As the coronavirus spreads in China, so does fury at the government
Hong Kong, long the international financial hub of Asia, now possesses a certain Jekyll-and-Hyde quality. During the week, the city is subdued: Well-dressed men and women head off to their offices in shiny buildings, young people loiter in coffee shops, and the elderly exercise in the park. Yet on the weekends, masses of people don black clothing and march on the streets, calling for the government to respond to their demands of democracy.
At night, more aggressive young protesters wearing hard hats and gas masks face off with riot police who fire tear gas, rubber bullets, and beanbag rounds. Then as Monday comes again, the city is back to its new normal: graffiti covered up with fresh paint, caution tape on damaged fences, streets filled with cars. Meanwhile, political disagreements have divided churches, families, and friends.
Last weekend, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in an attempt to attract American attention: Some held American flags, sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and held signs reading “President Trump, please liberate Hong Kong” as they marched in the heat to the U.S. Consulate. They delivered a petition asking Congress to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act as a show of support in their struggle against mainland encroachment.
The act would require the United States to assess annually whether Hong Kong has enough autonomy to continue receiving preferential trade and economic benefits. It also bars officials responsible for suppressing Hong Kong freedoms from entering the United States and freezes their assets.
The bill, whose co-sponsors include Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.; Ben Cardin, D-Md.; Susan Collins, R-Maine; and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., has garnered strong support from both sides of the aisle. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she “looks forward to swiftly advancing” the bill. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell also tweeted his support of the protests, saying, “It should not be business as usual until Beijing respects Hong Kong’s autonomy and political freedoms.”
“China’s leaders must either respect Hong Kong’s autonomy and rule of law or know that their escalating aggression will inexorably lead them to face swift, severe and lasting consequences from the United States and the world,” Rubio wrote in an Washington Post op-ed.
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam spoke out against the U.S. bill on Tuesday, saying that “any form of intervention from foreign legislatures into Hong Kong’s internal affairs is most inappropriate. And we will not let [the U.S. Congress] become … a stakeholder in Hong Kong’s affairs.” China also views the bill as Western “interference” and has long claimed the protesters are backed by the United States.
Last week, Lam withdrew the controversial extradition bill that originally set off the protests. Yet most protesters viewed the move as too little, too late. The harsh response of the police to the earlier peaceful protests has increased the demands of the protesters: They now want an independent investigation into police brutality, a retraction of the “riot” label on the June 12 protests, the release of arrested protesters (police have arrested more than 1,000 so far), and universal suffrage.
Although thousands of demonstrators marched peacefully to the consulate Sunday, the day descended into violence. Some protesters destroyed the entrances to the Central subway station, breaking glass, throwing trash onto a stairwell, and setting a barricade on fire. Protesters are angry at the operator of Hong Kong’s subways, MTR Corp., for cooperating with the police in closing stations near protest sites and suspending its airport services last Friday. The closures forced protesters to walk for three hours to return to the city and stranded travelers at the airport.
Many are also calling for MTR to release surveillance camera footage from Prince Edward station on Aug. 31, when reporters video recorded elite police officers pepper-spraying civilians and beating them with batons. On Tuesday MTR released screenshots from the surveillance footage, but the company did not include any images of police using force.
Angered protesters have destroyed MTR property, vandalizing ticket machines, turnstiles, and CCTV cameras. At MTR’s Tung Chung station by the airport, protesters smashed windows, flooded the station with a fire hose, and spray-painted “Corrupt police” on the floor.
The increased violence has placed Hong Kong Christians in a difficult position. Some support the cause of the protesters, but don’t support how they carry it out. Last Friday, churches throughout the 18 districts of Hong Kong held prayer meetings for the city.
See WORLD’s timeline of the Hong Kong protests.
Early Rain update
Authorities in China released Early Rain Covenant Church elders Li Yingqiang in August and Matthew Su in April on bail pending trial. Although officials sent the elders back to their hometowns, they continue to hold Pastor Wang Yi in an unknown location. Wang’s lawyer is unable to meet with him. In a statement, the congregation noted that Chengdu authorities plan to appoint their own attorney to represent Wang against his will, a maneuver church members “strongly oppose.”