What sparked the current protests in Taiwan

The power of umbrellas : What is behind the mass protests in Hong Kong

The southern Chinese port city of Hong Kong translates as “Fragrant Harbor”. The name probably comes from the sandalwood mills that once stood there and which are said to have given off a sweet smell. These days, however, the acrid stench of tear gas hangs over some streets of the metropolis almost every day. Although the Hong Kong government has withdrawn the controversial extradition law (see text opposite), young people in particular continue to demonstrate en masse. The demonstrations often end in violent clashes with the police, including this weekend. Riot police fired tear gas on Sunday at demonstrators who erected barricades in several places in the city after an unauthorized protest march.

Why do Hong Kong citizens keep demonstrating?

Hong Kong's controversial, Beijing-friendly Prime Minister Carrie Lam has declared the extradition law dead, but has not yet withdrawn it. “Down with the evil law,” demanded the demonstrators again on Sunday. In the meantime, however, they also have more far-reaching demands. The head of government should resign and take back her classification of the demonstrations as "riots". The demonstrators are also calling for an independent investigation into police violence during the protests.

The demonstrations are a resurgence of the 2014 democracy movement known as the "Umbrella Movement". The umbrellas have now become the symbol of the demonstrators again. But because the leaders of 2014 fled or were sentenced to prison terms, there are no leaders in the current protests.

Hong Kong enjoyed a special status after it was returned to China in 1997. According to the principle of “one country, two systems”, there are, for example, freedom of opinion, assembly and freedom of the press. But these freedoms are increasingly restricted by the growing influence of the People's Republic, ruled by the Communist Party in an authoritarian manner. The demonstrators shout “Liberate Hong Kong” and demand a “revolution”. At the same time, they have also become radicalized, as the brief occupation of parliament and the attack on the People's Republic's liaison office have shown.

Why is the police also being criticized?

Criticism of the police was sparked by the deployment on June 16, when, according to the demonstrators, the officers acted disproportionately harshly on protesters, bystanders and journalists. Many photojournalists then protested by attending the next police press conference wearing hard hats and protective masks. Police operations in shopping centers and subway stations were later also criticized because uninvolved passers-by were drawn into the conflict.

The demonstrators are particularly outraged that the police were not seen for a long time when a group of thugs dressed in white T-shirts attacked demonstrators and passers-by in the Hong Kong suburb of Yuen Long and injured at least 45 people. Videos on social media of police withdrawing or talking to the thugs on friendly terms raised suspicions that the police were collaborating with the local mafia. The police leadership disagreed.

What do the protests mean for the People's Republic of China?

"The protests are embarrassing," says Kristin Shi-Kupfer from the Berlin China Research Institute Merics. "Neither the Hong Kong nor the Beijing government had obviously expected such massive demonstrations." The Chinese government's claim to power was challenged. Beijing has meanwhile blamed "foreign powers" for it. Foreign Office spokeswoman Hua Chunying called in particular on the US government to "withdraw their dirty hands from Hong Kong as soon as possible".

China is also massively censoring messages from Hong Kong to prevent the protests from spilling over to the mainland. This apparently works well, even in the metropolis of Shenzhen, which borders Hong Kong, many Chinese do not know about the neighboring protests and the background. When activists smeared the Chinese coat of arms of the liaison office, it was shown in many Chinese media - apparently to arouse patriotic feelings and incite the mainland Chinese against the Hong Kong demonstrators.

How big is the danger that the Chinese military will intervene?

The spokesman for the Chinese Defense Ministry, Wu Qia, has already described the demonstrators as "intolerable". The military could be mobilized to maintain social order at the request of the Hong Kong government, he said.

According to information from the “South China Morning Post”, however, the Hong Kong government “quickly discarded” the idea. China is also unlikely to be interested in this for the time being. The political and economic consequences of such a highly sensitive operation are currently difficult to assess.

Why are the Hong Kong protests affecting Western democracies as well?

The Hong Kong demonstrators receive support from Taiwan's President. "Taiwan and the rest of the world are following the developments of the #HongKongProtest very closely," tweeted Tsai Ing-wen. "The people of Hong Kong are not alone in their pursuit of democracy and freedom." Their island is similar, they are viewed by China as part of the People's Republic and threatened militarily.

The Hong Kong democracy activist Bonnie Leung also sees the conflict in her city as a battle of the systems on “Deutschlandfunk”. Leung says: "The truth is we're talking about which side will win the battle: totalitarianism versus democracy."

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