Fresh clashes in Hong Kong as protesters reach out to Chinese tourists

Riot police baton-charge hundreds who refused to disperse following latest march

Riot police try to disperse anti-extradition bill protesters after a march at Hong Kong’s tourism district Nathan Road on Sunday. Photograph: Tyrone Siu/Reuters

Riot police try to disperse anti-extradition bill protesters after a march at Hong Kong’s tourism district Nathan Road on Sunday. Photograph: Tyrone Siu/Reuters

 

Riot police clashed with protesters in Hong Kong on Sunday following a march where opponents to a controversial extradition Bill hoped to explain their cause to mainland tourists.

The march was peaceful, but violence erupted later as riot police baton-charged a few hundred protesters who had refused to disperse. Several demonstrators were taken away by police and many were left wounded after the running battles.

While the previous mass rallies have focused on areas around the political centre on Hong Kong island, more than 230,000 demonstrators on Sunday chanted their way through the popular shopping streets on the Kowloon peninsula.

This time, their chants sounded different. Instead of Cantonese, as typically used in Hong Kong and southern China, many switched to Mandarin, the lingua franca in Beijing and across large parts of China.

Their mission was to convert mainland Chinese tourists to their cause. Although the Chinese mainland is only 14 minutes away on the fast train, media and social media platforms across the border are heavily censored so there is little awareness that protests have rocked the financial hub for the past month over an extradition Bill that could force Hong Kongers to face mainland courts.

Leaflets

The demonstrators handed out explainer leaflets in the simplified Chinese text used in northern China, and airdropped messages to the phones of the new arrivals.

In an irony that was not lost on the crowds, several march leaders gave impromptu language lessons to teach the protesters the chants in Mandarin. Language has been a key battleground in Hong Kong in recent years with many claiming the pro-Beijing authorities are trying to impose Mandarin on the city as the prime language.

In a move that will inevitably provoke Beijing, the protesters carried signs saying “Welcome compatriots, come with us,” and sang the Chinese national anthem.

“Let the people’s struggle spread to China,” read one poster that had a picture of China’s president Xi Jinping with black ink splashed on his face.

Other leaflets and posters carried detailed information on cases where Chinese human rights lawyers and NGO workers were jailed, while recent environmental protests in the city of Wuhan, the mass detention of Muslim Uighers in Xinjiang and the ongoing plight of the Tibetans were also highlighted as examples of the absence of the rule of law on mainland China.

The tourists seemed to react positively, with many taking leaflets and engaging in brief conversations, while others just waved or gave a thumbs up and moved on.

“They do have a point,” said Wang Lu, an office worker from Jiangsu province. “If you go to court in China you will lose, it’s too late then,” she said. “I personally think the government [on mainland China] is mostly good . . . but the court system is not fair. For sure.”

Another tourist who said his surname was Liu said he thought the demonstrators were very brave, and marvelled at how different life was in Hong Kong. “If you protested like this on the streets in China you would be in jail in five minutes,” he said.

The West Kowloon train station where the march terminated is a source of contention as mainland customs and immigration officials are stationed inside, and parts of the station are under mainland jurisdiction even though it is several miles from the border.

The marchers were met at the train station with large barricades and a massive police presence. A day ahead of the protest the train operator stopped selling tickets in and out of the station for most of the day, and closed off public access.

Sunday’s march was the first large-scale gathering since the dramatic events of July 1st when hundreds of demonstrators stormed and ransacked the legislature.

In the aftermath of that event there was concern among the protesters that there might be a split between the radical elements and the more peacefully inclined, meaning the movement could lose momentum, but one march co-ordinator said that had not happened.

“There has been a lot of discussion about this online and offline and while most of us prefer peaceful means we respect that others think at times more extreme measures are needed,” said politics student Karen Ng. “At the end of the day we have the same objective so we need each other.”

Behind her, as the march nudged forward, many carried placards that underlined her point: “Together we stand. We are one.”

Before Sunday more than 70 people have been arrested on charges related to the recent protests, and police say they are currently examining forensic and video evidence and more arrests should be expected.