Violent protests continued in Hong Kong for a third day on Wednesday, crippling transport links and clogging roads, and prompting many major companies in the city, including HSBC and BNP Paribas, to instruct employees to stay home from work to avoid the risk of physical harm.
And in anticipation of more violence tomorrow,the Hong Kong Education Bureau has said that all kindergartens, primary schools, secondary schools and special education needs schools will cancel class on Thursday for safety reasons, according to an official statement. Most universities in Hong Kong have suspended classes until next week or converted them to online-only for the rest of the semester. And after the clashes from earlier this week, more than 80 mainland Chinese students have been evacuated for their own safety.
Protesters set up an elaborate roadblock on Wednesday in the city's Central district, a direct attack on one of the city's main business hubs, while also disrupting travel on other major thoroughfares in Kowloon Tong, Yuen Long and Tai Po.
According to Reuters, about 1,000 protesters were busy manning the roadblocks come lunchtime. Some hurled bricks at luxury-brand stores and other prime real-estate.
"It’s now 4th June 1989," was scrawled on the windows of fashion store Georgio Armani, a reference to the crackdown by Chinese troops on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.
As the violence escalates, a video has surfaced briefly online purportedly showing a man lying motionless on the ground in Sheung Shui as a group of black-clad protesters can be seen hurling bricks. The man's condition is believed to be "very bad", or near fatal, according to the SCMP.
Another video showed a man shouting at police in English.
A man confronts police, saying in English: "You, commander, bring disgrace to the uniform you are wearing." Two officers warn him in Cantonese not to incite the crowd— SCMP Hong Kong (@SCMPHongKong) November 13, 2019
Video: SCMP/Chris Lau pic.twitter.com/XoZ0drn8Xj
In other news, Hong Kong police addressed an incident that took place Tuesday when police raided the Chinese University of Hong Kong because they believed it was being used as a staging ground to create petrol bombs being used by demonstrators. Police didn't find any evidence of this, and the incident has badly affected relations between police and the public.
Police spokesman Tse Chun-chung said Wednesday that the action was taken after riot police guarding a pedestrian bridge next to the campus came under repeated attack.
"Rioters’ violence reached a very dangerous and even deadly level,” Tse said, adding that he suspected that some university campuses were being used to manufacture the petrol bombs. The police have every right to crack down on "rioters and criminals," he said.
"Nowhere in Hong Kong is a lawless land."
Of course, with the protests now stretching into the work week, previously neutral territory, many analysts are wondering: What comes next for Hong Kong? Protesters have paralyzed the city for the third straight day.
The turmoil marks an important shift: With Hong Kong's economy already in recession, protests on weekdays are a serious threat to the city's business community. And increasingly, the protesters' numbers have dwindled to a small group of hard-core individuals who have no qualms about battling the police in the streets.
The burst of violence has sent Hong Kong stocks to 3-week lows, stoking anxieties ahead of a secondary offering from Alibaba.
Hong Kong CEO Carrie Lam has sought to assuage residents' concerns by insisting that the city and its police force can contain the violence. Lam has insisted that her government won't cave to any more of the protesters demands. And with elections set for later this month, the clock is ticking.
Meanwhile, Communist Party-controlled media has hinted about the possibility of Beijing employing "direct intervention" under the Basic Law. Mainland media has already accused the "black-clad rioters" of acting like "terrorists". To be sure, fears of Chinese intervention have persisted for months, yet the central government has held back (despite reports of pro-Beijing forces massing across the border in Shenzen).
In its latest statement, Beijing accused the demonstrators of falling prey to a sense of "hormone-fuelled" rebellion.
"It is foolish and naive to believe that Hong Kong would be better off by eliminating all mainland factors. Particularly, since the mainland is the main source of fresh water, electricity and the largest supplier of food to the city."
Over in the US, Congressional leaders like Mitch McConnell have vowed to work on legislation supporting pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong. The bill would subject the city’s special US trading status, which for decades has functioned as Hong Kong's gateway to the capitalist west, to annual reviews, and would also allow for sanctions against officials deemed responsible for undermining Hong Kong's "fundamental freedoms and autonomy," according to Bloomberg. Unsurprisingly, Beijing has sharply opposed the law.
But back in Hong Kong, analysts are still wrestling with the fact that the anti-government sentiment is profound enough to allow the protests to continue.
"There has been a gradual escalation," said Joseph Cheng, a retired political science professor and pro-democracy activist. "But the mood so far is still very much against the government, and that explains why the disruptions on weekdays are still being tolerated."
For now, we wait to see whether Beijing moves to cancel the upcoming elections, which are due to take place on Nov. 24.