The protests began in early June 2019 against an extradition law which, if approved by the local parliament, would have allowed the accused of some serious crimes, such as rape and murder, to be tried in mainland China. The law was later withdrawn but the demonstrations had continued to grow, reaching tens of thousands of people (in some cases, more than a million) and creating huge problems for the Hong Kong authorities.
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A real victory for the protesters – obtaining greater autonomy from China – had always seemed almost unattainable, says the New York Times: because protests may have had some effect locally, but decisions about the future of Hong Kong have always depended on China. “China’s direct intervention has made these obstacles even more evident, and now we need to understand how to react, with what purpose and if it is worth even trying.”
The bill passed on Thursday by the National People’s Assembly of China, the People’s Republic’s highest legislative authority, will give the Chinese government new powers over national security in Hong Kong. The details of the text – which will now have to go through the Communist Party’s Standing Committee and could become law in a few months – are not yet clear, but the fear is that China may actually put itself in a position to punish any act deemed contrary to “security”. national”. This could also mean imposing great control over demonstrations and social networks, as is already the case in the rest of China.
For fear of this happening, says the New York Times, many people who had participated in the events in recent months have started to delete their profiles on social networks and on the apps used to organize the events. Others, especially those who participated on more peaceful occasions, were intimidated by the new and more vigorous tactics from the police, who now use hydrants and tear gas to disperse even the smallest demonstrations. Thousands of people participated in the protests of the last few days: very few, if compared to how many were seen a few months ago.
What made it even more complicated was the coronavirus epidemic. Not only did it give the police an excellent excuse to disperse even the smallest gatherings, but it made unemployment rise and the demonstrators removed one of the most effective weapons they had to put pressure on the local government.
As told by the New York Timesthe participation of the unions in the protest movements had allowed the strikes to be used to block entire sectors of Hong Kong, from airports to customs and border control activities. Now, however, few are willing to go on strike and risk losing their jobs. «We tried everything we could last year. Maybe we will find other ideas, but at the moment people are just very tired, “he told al New York Times a trade unionist from Hong Kong.
What will happen now is not easy to understand, but the most widespread sentiment among the protesters seems to be one of resignation. The hopes of some protesters are linked to the intervention of foreign countries and the pressure they can exert on China to defend Hong Kong. The U.S. decision to end special treatment with the region was welcomed as a good signal, although one of the effects could be to seriously damage Hong Kong’s economy. Others, says the New York Times, seem to have decided to raise the bar even further, starting to speak with greater insistence of independence from China: but if it was difficult to think of obtaining more autonomy, it seems completely unrealistic to think that something even more drastic will happen.
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