As Hong Kong Protests Continue, Businesses And Families See Routines Disrupted

Nov 18, 2019
Originally published on November 18, 2019 6:17 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The stage has been set for another week of violence in Hong Kong.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Yelling in foreign language).

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Yelling in foreign language).

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

CORNISH: Protesters and police clashed over the weekend. One side hurled Molotov cocktails and arrows. The other responded with tear gas and water cannons.

(SOUNDBITE OF EXPLOSION)

CORNISH: As the stakes increase in nearly six months of demonstrations, it's become harder and harder for Hong Kong families and businesses to go about their daily routines. We're joined now by NPR's Julie McCarthy in Hong Kong. And, Julie, let's just begin with the role of universities in these protests 'cause I understand it's essentially centered on college campuses at this point.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: Well, it is. You know, the police started raiding campuses to make arrests, and that led the more radical of the protesters to start battling with them to stop those arrests. And up until very recently, the universities were really regarded as off-limits. They were havens where the student life was protected. The students were considered protected. It was their cocoon, and they would protest on the weekends and dedicate the week to sleep and studying and trying to get a job.

And that changed as their tactics changed, and now they began to make havoc on the weekdays. That is new. And they had more time, and they used it to protest. And it escalated. So before long, the campuses were convulsed, and that's part of what you're seeing.

CORNISH: Tell me about the tension between Hong Kong residents and the Chinese military 'cause I understand the military has been out in the streets helping clean up debris. What are the concerns about their role?

MCCARTHY: Well, there are - many Hongkongers were taken aback by that, and they quote the Basic Law to you on how the PLA, the People's Liberation Army, is supposed to stay in their barracks and not become entangled in local affairs. But they have come out before, most recently to clean up in the aftermath of a huge typhoon. So there's precedent for that, but an act of God is a world away from this highly charged, highly political issue gripping Hong Kong right now. And people said to me, well, they think the PLA may be testing the waters.

CORNISH: Testing the waters for a possible crackdown by Beijing?

MCCARTHY: That's a very live issue here in the minds of a lot of people. For months, the residents of Hong Kong have worried about the deployment of the Chinese army to shut down these protests, and memories of Tiananmen Square are very vivid here. And that's the specter that their appearance really evokes.

CORNISH: But do most people sympathize with the protesters at this point or is there starting to be a backlash wanting them to stop?

MCCARTHY: Well, you know, that's an interesting question. It's kind of a remarkable similarity today how much people are against the police. You know, there's not much of this rebellion, if you want to call it that, that's not on social media. And so episodes of police beating protesters or abusing their power is something that millions of people see, and it's hardened their opinions. It's hardened their faith in the police.

By the same token, the attitudes toward the violence being perpetrated by protesters is also evolving. And suddenly, you're hearing it slip. People are grumbling about the inconveniences to their commute, but they are generally horrified at the idea of protesters fighting other citizens. I think, you know, many people are just afraid that violence is becoming the norm, and they simply don't want that.

CORNISH: Julie, the backdrop to this is there are supposed to be local elections coming up. Is that still going to happen?

MCCARTHY: Well, they may have been thrown in doubt. The government said that the events of this weekend could reduce the chance of holding that district council election next Sunday. The government says that it still wants to go ahead, but it's not promising that they will go ahead. And so like many things right now, it's part of the uncertainty that's hanging over Hong Kong.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Julie McCarthy speaking to us from Hong Kong. Thank you for your reporting.

MCCARTHY: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.