Travelling to Hong Kong usually isn’t a big deal. I was genuinely surprised when DFAT advised travellers needed to exercise a “High Degree of Caution”. Of course, I had seen the protests on TV, but I wasn’t worried. As an international city – a hub – genuine civil unrest in Central Hong Kong seemed as unlikely as riot police being deployed at Pitt Street Mall.
However, for the few days I was there, something seemed different. The streets were emptier, more shops seemed closed and there was a lingering sense of unease.
Civil unrest should not occur in Hong Kong – not at this magnitude and definitely not for this long. Hong Kongers are pragmatic, their city is highly commercial, and theirs is a predominantly ethnically Chinese society that still tightly holds to Confucian values. These emphasise the greater good and respect of hierarchy. Yet demonstrations of a significant scale are occurring.
Why? Is it really about the extradition bill? Yes and no. Over the last two decades, Hong Kong has felt its importance and prosperity diminish. This has fed a growing perception that the central Chinese government is trying to starve the island’s economic opportunity. Some see this as a warning from China for Hong Kong to recognise its true masters, others see this as a way of softening up the island for eventual assimilation.