Hostile protests in Hong Kong are unlikely to end anytime soon unless world leaders address Chinese interference, activists say

Business Insider US

  • A group of activists from Hong Kong are calling on the international community, as protests on the ground continue to escalate and show no sign of stopping.
  • This week, a collection of activists, who refer to themselves as Stand with Hong Kong, have created an online petition alongside a crowdfunding campaign in order to encourage the British government to intervene in the growing hostilities between Hong Kong and mainland China.
  • The campaign calls for sanctions against those "responsible for suppressing Hongkongers' human rights and freedoms."
  • Hong Kong operated under British colonial rule for more than 150 years, and the UK signed an international bilateral treaty called the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984 promising to uphold certain freedoms in Hong Kong when it handed over sovereignty of the territory to China.
  • But in recent years, China has continued to push harder into Hong Kong, including through the introduction of a controversial extradition bill, which has sparked nearly two months of escalating protests in the territory.
  • An activist who works closely with Stand with Hong Kong told Business Insider that protests are unlikely to end in the near future unless the international community pledges to step in.

A group of activists from Hong Kong are calling on the international community, as protests on the ground continue to escalate and show no sign of stopping.

This week, a collection of activists, referring to themselves as Stand With Hong Kong, have created an online petition, alongside a crowdfunding campaign, in order to encourage the British government to intervene in the growing hostilities between Hong Kong and mainland China. The campaign has raised nearly £320,000 ($398,000) on its GoFundMe page as of Thursday night and has placed ads in several UK print and digital publications including Evening Standard, The Guardian, and The Spectator, among others.

Hong Kong operated under British colonial rule for more than 150 years. In 1984, the UK and China signed an international bilateral treaty called the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which agreed to pass sovereignty over Hong Kong to China on July 1, 1997, and promised the territory a high degree of autonomy and certain freedoms under a " One Country, Two Systems" rule with China until 2047.

Once Hong Kong was formally handed over to China and protocols were established in the territory's mini constitution called "the Basic Law," Britain agreed to disassociate, though as a signatory of the 1984 treaty it pledged to ensure the rules agreed upon were upheld by all parties.

Senior Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping (L) meeting the then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in Beijing on December 19, 1984 to sign The joint Sino-British declaration sealing Hong Kong's future.

Tensions between Hong Kong and China, including large scale pro-democracy protests in 2014 called the Umbrella Movement, have led to disagreements over whether the Sino-British Joint Declaration still holds.

In response to the protests, a British committee of lawmakers in 2014 were blocked by Beijing from entering Hong Kong to check on whether the rules outlined in the treaty were being preserved by all sides.

"Britain has no sovereignty over Hong Kong that has returned to China, no authority and no right to oversight. There is no such thing as a moral responsibility," China said of the action. Around the same time, a Chinese ambassador also declared that the Sino-British Joint Declaration was "void."

Read more: Protesters in Hong Kong may have almost won this battle - but the fight for freedom and identity is far from over

Still, Britain has fought to uphold agreements laid out in the treaty. In 2017, then-UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson (who is now the UK's prime minister) urged democratic process in Hong Kong. China responded by saying that the international agreement "no longer has any practical significance."

The UK has maintained in the past that it has a legal responsibility to make sure China abides by obligations laid out.

"The Sino-British Joint Declaration remains as valid today as it did when it was signed over 30 years ago," a British Foreign Office spokeswoman said in 2017.

The British Foreign Office did not immediately respond to Business Insider for comment.

In its current campaign, Stand With Hong Kong is inviting fresh debate over foreign intervention in Hong Kong and is encouraging the UK to enforce sanctions on forces that it says undermine Hong Kong's sovereignty.

"Through advertisements in the UK media and other high-profile publicity efforts, we hope to draw the UK public's attention to how China has breached the Sino-British Joint Declaration by aggressively eroding Hong Kong's freedoms, human rights, and the rule of law," Stand With Hong Kong states as part of its recent campaign's core objectives.

"We are calling on [UK Prime Minister] Boris Johnson, his Cabinet and Parliament to take concrete actions by imposing sanctions on those persons complicit in or responsible for suppressing Hongkongers' human rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Joint Declaration."

Chris, a programmer in his 20's who works closely with Stand With Hong Kong and requested to be identified only by his first name, told Business Insider that the campaign hopes to spur sanctions against the Chinese government, the Hong Kong government under Chief Executive Carrie Lam, and the Hong Kong Police Force, which has been accused of brutality by protesters in recent demonstrations. "Hong Kong needs to get its current crisis on the international stage and garner international support; this is not a fight that we can win on our own, we need the international community to fight the totalitarian Beijing regime together," he said of the movement's intentions.

Hundreds and thousands have gathered in the streets of Hong Kong for nearly two months of protests, some of which have turned violent. What initially started as a protest against a proposed bill that would allow for the extradition of Hong Kong residents to mainland China for trial has ballooned into fight to uphold democracy in the semi-autonomous region.

Read more: Masked assailants storm Hong Kong metro station with batons in an apparent attack on pro-democracy protesters

Protesters' calls for foreign intervention in Hong Kong have heightened in recent weeks, a move that China has continuously denounced.

Stand With Hong Kong on Friday called on Taiwan in an ad posted in the local newspaper Liberty Times, highlighting a shared history between the two territories sparring with China over autonomy.

"We call on our allies in Taiwan to stand in solidarity with Hong Kong," the movement wrote in a press release. "Taiwan and Hong Kong are both on the periphery of China; our fates are bound together by our common history of oppression at the hands of the Chinese Communist Party."

Last month, activists placed ads in international newspapers ahead of the G20 summit in Japan.

The European Union, along with the US State Department, have issued statements since the start of the protests. The EU has urged "restraint by all sides," while the US has warned that the proposed extradition law could jeopardize Hong Kong's special trade status.

China has not taken kindly to calls for foreign intervention in a territory which it wholly considers its own.

Earlier this month, China's military arm in Hong Kong carried out "emergency response exercises" - a display observers perceived as a reminder of China's ability to step in and use force in Hong Kong if it deems it necessary as stipulated by the city's Basic Law. Adam Ni, a researcher on Chinese foreign and security policy at the Australian National University, told the South China Morning Post that the goal of the drills was to send a "blatant message" about its capacity to mediate tensions on the ground.

Read more: China's military held 'emergency response' exercises in Hong Kong as the city's government fights to curb protests

On Wednesday, Beijing warned that protests in Hong Kong were approaching a tipping point, and broadly hinted that it was prepared to step in following an off-shoot protest that trashed its government liason office in the city.

PLA soldiers jump through fire rings during the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Hong Kong Garrison Opening Day at the Shek Kong Barracks on June 29, 2019 in Hong Kong.

"The behavior of some radical protesters challenges the central government's authority, touching on the bottom line principle of 'one country, two systems,'" chief spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, Wu Qian, said on Wednesday. "That absolutely cannot be tolerated."

The US responded on Thursday with concern over China's threats of military action in Hong Kong. US lawmakers, including Representative James McGovern of Massachusetts and Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, urged the Trump administration to strongly condemn China's continued encroachment.

"Threats of intervention by the People's Liberation Army in Hong Kong are unacceptable and needlessly escalate tensions," they said in a statement on Wednesday.

A Protester is seen holding a placard in the arrival hall of The Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong on July 26, 2019.

Protests continued on Friday, with hundreds of protesters including flight attendants and airport staff gathering at the Arrivals Hall Hong Kong International Airport.

On Sunday, protesters clashed with police in Yuen Long, the same neighborhood where masked thugs attacked pro-democracy activists at the train station when they returned from a protest, injuring 45 people. Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters who had shown up to march despite a police ban from doing so.

Members of Carrie Lam's own government agencies have also joined in on protests. In an open letter seen by Business Insider published this week, 235 civil servants from over 40 government offices called for her resignation and urged the government to comply with protesters' demands.

"I don't see that protests would end in the near future, judging from the stubborn and unchanging attitude and stance of the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities," Chris said of the evolving nature of protests that continue to shake the semi-autonomous territory.

He told Business Insider that current protests have graduated to target "systemic issues" within Hong Kong's fractured democracy, and he believes that only varied methods of protest - including continued ground demonstrations, online awareness campaigns, and calls for international boycott - can bring about meaningful change in the face of amplified Chinese threat.

"Protests on the ground work in tandem with activities at different fronts, such that together as a whole the movement could move forward."

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