Protests in Hong Kong continued for the tenth week as activists staged a sit-in at the airport, forcing a cancellation of all flights from the city for two days. Demonstrations began peacefully, but as police started using tear gas in a train station Sunday evening, word spread among the protestors which in turn caused more to rally to their cause. At one point on Tuesday, they apprehended a 23-year-old man known only as Xu who they claimed was a Chinese spy.
The situation deteriorated further when paramedics tried to reach Xu, who fell unconscious. The group of protestors who held him were determined not to give him up and continued to physically assault him before they relented to allow him to be moved. It was the first outward sign of division within the activist movement as many of the younger protestors who arrived at the airport appeared to favor more violent tactics. Previously, Hong Kong protestors were viewed internationally as peaceful and oppressed by Chinese triad gangs and city police who often resorted to brutal tactics to deter protesting.
After Xu was seized by a more violent faction, people took pictures and celebrated the way they abused Xu. When paramedics pushed a stretcher through to get Xu out of the area, the protestors blocked this too. As an admission of just how far the violent protestors took things, some activists distributed a flyer on the Telegram messaging network and LIHKG, an online message board, which condemned the violent actions at the airport.
“We must admit last night’s actions at HKIA were far too impulsive,” the flyer said. “We have resolved to bravely face up to our own shortcomings. We sincerely apologize to the citizens who have always supported us.”
In another apologetic step, several demonstrators held up a sign at the airport on Wednesday which expressed their apologies for the chaos. “We were desperate and we made imperfect decisions,” the sign read.
Eye for an Eye
Protestors have begun sporting eye patches over their right eyes after an unnamed woman was injured at a demonstration on Sunday. A photo of her began circulating online which showed her bleeding from a clear injury to her eye. She is currently hospitalized and might lose her eyeball which appeared to have ruptured. While the cause was undetermined, protestors believe she was hit with a bean bag round.
The event added fuel to the fire and provided activists with a heroic symbol of their plight. Even as they held a sign apologizing for their behavior at the airport, they still wore eyepatches, white with a red dot to represent blood. This reminder of the violent means which the police used, perhaps incited the crowd to turn violent as a response. The momentum was not exactly letting up before her eye became a symbol, but it sure will not now.
Still, there was a period of introspection following the violence at the airport. Some protestors were clearly not in favor of the violent shift among the movement which might cause them to limit their involvement at future events. A code of conduct for the movement was proposed online which calls for protestors to “protect and fully cooperate with emergency personnel.” Furthermore, it urges restraint if a mole is suspected in order to avoid another situation that happened with Xu.
Mainland Chinese authorities called the protest “near terrorism” following the airport riot and Beijing has begun to move military forces into place. Inside the Shenzhen Bay Sports Centre, troop transports amassed in preparation for a possible invasion of Hong Kong. While the government claimed the practice exercises had nothing to do with events in Hong Kong, the location and timing is too coincidental. The People’s Liberation Army has a garrison of roughly 10,000 already stationed in the city which could deploy alongside a force from the mainland.
Doing so would likely receive international condemnation as Hong Kong has widespread economic and political support. Within the United States, one senator already proposed several actions for Washington to take in retaliation of a possible attack on Hong Kong. Senator Tom Cotton recommended an end for student visas, revocation of visas for Chinese party leaders and their families, and the suspension of trade discussions, among other measures.
“If Beijing cracked down on Hong Kong, it would require a fundamental reassessment of our relations with their country,” Cotton said during a radio interview. “The risk to life if Beijing were to crack down in Hong Kong is severe.”
Naturally, the Tiananmen Square Massacre is recalled during the Hong Kong protests. Beijing used its power then to solidify its hold on China and, according to Cotton, to steal American jobs while threatening its security. The US cannot stand by and let another such attack happen, especially without repercussions. As China builds its military across the bay, it signals its intentions to bring order, by force if necessary. Now it is up to the protestors to determine if they can return to more peaceful methods.