Strikes bring Hong Kong to a standstill as political crisis deepens

Police fire rubber bullets at protesters as strikes cripple city’s transport network

  Riot police stand off against protestors at Wong Tai Sin district  in Hong Kong, China on Monday. Photograph: Billy Kwok/Getty Images)

Riot police stand off against protestors at Wong Tai Sin district in Hong Kong, China on Monday. Photograph: Billy Kwok/Getty Images)

 

Police in Hong Kong fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters on Monday as strikes crippled the city’s transport network and forced the cancellation of hundreds of flights amid a deepening political crisis.

Activists blocked arterial roads and halted traffic across the city in a show of fury as Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam warned that the Asian financial hub was on the “verge of a very dangerous situation”.

The industrial action is the latest tactic adopted by protesters after more than two months of demonstrations that started as opposition to an extradition Bill that would allow criminal suspects to be tried in China.

The protesters’ demands have since escalated to include calls for a more democratic system of government in the territory.

Advertising and banking employees joined construction and retail workers to take part in Hong Kong’s first general strike in half a century, showing how anti-government sentiment is now building among professionals.

‘Economic animals’

“In the past, it was assumed Hong Kong people were economic animals but this proves people can choose to not go to work,” said Joshua Wong, a leading pro-democracy activist. “Hong Kong people aren’t economic animals any more. We are willing to pay the price, whatever it takes.”

Activists held rallies at seven points across Hong Kong on Monday, in spite of government pleas for calm and after dozens of arrests overnight targeting the protesters who called for the strike.

The authorities accused protesters of taking justice “into their own hands” and using sling shots and “petrol bombs” against police, in attacks which they said left 139 officers injured.

In her first press conference in two weeks, Ms Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, said the protests threatened China’s sovereignty. She was later criticised by pro-Beijing lawmaker Ann Chiang for not offering any solutions to quell the unrest.

“I’ve never seen protests on this scale, nor people so angry at the government,” said Julia (51) an administrator at a small theatre company, who said she had never taken part in a rally before.

Despite indirect warnings of intervention from Beijing, a police spokesman said the People’s Liberation Army would not be deployed to Hong Kong: “I personally believe there won’t be any chance to deploy the PLA,” the spokesman said on Monday.

Financial crisis

Hong Kong’s benchmark Hang Seng index fell 3 per cent after Ms Lam’s comments on Monday.

The fall in the stock market coincided with Hong Kong’s latest purchasing managers’ survey which revealed private sector business activity in the territory had suffered the sharpest contraction since the global financial crisis.

Hong Kong International Airport’s website listed more than 200 flights as cancelled on Monday after clashes on Sunday evening between police and protesters, the fourth straight day of demonstrations against the government. Many of the cancellations were by Hong Kong’s flag carrier, Cathay Pacific.

The latest IHS Markit Hong Kong purchasing managers’ index survey, which measures private sector activity in the territory, sank further to 43.8 in July from 47.9 in June, marking the steepest fall in the gauge since March 2009. A reading below 50 represents a contraction, with the index having now been below this mark for 16 months in a row.

The survey cited the impact of two months of political turbulence in Hong Kong.

– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019