weeks police have basically been spat on by the locals, they detest the fact that rubber bullets were used a few weeks ago by the police on protesters) so the police decided to withdraw as it is not worth the grief they have been getting, or

2) Beijing told Carrie Lam to tell the police to withdraw, allow the students to destroy, which will give Beijing the pretext it needs to tighten her grip on Hong Kong. Personally, I feel it is reason number two because China now can say that the government and police of Hong Kong are unable to do their job and China will now step in and do it for them. Where it goes from here is anybody’s guess. There have been no arrests yet. The police do know who the main culprits are.

Locals are furious that the students have given China the excuse it needs to tighten her grip on the country. There has been significant damage caused and this will have to be paid by the taxpayer.

Ralph Cunningham: ‘Such a large-scale demonstration for the cause of democracy just wouldn’t happen in Ireland’

Monday was shocking, but totally avoidable. Resorting to violence and destruction of property doesn’t do your cause any good in the long run and can only lose you support, but this was pent-up frustration born out of the view that Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam and her officials weren’t listening. Since the two massive marches in June, she has closed her ears, if they were ever open in the first place, and ignored the opposition.

The question is: Will she listen now? She said on Tuesday she would, but I suspect any trust is gone and the protesters wouldn’t accept it now if she said the sky was blue or the grass was green.

I’m sorry to say I haven’t been on any of the recent marches, not because I was against the cause, but we had things to do each time that we were committed to.

It was shocking too, because such a large-scale demonstration for the cause of democracy just wouldn’t happen in Ireland. That’s terribly smug of me, I know, but that battle has been fought. We take one-person one-vote for granted, every vote counts and so on. Here, when your leader is elected by a couple of hundred of the handpicked high-and-mighty, then you most certainly have something to fight for. The big question here today is why the police allowed the protesters to wreck LegCo.

The view seems to be that the government wanted to use the destruction to turn public opinion against the protesters. There has been some of that opposition in the English-language local media that I’ve been following, but I don’t know if those people were already against the protesters.

The other question is: what happens now, including how Beijing will react? Protesters will be prosecuted. Carrie Lam made that clear in her 4am press conference on Tuesday morning. A lot of people make out that the prosecution of the Occupy Hong Kong leaders only exacerbated the hostility between the government and the public, and contributed to the current unrest. There is no date to rally round now, until the 70th anniversary of the founding of modern China on October 1st. There was a large, peaceful march on Monday - police put numbers at 550,000 - which the protesters that wreaked havoc broke away from and pan-democrat legislators tried to stop the protesters from breaking into LegCo, but were brushed aside, some physically. There are a lot of strands to the opposition to the government here.

Irish journalist Ralph Cunningham has lived in the city with his wife and son since 2015

People walk past notes left by protesters on the walls of the government headquarters in Hong Kong on Tuesday. Photograph: Vivek Prakash/ AFP/Getty Images
People walk past notes left by protesters on the walls of the government headquarters in Hong Kong on Tuesday. Photograph: Vivek Prakash/ AFP/Getty Images
The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.