Flights canceled, major roads blocked as Hong Kong protests escalate
The general strikes across Hong Kong today are believed to be the first of their kind since 1967, when a Chinese Communist Party-allied union instigated widespread labor protests.
At the time, Hong Kong was a colony of the United Kingdom and Mao Zedong was the leader of mainland China. As the protesters turned their focus from labor rights to the British colonial administration, work stoppages brought the territory to a standstill.
The strikes were followed by deadly terror attacks that left 51 people dead.
Antony Dapiran, a lawyer and Hong Kong historian, said today's strikes are likely the biggest strikes since those in 1967.
"I've never seen anything like it," he said.
"We've had rallies in Hong Kong before, we've had protests, but we've never had anything where multiple sites around the city have all simultaneously have been the focus of protests," said Dapiran, the author of "City of Protest: A Recent History of Dissent in Hong Kong."
With civil servants and employees citywide on strike, Hong Kong's Leisure and Cultural Services Department announced several public facilities across various districts are closing early at 3 p.m. Hong Kong time.
Here are the affected facilities:
- Sun Yat Sen Memorial Park Swimming Pool
- Repulse Bay Beach
- Shek O Beach
- Nan Lian Garden
- Tsuen Wan Public Library
- Tsuen Wan Sports Centre
- Tuen Mun Park Reptile House
- Tuen Mun Public Library
- Tuen Mun Town Hall
Demonstrations have hurt Hong Kong retailers in recent months, forcing many stores to close and bringing down some companies’ sales.
Annie Yau Tse, chairman of the Hong Kong Retail Management Association, said in a recent statement that most of the group’s member companies “indicated that their sales since June have dropped by single or double digits.”
July and August mark a “peak season” for summer sales -- and if protests continue, retailers expect “business to be greatly affected,” she added.
Global luxury brands are among those impacted.
Prada said in a company earnings call last week that its sales had been "negatively impacted by social unrest in Hong Kong,” while Richemont, the owner of Cartier and Van Cleef & Arpels, noted last month that sales in Hong Kong had "retreated" in part due to the rallies.
Protesters have gathered in Admiralty district -- the beating heart of the city.
They are building road blocks out of traffic cones and street barriers, locked together by umbrellas.
Harcourt Road, close to the legislative council complex, is a sea of black -- the color associated with the pro-democracy, anti-extradition bill protest.
Many of the young protesters are wearing masks to obscure their faces.
This is just one of seven districts where protesters are gathering -- there are also protest groups in Wong Tai Sin and Tin Shui Wai districts, among others.
Speaking to CNN earlier today, pro-democratic activist Nathan Law said Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam had failed to appease Hong Kong citizens, and was only inflaming the situation with her "arrogance."
"She is basically blaming all the things happening in Hong Kong on the protesters, but she does not reflect what she has done wrong and what responsibility she should bear," Law said.
"Carrie Lam doesn't even meet the bare minimum of the people, which is to fully withdraw the bill and set up an investigative commission of the police brutality. I think it's a really, really humble demand."
Watch the clip here:
It's been a long day of demonstrations and strikes across Hong Kong, with the unrest starting as early as 7 a.m., and continuing now into the afternoon.
If you're just joining us now, here's what you need to know:
- Transit disrupted: Starting from early in the morning, protesters brought much of the city's public transit system to a halt -- they blocked trains from leaving subway stations, blocked the Cross-Harbor Tunnel, and backed up traffic on roads and highways.
- Flights canceled: Over 100 flights have been canceled today at Hong Kong's airport, with 1,200 aviation workers on strike. The airport this morning was filled with travelers stuck waiting for delayed or rescheduled flights.
- City on strike: Strikers include teachers, lifeguards at beaches, security workers, construction workers -- and almost 14,000 people from the engineering sector.
- Tear gas fired: Protesters clashed with police at the northern suburb of Tin Shui Wai, and police fired tear gas to disperse the crowd. Protesters are also gathering in other areas like Admiralty, where they are building road blocks and barricades.
Continued protests in Hong Kong are beginning to jeopardize the city's image as a global business hub and favored gateway to China, experts have warned.
Hong Kong is home to seven Fortune Global 500 companies and operates as an Asian base for several major international banks.
Much of this is due to the "one country, two systems" policy under which the semi-autonomous Chinese city is governed.
The city's separate legal framework, known as Basic Law, allows for a much freer political system than the rest of mainland China, permitting both semi-democratic elections and free right to protest.
At present, Hong Kong enjoys a higher credit rating than mainland China, but this rests on the city's "governance standards, rule of law, policy framework, and business and regulatory environments" remaining "distinct from those of mainland China," said Fitch Ratings, in a recent note.
The possibility that Chinese authorities may look to take a firmer hand in Hong Kong affairs -- something that many people have begun to speculate on in light of the recent unrest -- could therefore threaten these unique differences.
Separately, the American Chamber of Commerce has warned that businesses are "reporting serious consequences from the disruption caused by weeks of mass demonstrations."
These consequences include an immediate drop in revenue, disrupted supply chains and shelved investments, according to the group's latest survey.
Companies are concerned about "a deepening perception within their companies and among overseas customers that Hong Kong has become less safe and a riskier place in which to conduct business,” the organization added.
And that could hurt the city’s overall economy.
Tommy Wu at Oxford Economics said he expects the city's GDP to grow by less than 1% this year, compared with 3% in 2018.
"We expect Q3 to be weaker than previously forecast as the current political turmoil weighs on consumer and business sentiment," he noted.
For weeks now, protesters in Hong Kong have speculated on whether Chinese military troops based in the city would take action and intervene in the ongoing protests.
There are at least 6,000 Chinese troops stationed at the garrison in northern Hong Kong, close to the border with mainland China.
Although Hong Kong is a Chinese city, the Chinese troops are not involved in its everyday security. Since its handover in 1997, Hong Kong has been governed under a separate set of laws allowing greater economic and personal freedoms for its citizens.
But people are worried: The commander of China's People Liberation Army (PLA) garrison in Hong Kong warned last week that violence by pro-democracy groups "should not be tolerated," and called the protesters "violent criminals."
The garrison also marked the PLA's 92nd anniversary with a video showing PLA soldiers storming a Hong Kong-style street, complete with a Hong Kong taxi.
There has so far been no firm indication that the PLA is planning to move outside its garrison, or that Beijing has any desire to deploy troops to the city -- but a number of pro-Beijing politicians have made it clear that it remains an active option.
Watch the PLA's video here:
Police have fired tear gas in Tin Shui Wai, a northern suburb in Hong Kong, after facing off with protesters.
"A large group of protestors are currently surrounding the Tin Shui Wai Police Station and hurling stones at police officers, posing a serious safety threat to members of the public at scene," said police in a statement.
"After repeated and futile warnings, in face of the situation, police deployed tear gas and minimum force to disperse protestors outside the Tin Shui Wai Police Station. Police appeal to everyone in the area to leave immediately. Police express condemnation against all violent acts by protestors," the statement said.
The police also asked residents in the area to keep their windows closed to avoid the tear gas.
Tin Shui Wai is located far north in Hong Kong's New Territories, close to the Hong Kong-China border. It's right next to the suburb of Yuen Long, where an armed mob attacked civilians in a subway station last month, leaving at least 45 injured.