Hong Kong — Hundreds of protesters in Hong Kong swarmed into the legislature’s main building Monday night, tearing down portraits of legislative leaders and spray-painting pro-democracy slogans on the walls of the main chamber. Frustration was mounting over a lack of response from the administration to opposition demands.
Police carrying riot shields and firing tear gas moved in shortly after midnight to clear surrounding streets but appeared to have paused outside the legislative building. A spokesman had earlier broadcast a warning that “appropriate force” would be used in the clearance operation, but there was no immediate word on any arrests or injuries.
Video and images showed police advancing toward the legislature and firing tear gas at protesters near the government headquarters. The crackdown began around midnight.
The flashing blue and red lights of dozens of police vans and buses lit up the abandoned streets leading to the legislature.
The sharp escalation in tactics came on the anniversary of the former British colony’s return to China, a city holiday, and reflected mounting frustration with Hong Kong’s leader for not responding to protesters’ demands after several weeks of demonstrations.
The protesters whacked away at thick glass windows until they shattered and broke and pried open steel security gates and propped them open with barricades to get inside. Police in riot gear retreated as the protesters entered about 9 p.m., avoiding a confrontation and giving them the run of the building.
CBS News producer Chris Laible said the demonstrators, mostly young people, earlier erected barricades at building exits where they thought police would come out. They propped doors and gates to the building open with any metal objects they could find, and used umbrellas to try to block the view of police inside the building. Police shot pepper spray through a hole in the door of the building made by the protesters, which drove them back for a while. But hours later angry demonstrators swarmed into the legislature after prying open metal security curtains. Police appeared to back off as the protesters came in, apparently to avoid a confrontation.
WATCH: @CBSNews was inside Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. See what we saw here. We followed angry protestors who stormed the building. We were told police were coming to take it back. HK’s pan-Democrat’s have called on the city’s leader Carrie Lam to resign. #HongKongProtestspic.twitter.com/FTnJsLno1T— Ramy Inocencio 英若明 (@RamyInocencio) July 1, 2019
The demonstrators stood on lawmakers’ desks in the main legislative chamber, painted over the territory’s emblem high up on a wooden wall and wrote slogans calling for a democratic election of the city’s leader and denouncing now-suspended extradition legislation that sparked the protests. Many wore yellow and white helmets, face masks and the black T-shirts that have become their uniform. Police announced about 10:30 p.m. that they would clear the area, asking protesters to leave.
The actions prompted organizers of a separate peaceful march against the extradition bill to change the endpoint of their protest from the legislature to a nearby park, after police asked them to either call it off or change the route. Police wanted the march to end earlier in the Wan Chai district, but organizers said that would leave out many people who planned to join the march along the way.
Police estimated 190,000 people joined the peaceful march, the third major one in as many weeks. Organizers estimated the number at 550,000.
Hong Kong has been wracked by weeks of protests over a government attempt to change extradition laws to allow suspects to be sent to China to face trial. The proposed legislation, on which debate has been suspended indefinitely, increased fears of eroding freedoms in the territory, which Britain returned to China on July 1, 1997.
CBS News correspondent Ramy Inocencio reported from the melee that both the combative protesters and the much larger group marching through Hong Kong’s streets — said by organizers to be about 550,000-strong — were venting anger at the city’s leader, Carrie Lam, and by extension her superiors in Beijing. Lam backed controversial changes to Hong Kong’s extradition law that would let China transfer anyone accused of a crime in Hong Kong into the mainland’s opaque court system.
The annual march was larger this year because of the simmering anger over the proposed extradition bill. Two marches in June against the legislation drew more than a million people, according to organizer estimates.
The government has suspended debate on the bill indefinitely, but protest leaders want it formally withdrawn and for Lam to resign. They also are demanding an independent inquiry into police actions during a June 12 protest, when officers used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters who blocked the legislature on the day debate on the bill had been scheduled to resume.
The police say the use of force was justified, but have since adopted softer tactics, even as protesters besieged police headquarters in recent days, pelting it with eggs and spray-painting slogans on its outer walls.
Earlier, protesters demanding Hong Kong’s embattled leader step down clashed with police outside a flag-raising ceremony marking the anniversary of the former British colony’s return to China. Lam pledged to be more responsive to public sentiment.suspended debate on the bill
Police used riot shields and pepper spray to push back hundreds of helmeted protesters who tried to advance down closed streets toward the harborfront ceremony venue, where the Chinese and Hong Kong flags were raised together and two helicopters and a small flotilla passed by.
At the ceremony, Lam said a series of protests and marches that have attracted hundreds of thousands of students and other participants in recent weeks had taught her that she needs to listen better to the youth, and Hong Kong’s people in general. Lam has come under withering criticism for trying to push through the legislation.
“This has made me fully realize that I, as a politician, have to remind myself all the time of the need to grasp public sentiments accurately,” she said in a five-minute speech to the gathering in the city’s cavernous convention center.
She insisted her government has good intentions but said she “will learn the lesson and ensure that the government’s future work will be closer and more responsive to the aspirations, sentiments and opinions of the community.”
Security guards pushed pro-democracy lawmaker Helena Wong out of the room as she walked backward shouting at Lam to resign and withdraw the “evil” legislation. She later told reporters she was voicing the grievances and opinions of the protesters, who could not get into the event.
New this morning in Hong Kong. Police cordoned off this entrance protestors used to swarm into LegCo last night. The city takes stock of the damage today – physically, psychologically, economically. CE Carrie Lam says she hopes the city will return to normal. #HongKongProtestspic.twitter.com/LqllucWxBC— Ramy Inocencio 英若明 (@RamyInocencio) July 1, 2019
The following morning, Lam said she was hoping Hong Kong would return to normal.
Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong citizens filled the city’s streets for a second weekend of protest against a controversial extradition bill that would allow authorities to send suspected criminals to China. The demonstration took place despite an earlier statement from Chief Executive Carrie Lam indicating that the proposed bill would be suspended indefinitely. Marchers were calling for Hong Kong’s leadership to step down and for a full withdrawal of the extradition bill. Organizers claim that more than 2 million people took part in the march in Hong Kong on Sunday.
A protester clenches his fist as hundreds of thousands of people march on the streets to stage a protest against the unpopular extradition bill in Hong Kong on June 16, 2019.
People pay their respects at the site where a man fell from a scaffolding at the Pacific Place complex while protesting against a proposed extradition bill, in Hong Kong, on June 16, 2019.
A man takes a selfie with a protest poster before sticking it to the wall of a walkway near the Legislative Council ahead of a speech by Chief Executive Carrie Lam on June 14, 2019.
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, holds a press conference in Hong Kong on June 15, 2019. Lam said she will suspend a proposed extradition bill indefinitely in response to widespread public unhappiness over the measure, which would enable authorities to send some suspects to stand trial in mainland courts.
This general view shows thousands of protesters gathered ahead of the start of a new rally against a controversial extradition-law proposal in Hong Kong on June 16, 2019.
Protesters in a subway station, photographed on their way to the rally in Hong Kong on June 16, 2019
Protesters hold placards as they attend a demonstration demanding that Hong Kong’s leaders step down and withdraw the extradition bill, on June 16, 2019.
A large banner protesting against the extradition bill that reads “Fight for HK,” hung by pro-democracy protesters above Hong Kong on June 16, 2019
Protesters march on the streets against an extradition bill in Hong Kong on June 16, 2019.
Protesters hold placards as they prepare to demonstrate against the now suspended extradition bill on June 16, 2019.
A woman takes pictures from a rooftop as protesters march on a street below on June 16, 2019.
An overhead view shows thousands of protesters marching through the street in Hong Kong on June 16, 2019.
Marchers continue to protest an extradition bill on June 16, 2019.
Protesters march through the streets of Hong Kong on June 16, 2019.
Protesters hold banners and shout slogans as they fill the streets of Hong Kong on June 16, 2019.
Protesters dressed in black take part in a new rally against a controversial extradition-law proposal in Hong Kong on June 16, 2019.
Protesters march in Hong Kong on June 16, 2019.
Demonstrators gather along a police barricade on June 16, 2019.
A protester with a mask gathers with others near the Legislative Council as they continue protesting against the unpopular extradition bill in Hong Kong early on June 17, 2019.
A protester holds a flag of Hong Kong between police and demonstrators outside the Office of the Chief Executive in Hong Kong on June 16, 2019.
Mourners hold candles during a vigil for a protester who died the previous night during a rally in Hong Kong, on June 17, 2019.
Protesters gather along a road after taking part in a march and rally on June 16, 2019.
A helmet and messages of support for the protest against a proposed extradition bill are seen displayed in the early morning in Hong Kong on June 17, 2019.
Barricades, placed in an underground tunnel by protesters, photographed after a demonstration against the now suspended extradition bill on June 17, 2019
The crowds weren’t just equipped for a storm, they were counting on one. When rain started to fall on the tens of thousands of mostly young people amassed around Hong Kong’s legislature on the morning of June 12, umbrellas popped open with loud shouts of “Ga yau!” — a Cantonese cheer meaning “Add oil,” as to a fire. Within hours, the flimsy canopies were flipped sideways and turned into makeshift shields against tear gas and pepper spray fired by local police. They proved less reliable against rubber bullets, however, and might offer no protection at all against the authoritarian forces that loom over the entire island.
But the point was to try.
The protests were hardly the first in the former British colony since it was handed over to China in 1997. The specter of greater control by communist authorities on the mainland had driven Hong Kongers onto the streets in 2003, 2012 and 2014. But this time, the numbers were greater than ever before and the escalation carried at least the sense of a showdown.Photograph by Kin Cheung—AP
The specific issue at hand was a bill that would allow the extradition of fugitives to stand trial in mainland China. The legislation, fast-tracked by the city’s leadership, is widely seen as a threat to the unique freedoms this city of 7 million enjoys. Under the terms of the handover, Hong Kong has operated under a customized model called “one country, two systems,” which gave it a 50-year period of effective self-rule, even though it is part of China. Its history as a lucrative colonial port town left a liberal legacy unique in the People’s Republic.
Hong Kongers have long lived a freer, more cosmopolitan lifestyle than most Chinese, and prejudice against mainlanders is pervasive. Free speech and an independent press are enshrined in the Basic Law that has governed the city since the handover. They’re proud of their distinct cuisine and language, speaking Cantonese rather than the Mandarin more common in greater China.
But critics fear that China’s encroachment may bring an end to all that. Beijing might use the law to nab opponents and submit them to its notoriously opaque justice system, they say. The risk could extend beyond residents, even to visitors who pass through the city’s transit hub. “If Hong Kong’s extradition bill becomes law,” says Sean King, a former U.S. diplomat in Asia and currently senior vice president for the consultancy firm Park Strategies, “I’d think very carefully about visiting again anytime soon.”
In other words, the contest for Hong Kong reflects the stakes for the larger world that China seeks to lead.
The rise of Beijing has been the major global story of the new century. But the very breadth of that ascent and the bland labels of the areas where it has edged toward dominance — trade, infrastructure, finance, tech — have served to mask the nature of the system China brings with it. That system is control.
On the mainland, the system appears to go unchallenged, because control is almost total and cast as conformity. Along with a surveillance state, China’s Communist Party has worked to impose a singular vision of Chinese identity in territories where diversity once thrived. In the far western province of Xinjiang, authorities have detained more than a million ethnic Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in concentration camps where they are forced to adopt secular Chinese customs. In Tibet, the party is systematically erasing a rich Buddhist heritage. President Xi Jinping has revived nationalism as a unifying force, in step with a rising tide of authoritarians around the globe that U.S. President Donald Trump has in many cases embraced.A police officer pepper-sprays demonstrators during a protest against the extradition law proposal on June 10. Lam Yik Fei—The New York Times/ReduxDemonstrators overturn metal barriers on June 10, as protests against the extradition law turn violent. Lam Yik Fei—The New York Times/Redux
Now it appears to be Hong Kong’s turn to feel the heat of a greater power forcing it into conformity — but China’s freest city won’t give in without a fight. Hong Kong has a long history of mass demonstrations. Significantly, just days before the protests erupted, it was host to one of the largest-ever vigils for the victims of Beijing’s bloody 1989 crackdown on democracy activists at Tiananmen Square. It’s the only place on Chinese soil where the massacre is openly commemorated, while government censors try to wipe it from mainland memory. The spirit of the protests snuffed out 30 years before helped inflame the demonstrations seen in Hong Kong.
“We’re furious, we’re angry, some of us are afraid — but we’re here anyway,” says Laurie Wen, a 48-year-old writer who joined this month’s protests. “The thing that infuriates us the most is pointing to the sky during the day and calling it night.”
Hong Kong’s fresh wave of civil disobedience began with a murder. In February 2018, a pregnant 20-year-old woman from Hong Kong was killed by her boyfriend during a trip to Taiwan. The suspect, Chan Tong-kai, then 19, flew back to Hong Kong and has since been jailed for lesser crimes. Unable to prosecute the Hong Kong resident for a murder beyond the city’s jurisdiction and without legal grounds to send him to Taiwan, the city’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, pushed for a bill that would allow Chan to be extradited.
But the legislation raised alarm bells. Hong Kong’s courts and Lam would have the authority to transfer suspects to jurisdictions with which the territory has no extradition agreement — not just Taiwan but also mainland China. This presents a threat not just to criminals but potentially to anyone whose behavior offends the Communist Party leadership, from human-rights advocates to business executives.Police officers stand guard during a protest on June 12. Billy H.C. Kwok—Getty Images
That helps explain why an unusually diverse assemblage of lawyers, students, stay-at-home moms, business-people and others joined the protests against what they see as an existential assault on their rights. On Sunday, June 9, a two-mile stretch of a central avenue was filled with column after column of protesters in a uniform of plain white T-shirts. From above, the mass of slow-moving city dwellers looked like a giant snake sliding through a forest of skyscrapers and wrapping its jaws around Hong Kong’s legislative headquarters.
If the estimates are even close to accurate, the march was the largest protest in the city’s history; organizers say more than a million people — one-seventh of the population — flooded the streets with chants of “No extradition to China!” and “Carrie Lam, step down!”
The reality is, China already feels empowered to grab its adversaries from Hong Kong soil. In 2015, five book-sellers peddling salacious volumes about mainland politics disappeared; all five eventually resurfaced in China. In 2017, a Chinese tycoon was abducted by secret police from one of the city’s luxury hotels. But the extradition bill would render what are now noteworthy exceptions into something entirely routine; if the option to legally extradite people is on the table, Beijing will use it, critics say.Tear gas is released during a protest on June 12. Billy H.C. Kwok—Getty ImagesProtesters raise their hands during a protest on June 12. Billy H.C. Kwok—Getty Images
Chinese officials have spoken out in full support of the legislation, but Lam steadfastly denies that the amendments were Beijing’s idea. “This bill was not initiated by the central people’s government. I have not received any instruction or mandate from Beijing,” Lam told reporters at a press conference on June 10. “We were doing it, and we are still doing it, out of our clear conscience and our commitment to Hong Kong.”
Though Lam’s critics describe her as a “puppet” of the mainland, her protests illustrate the importance of maintaining at least the pretense of independence. The Hong Kong government is still haunted by the massive protests of 2003, which forced it to back down on national-security legislation outlawing sedition and criticism of the Chinese government. Scrapping the bill was perceived as an admission that the government knew it was wrong, and Lam is fearful a repeat would destroy both Beijing’s trust in her loyalty and her legitimacy at home. The last time Hong Kongers took to the street in great numbers, in the 2014 student-led occupation of the financial district that became known as the Umbrella Movement, the authorities here and in Beijing refused to grant concessions. Many student leaders were jailed, and some remain behind bars. If Lam gives in now, Hong Kong will have proved that throngs in the street still have currency in the final free enclave of China.Protesters walk through a cloud of tear gas on June 12. Billy H.C. Kwok—Getty Images
This time, unlike in 2014, the protests have taken on a more violent tenor. On the streets, clashes broke out after some demonstrators hurled bricks and bottles at police. The first clouds of tear gas exploded into the crowds just before 4 p.m. on June 12, sending panicked protesters and journalists fleeing for the safety of malls and parking garages. But the demonstrators are defiant, vowing to defy the government until the legislation is dead in the water.
The business and diplomatic communities have answered the call to support them. More than 100 local businesses committed to joining a labor strike on June 12 — an extremely rare event in Hong Kong — fearing the law could even endanger investors and government employees transiting through Hong Kong.
The government has already shown itself willing to punish private companies for offending Beijing; last year, Financial Times journalist Victor Mallet was denied a working visa after chairing a talk by a pro-independence activist.
Protest leaders have shown no sign of backing down. “We ask everyone to continue staying here to support the demonstration,” Claudia Mo, a lawmaker with the pro-democracy Civic Party yelled to cheering crowds shortly before they were dispersed. “During Occupy Central in 2014, we said, ‘We will be back.’ Today, we say, ‘We are back!’”
Read more: ‘Hong Kong Was My Refuge, Now Its Freedom Is at Stake’Police advance toward protesters outside the government headquarters on June 12. Dale De La Rey—AFP/Getty ImagesDemonstrators transport bricks at a protest site on June 12. Police said some protesters threw bricks at officers. Lucien Lung—Riva Press/Redux
The rift between Beijing and Hong Kong has now been widening for 22 years, and every attempt by the central government to bring Hong Kong further into its fold has triggered panic and protest. This in turn has deepened Beijing’s distrust of Hong Kong, which it sees as disloyal and subject to foreign interference.
News about the latest protests is being heavily censored in China, where state-controlled newspapers have blamed the unrest on “foreign forces” meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs — but experts say it is China’s own interference that may be further alienating its rogue territory.
“By forcing the issue in such an aggressive and abrupt way,” says James Millward, a professor of history at Georgetown University, “China can actually be creating a population in Hong Kong that will dig in and actually redefine itself in opposition to the mainland even more than it has so far.”Protesters shout after police fired tear gas on June 12. Anthony Wallace—AFP/Getty Images
That risks putting the two sides on a more overt collision course. At best, more sustained opposition to Beijing will lead to political deadlock. At worst, it could lead to punishment in whatever form it deems fit.
Beijing’s tolerance of Hong Kong ultimately comes down to a cost-benefit analysis, and the city may be becoming more trouble than it’s worth. In 1993, four years before the handover, the coastal enclave was China’s cash cow — a financial gateway between East and West. At the time, the city accounted for roughly 27% of China’s GDP. But 26 years later, the mainland is awash in mercantile centers made in its own image and Hong Kong accounts for only about 2.9% of the Chinese economy.
“Uncomfortably for Hong Kongers, and everyone who loves Hong Kong, the city finds itself on the front lines of a global battle between a resurgent Chinese Communist Party and a world that adheres to liberal democratic values,” says Ben Bland, director of the Southeast Asia Project at the Lowy Institute and author of Generation HK: Seeking Identity in China’s Shadow. “The systems maintained by these two blocs are incompatible when pressed up against each other.”Police rest on a street during a rally near the government headquarters on June 12. Dale De La Rey—AFP/Getty Images
Hong Kong’s freedoms currently allow it to fight back in ways that other parts of China can’t, but for how long? The state is becoming only more pervasive. -Xinjiang is seen by many as a laboratory for wider application of invasive surveillance. Human-rights groups have reported police methods for harvesting data from Xinjiang residents from phones and ID cards and using it to track and detain supposed threats to public order. “Many people think that Hong Kong may be the next place where it gets rolled out,” says Millward of Georgetown. In the meantime, the memory of Tiananmen — where public protest was ultimately met with tanks and fusillades — is as vivid as it is chilling in Hong Kong.
Like many youths who joined the latest protests, high school student Rachel Liu grew up in a political state scheduled to expire within her lifetime. At 15 years old, she’s tasted the freedom that Hong Kong offers and is afraid of the change an increasingly authoritarian Beijing will bring to the only home she knows. “There are so many officials in China, and they have so much power,” she said. “Even if this amendment doesn’t pass, there will be other amendments, other laws in the future that will bring Hong Kong more and more under China’s control. There’s nothing more important than this movement right now.” — With reporting by Laignee Barron, Aria Chen, Amy Gunia, Abhishyant Kidangoor and Hillary Leung/Hong Kong and Charlie Campbell/Shanghai