After a weekend of demonstrations that turned out to be the most violent the region has seen in years, Hong Kong is bracing for mass protests during the Chinese government’s 70th anniversary celebration on Tuesday.
According to Reuters, the city has moved to shut down its metro stations and block off roads near the planned official celebration of the day. The government rejected a formal request for a permitted protest, citing safety concerns, but a large number of protesters are still expected to turn out to voice their anger over what they see as efforts by a repressive Chinese government to erode the region’s democratic rights under the one-country-two-systems framework.
Ominously, the Chinese government has doubled the number of troops in Hong Kong, Reuters reported Monday. There are now an estimated 10,000 and 12,000 Chinese troops in the region—up from 3,000 to 5,000 before August—even though state-run media have claimed that they are not increasing military presence there, according to Reuters. Some of that number include members of a separate paramilitary force that specializes in riot control. So far, Beijing has been willing to sit back and let Hong Kong’s own security forces handle the protests, but a full crackdown is feared. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam had said last month that China was not planning to intervene and put down the demonstrations itself, but the movement of troops into what is now thought to be the largest-ever Chinese force in Hong Kong indicates it’s highly possible the mainland government will make a show of force on Tuesday.
The chaos in Hong Kong over the weekend hinted at the conflict that may be expected Tuesday. At Sunday’s unsanctioned march, which was billed as a “Global anti-totalitarianism rally,” more than 100 people were arrested, the South China Morning Post reported. Protesters carried signs comparing the Chinese president Xi Jinping to Hitler and China to historical authoritarian regimes, smashed the windows of government buildings, plastered pro-democracy posters around the city, and spray-painted anti-government messages on mainland Chinese businesses. The black-clad protesters clashed with police, who tried to contain the crowds with tear gas, rubber bullets, pepper spray, and water cannons. Activists fought back by throwing bricks and starting street fires. More than a dozen people, including an Indonesian journalist who was shot in the face by a nonlethal projectile, were injured.
On Monday, two high-profile Hong Kong activists were arrested and charged with crimes related to vandalism in connection to earlier protests.
Meanwhile, in Beijing itself, dissidents were warned by the government to keep a low profile ahead of Tuesday’s celebrations, according to the Guardian. Some were put under surveillance or removed from the city. Others were warned that police would stand guard outside their homes during the celebrations. Others throughout mainland China were reportedly also harassed.
This week marks both the 17th week of political demonstrations in Hong Kong and the fifth anniversary of the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement. This year’s protests began in June over an extradition bill that would have allowed people in Hong Kong to be sent to mainland China to stand trial. Lam has since pledged to withdraw the bill, but the largely leaderless movement continued, expanding its demands to include universal suffrage, direct democratic elections, and an independent investigation into alleged police brutality and excessive force.