After a teenager was almost killed, the end for Hong Kong now feels close

I asked one masked female protester what it would take to stop the protests. ‘The government must grant our five demands,’ she said – warning that the departure of Carrie Lam would make little difference now

Stuart Heaver
Wednesday 02 October 2019 13:06
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Man shot in chest as police fire live rounds at Hong Kong protesters

Making my way home through Hong Kong’s city centre on Tuesday evening, every shop, gym, restaurant and bar was closed. This once glittering high rise commercial district resembled one of those urban apocalypse scenarios for online combat games.

There hadn’t been much in the way of festivities in Hong Kong to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on 1 October. Unless you find streets swathed in teargas and the repeated crack of beanbag rounds a means of celebration. These street battles are now widely referred to as “teargas buffets”, though there isn’t much in the way of a selection, as they reduce tourists, residents, journalists and anyone else not wearing an anti-gas respirator to stinging tears.

Walking was the only option; all public transport was closed or cancelled and the deserted roads were littered with charred barricades, black balloons, expended teargas cartridges and discarded umbrellas. Almost every flat surface, including the road beneath my feet, was covered in graffiti. “I will die for freedom,” read one slogan on the perimeter fence of Admiralty Gardens. Earlier that day, someone nearly did.

Video on social media seems to have captured the moment when a teenage protester was shot in the chest at close range by armed police in Tsuen Wan, in the western New Territories.

A few weeks ago, the shock of this tragedy might have provided an opportunity for reconciliation but we are way beyond that now. Though the school student is still in a critical state in hospital, police and pro-Beijing politicians have been quick to defend the shooting as fully legitimate, because the officer was in fear for his life. The boy was armed with nothing more than a stick.

The incident has raised the stakes and the tension and it puts any solution even further out of reach. It feels like there is no way back now. The antipathy and distrust for the police was acute before this incident so it’s hard to see how it will ever be repaired. The fact that Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam was enjoying lavish VIP hospitality in Beijing, while citizens were being shot, will not help matters either.

Earlier, before the shooting, I asked one masked female protester what she thought it would take to stop, or at least pause, the street protests. “At least, the government must grant our five demands,” said Kei-ko Pun, as she marched through the busy shopping district of Causeway Bay – but she no longer thought Lam standing down, or resigning, would make any difference.

The economic impact has been catastrophic for local businesses. On Saturday evening, the only occupied table of about 40 in the dining room of the city’s popular Foreign Correspondents Club, was mine.

The conflict has also split families. One student told me several of her friends no longer went home to their parents for fear of conflict and recriminations. Expatriates endlessly talk of when to escape and where best to go: Singapore is safe; Malaysia is cheap; Portugal is nearer home.

Schoolboys are being shot, the streets are a battlefield, and the local economy is being devastated. The forces of law and order have lost popular support, and the chief executive of the city has lost the plot.

Not even the Feng Shui masters make predictions anymore, but this feels like the beginning of the end for Hong Kong.

Stuart Heaver is a full-time freelance journalist and writer who lives and works in Hong Kong and has a special interest in Chinese history, culture, politics and maritime affairs. He has reported from 17 Chinese cities over the last five years and has been published in local and international publications

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