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Dublin: 7 °C Friday 18 October, 2019
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'We wouldn’t like to see Tiananmen Square happen again' - Hong Kong citizens in Ireland on why they support the protests

Hong Kongers in Ireland believe there is no end in sight for protesters.

Protesters at Hong Kong airport on 12 August.
Protesters at Hong Kong airport on 12 August.
Image: Vincent Thian

MILLIONS OF PEOPLE in Hong Kong have been taking to the streets to protest an extradition bill for over two months now. 

Hong Kong (HK) airport was taken over by protesters earlier this week, delaying and cancelling hundreds of flights. In June, an estimated two million people took part in a massive street protest. 

However, this is also about more than the bill. The protesters are calling for the HK Chief Executive Carrie Lam to resign, along with five other demands

TheJournal.ie spoke with people from Hong Kong who are living in Ireland about the protests and the future for democracy in the place many call home. 

Tom

Tom, who did not want to use his full name, has been living in Ireland for several years. He remains passionate about the protests in Hong Kong.

He has not returned to the city since 2014 and says it has changed “quite a bit” since then. 

“We wouldn’t like to see Tiananmen Square happen again, but where is it going to end?

“Some of the protesters, they are desperate. They are thinking, ‘If I’m going to die anyway, kill me quickly now and let the whole world see it’.”

Several apparent suicides have been reported in which those who died potentially mentioned the protests since they began in June. 

“China are not worried about the death of the people, they are just worried about the economy.

“A very small amount are fighting for Hong Kong independence. Very few people want this because we need trade with China,” he said. 

'Umbrella Revolution' Hong Kong Protests Pro-democracy protesters try to occupy Lung Wo Road in the district of Admiralty in an attempt to surround government offices in 2014. Source: Guillaume Payen

Pimpho*

Pimpho is originally from Hong Kong but has been living in Ireland for most of his life. He has taken part in some protests, including the June demonstration attended by an estimated two million people and the 2014 Umbrella Revolution protests. 

“The umbrella protests petered out and there were no government concessions,” he said.

“This time it’s different. This isn’t because of universal suffrage or a truly democratic government. This time, it was because of the chief executive’s proposal for a new extradition bill.

“This is where the anger and contempt stems from.”

The Umbrella Revolution saw tens of thousands of pro-democracy protesters holding large scale sit-ins on busy streets and demonstrations outside government headquarters in 2014.

“The umbrella movement was mainly with younger people. But this time, you have younger and older generations getting involved.

People are coming out in the sweltering heat and high levels of humidity to protest.

He said that not many people in Ireland seem to understand what is going on in Hong Kong right now. 

“I see people in Ireland making jokes and taking screenshots of their TVs reporting on the violence and making sarcastic jokes.” 

He is one of several who believe the protests may continue for much longer.

“It has to get worse before it gets better… I think it could become a modern day Tiananmen Square.

“China didn’t care as much at that time about the view of the international community, but now they do.

“The protesters aren’t backing down, the government isn’t backing down – where is it going to end?

“The streets are quieter nowadays. At night, no one goes out because you don’t know who you’re going to meet.”

I never could have imagined Hong Kong turning out like this.

Hazel Ip

Ip moved to Ireland in 2015 and said the current protests are something she has “never seen before”.

“I don’t think this is a well-known issue in Ireland,” she said. “I see it on the news now, but the reason is not always explained.”

Ip was involved in a Hong Kong solidarity protest outside the GPO in June attended by around 20 or 30 people. 

“Hong Kong people are known to be forgetful when it comes to political issues [but] it is very important to Hong Kong people now to keep this going,” she said, describing how the protesters saw the opportunity as “something more important than just the bill itself”. 

She described the incident on 21 July as a “turning point”. On that day, a crowd of men in white shirts attacked anti-government protesters in a metro station in Yuen Long.

Demonstrators accused police of not acting quickly enough, or at all, to prevent the incident. Police officers admitted afterwards that there were gaps in their response to the events. 

“People started to get involved [in the protests after that] because of the police violence,” Ip said. 

“Police are supposed to protect people, but they are not doing that because they disagree with the protesters.”

Hong Kong Protests Protesters at Hong Kong International airport on 12 August. Source: Kin Cheung

Adrian Lok

Lok has been living in Ireland for the past 10 years. He is supportive of the protests and hopes the extradition bill is fully withdrawn. 

This bill would allow accused criminal suspects in HK to be extradited to mainland China, Taiwan and Macau. Protesters fear this could be used to extradite HK citizens who speak out against China and bring them to the mainland for punishment.  

“It seems like the government is trying to make the public think it is total chaos,” said Lok. 

“China is a lot different now to the 1989 Tiananmen Square incident, they have a lot more to lose in terms of global trade.”

The Tiananmen Square protests in 1989 were demonstrations led by students in Beijing which led to military involvement and a large number of people being killed.

Details of this incident have been limited and the Communist Party of China does not allow the event to be discussed. Several people told TheJournal.ie they feared these protests could escalate to the same level.

“The protesters are coming in from all spectrums. I don’t think it is all young people anymore,” he said. 

“After 2014, people were more open to the idea that if you are fighting for something, there will be violence. They tried the fully peaceful protests and they didn’t work.”

Lok was involved in protests in Ireland at the time of the 2014 Umbrella Revolution, but he has not engaged with the recent GPO sit-ins. 

He said this is due in part to rumours spread after the 2014 protests that the Chinese Embassy was using facial recognition software on the images of the GPO protesters to identify those opposed to China. 

Lok said the group removed their Facebook pages and pictures as a result of fears about this. 

Bowie

Bowie, who did not want to use her full name, has been living in Ireland for the past 10 years and recently went back to Hong Kong for a visit. She was there at the time of the Yuen Long incident in the train station. 

“The next day, I went to go to the local shopping mall and it was very strange. All the shops were closed down and everybody was afraid to go out and get public transport,” she said. 

“The majority of HK people don’t really go to protests more than once a year against the government… This time is very different.

“The violence side is not coming solely from the protesters, it is from the police and government.”

Bowie says that Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam is “only giving out to the protesters” rather than trying to solve the issue and address the demands. 

Lam has been holding regular press conferences in recent weeks where she has been accused of avoiding questions.

The protesters have a list of five demands, along with the resignation of Lam. 

  • A complete withdrawal of the extradition bill
  • Charges dropped against protesters who were arrested
  • The government retracting its use of ‘riot’ to refer to the protests 
  • An independent investigation into police brutality
  • Implementation of universal suffrage 

“Hong Kong is a very high density city. It is not suitable for police to use tear gas there,” said Bowie. 

The Civil Human Rights Front—civil society groups that have organised several major protest rallies— has announced its plans for another large scale march this Sunday. 

“I hope the government can hear people having a voice… China doesn’t seem to be helping and the HK government is not even listening,” she added.

“I think lots of people like me who are living overseas can only help by signing online petitions and showing support. 

“The government has the power to solve the problems, not the protesters.

“I don’t like fighting. I don’t want people to be hurt, it’s very sad. I don’t know how they can make it happen, but I wish them the best in reaching a conclusion.”

Many people have been injured in the protests so far, including a woman who was shot in the eye with an alleged beanbag round. She has become a figurehead for many protesters. 

ADDITION APTOPIX Hong Kong Protests Protesters at Hong Kong airport on 12 August. Source: Vincent Thian

Lucy*

Hong Konger Lucy has been living abroad for half her life, but says she fully supports the protests back home.

“The last couple of months, my work colleagues can tell I am a little bit down,” she said. 

“Some people would just kind of sympathise, but they wouldn’t know fully what’s going on.

She said that some of the older people she knows in Hong Kong haven’t been taking sides, but she doesn’t see this as an option now. Lucy has attended some of the GPO sit-ins and said the group got a few good responses from people on the issue. 

“There was a bus driver going past our sit-in and he beeped at us and gave us a thumbs up… The world can see now that China is interfering in Hong Kong.

“Every time there is a police press conference or any media gathering with police, it creates chaos and encourages people to protest more because they want to know what’s going on.

“It will keep going until they get their demands,” she said.  

Peg Chiu

Chiu moved away from Hong Kong several years ago, but a lot of her family members remain in the city. 

“I am angry at the government. They aren’t handing the situation well at all,” she said.  

“My family home is in Wong Tai Sin, which got tear gassed.”

Protesters and police clashed in this area earlier this month, leading to tear gas, rubber bullets, sponge grenades and pepper spray used by police 

Hong Kong Protests Police fire tear gas into a crowd in Wong Tai Sin on 3 August. Source: AP/PA Images

“When I talk with my friends, they do know what is going on. Just not enough,” said Chiu. 

“I think the most important thing is the government. The Chief Executive needs to respond to the needs of the people.

She really needs to respect the voice of two million people.

“One of my friends got delayed in the airport protests, but they don’t blame the protesters. They blame the government,” said Chiu. 

Sunny

Sunny has been living in Ireland for a few months and was involved in Hong Kong protests in the past. 

“At first, the protests were peaceful but now it is more aggressive because we tried more peaceful ways and the government didn’t listen,” he said. 

“Protesters really want to pressure the government and let people know what is going on in Hong Kong.

“The government is trying to paint a picture that the protesters are all rioters, and I don’t think that is the case.”

Sunny, who did not want to use his full name, was also involved in some of the Dublin sit-ins on the issue.

“We have no real experience in politics or anything… But we felt the strong need to show up and let people know what is going on.

“We used to feel from previous protests that the government was at least listening, but as of now, I don’t think that’s the case any longer.

“I have confidence in the people of Hong Kong that they will keep fighting,” he said. 

Back in Hong Kong, his friends and family are divided between pro-democracy and pro-China.

“I have a lot of friends similar to my age who, for some reason, are pro-violence and pro-government. I don’t understand it,” he said. 

Finbarr Bermingham

On the other side, Irish journalist Finbarr Bermingham has been working in Hong Kong for the past five years. He said his life has not been hugely impacted by the protests, but they are hard to watch. 

“The protests escalated this week… the number of violent images really took peoples’ attention,” he said. 

“For most people, the disruption to daily life has been minimal.

It has been hard to watch a lot of times.

“I do get WhatsApp messages from friends and family asking me about what’s going on when I wake up after they have watched the evening news.”

“It’s a very complex situation… It’s happening at a very tricky time.”

He says that a lot of the tension as the protests continue arises from the inaction of Hong Kong officials in the protests, the perceived overreach of the Chinese government and the footage of police brutality at the protests.

“It has been very well covered by the local media here… The protests don’t just stumble from neighbourhood to neighbourhood. It’s very confined,” he said. 

*Real name has been changed 

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