News Home » Top Stories » Hong Kong students strike on first day of school

Around the World

Hong Kong students strike on first day of school

Sun Yat-sen -- the first president of the Republic of China -- has a new look.

On Monday, a statue of the revolutionary leader in Queen's College, in Hong Kong's Causeway Bay, was given a hard hat, goggles and a gas mask -- all things that are worn and associated with the city's frontline protesters.

A picture of the statue was tweeted by pro-democracy political party Demosisto, which is co-organizing today's student strike rally.

The tweet references China's 1911 revolution, when Sun's political party overthrew the Qing Dynasty. Sun briefly became the Republic of China's first provisional president, although he was soon exiled.

It's not exactly a nice day for a protest in Hong Kong.

Rain is battering the city, and the bad weather is expected to continue for the rest of the day. Hong Kong Observatory is warning that the city can expect thunderstorms, heavy rain, and gusts of 70km/h (43 miles/hour).

In recent weeks, Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests have seen petrol bombs thrown, tear gas fired, and bonfires lit in central streets. So is it still safe to travel to this Asian financial hub?

  • What other countries are saying: Over 30 countries have issued travel warnings of various levels about visiting the city. Australia, for instance, is warning travelers to exercise a "high degree of caution." The United States is telling visitors to exercise "increased caution."
  • Getting to Hong Kong: Hong Kong's airport -- the 8th busiest in the world -- has been targeted by protesters twice, and 25 flights were cancelled as demonstrators choked access to the airport on Sunday. However, it's still possible to fly in and out of the city without a hitch on most days.
  • Business as usual: In areas away from protests, it's still business as usual. Even when demonstrations are going on, restaurants and bars in other districts are still busy.

Read more about visiting Hong Kong here.

Travellers carry luggages down a highway after protesters blocked transport routes to the Hong Kong International Airport on September 1, 2019 in Hong Kong.
Travellers carry luggages down a highway after protesters blocked transport routes to the Hong Kong International Airport on September 1, 2019 in Hong Kong. Anthony Kwan/Getty Images

Some of Hong Kong's university students are planning to skip class and protest -- but they don't want to give up learning altogether.

Protesters at the city's prestigious Hong Kong University are planning public lectures on Tuesday and Thursday this week on how Hong Kong's protest movement has evolved -- from the 2014 Umbrella Movement to the ongoing pro-democracy demonstrations.

Davin Kenneth Wong, the president of Hong Kong University Student Union, said he was calling on students to boycott classes for at least the next two weeks. "So instead of really boycotting learning, we’re having an option for those who want to boycott class but still want to learn something," he said.

"We think what’s at stake right now -- the social interest at stake -- is much greater than our grades."

Joey Siu, the acting external vice president of City University Students' Union, said skipping classes was quite a big sacrifice for people majoring in certain subjects like medicine or law, which required full attendance.

"Comparatively, the sacrifice isn't that large when you compare to those fighting on the front lines."

After two days of clashes, Hong Kong Secretary of Security John Lee said at a press conference Monday that protesters had shown "signs of terror."

Over the weekend, protesters threw petrol bombs and set fires. In response, police fired tear gas and water cannons. Video footage from Prince Edward subway station in Kowloon showed officers chasing and hitting individuals with batons as they made dozens of arrests. 

In response to questions about police actions at the subway station, Lee said it was important to understand that there had been violent acts that day -- including the throwing of petrol bombs.

"I am proud of the Hong Kong police force -- they remain Asia’s finest," he said, adding that they had "exercised restraint" compared with law enforcement agencies around the world.

He said if the violence was deescalated, police would respond in kind.

"Police action is in reaction to the violent acts that have been targeting them," he said.

Last week saw a sudden wave of arrests on Friday of pro-democracy leaders and lawmakers. Joshua Wong -- a prominent young pro-democracy activist who led the 2014 Umbrella Movement -- was among those arrested.

Although the current ongoing protest movement is leaderless, Wong has been outspoken in his support of the protests since he was released from prison in June, where he had served a sentence related to the 2014 protests. The arrest of Wong and other activists appears to have been an attempt to fulfill an impossible task, taking the head off a leaderless movement.

Wong has been charged with incitement to knowingly take part in unlawful assembly, organizing an unlawful assembly and knowingly taking part in an unauthorized assembly in relation to this year's protests.

In a commentary Sunday, state media agency Xinhua struck an ominous tone, warning that "the end is coming for those attempting to disrupt Hong Kong and antagonize China."

The commentary spelled out three lines which it said "must not be crossed":

  • No one should harm national sovereignty and security
  • No one should challenge the power of the central authorities -- meaning Beijing -- and the authority of Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law
  • No one should "use Hong Kong to infiltrate and undermine" mainland China.

Coverage of the city's protests has been tightly controlled and largely negative in Chinese state-media. A July editorial titled, "Say no to mob violence" in state-owned tabloid the Global Times called for a "zero tolerance" approach to protesters.

Last month, state broadcaster CCTV accused protesters of attempting to murder police and said the unrest "obviously has the color of terrorism" which required the government to "resolutely crack down."

Mainland media outlets also shared video of military exercises in the Chinese city of Shenzhen, just across the border from Hong Kong.

Hong Kong's 13th straight weekend of pro-democracy protests was a dramatic one. Here's what happened...

... on Saturday:

  • Unauthorized protests: After a large pro-democracy march was cancelled, thousands of protesters gathered anyway at sites across central Hong Kong on Saturday. Confrontations between police and protesters turned violent that night, leading to 46 people hospitalized and 63 arrested.
  • Subway clashes: Video footage from Prince Edward subway station in Kowloon showed officers chasing and hitting individuals with batons as they made arrests. Police said people in the station were arrested “on suspicion of destroying and damaging property, keeping explosives, keeping assault weapons and illegal assembly.” The youngest arrested was a 13-year-old in possession of two petrol bombs.
A protester walks before a barricade they set on fire in the Wan Chai district in Hong Kong on August 31, 2019.
A protester walks before a barricade they set on fire in the Wan Chai district in Hong Kong on August 31, 2019.

...and on Sunday:

  • Airport targeted: On Sunday, protesters once again targeted the city's airport -- the 8th busiest in the world. All transport links to and from the airport were cut off for hours, forcing some passengers to walk. Protesters set fire to barricades and the Chinese national flag, and vandalized a nearby subway station.
  • Flights affected: According to the Hong Kong Airport Authority, 25 flights were cancelled on Sunday due to the protests. In August, almost 1,000 flights were affected when protesters occupied the airport for two days.
A protester by a fire set near Hong Kong's airport on September 1, 2019.
A protester by a fire set near Hong Kong's airport on September 1, 2019.

Hong Kong has just seen its 13th consecutive weekend of protests in Hong Kong, and there's no clear end in sight.

Here's what you need to know about the pro-democracy movement:

What protesters want: Mass protests started in June over a controversial bill that would have allowed extradition to mainland China, but have now expanded to include five demands: Fully withdraw the extradition bill, set up an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality, retract the characterization of protests as "riots," release those arrested at protests, and implement universal suffrage in Hong Kong.

Who they are: The movement has seen participants and supporters across all demographics, but those on the front lines are largely young students, teenagers, and millennials. There is no obvious centralized leadership or figureheads within the movement -- protesters pride themselves on being democratic, leaderless, and flexible.

Hundreds of arrests: Police say about 900 people have been arrested since June 9 for a range of offenses, including "taking part in a riot," unlawful assembly, assaulting police officers, resisting arrest and possession of offensive weapons. The youngest person arrested is 12 years old.