HONG KONG — Protesters in Hong Kong marched through shopping malls on Sunday targeting businesses with connections to China — or those perceived to be pro-Beijing — as demonstrations in the city stretched into their sixteenth weekend.
The new tactic from demonstrators showed a simmering anger toward the city’s business elites, a relatively small group of tycoons and cronies who have accumulated enormous wealth and political clout, often through cozy relationships with the mainland.
While the contentious extradition bill that sparked the ongoing political crisis was withdrawn earlier this month, Sunday’s demonstrations again illustrated that the deep unhappiness within the city goes far beyond a single piece of legislation and will not be easily — or quickly — resolved.
Hundreds of protesters gathered at New Town Plaza, a multistory shopping mall in the Sha Tin district. Protesters there targeted Chinese-linked businesses like Maxim’s Jade Garden restaurant, flooding the automated reservation system with requests and taping together the receipts to create an ad hoc protest banner.
Maxim’s Caterers Limited, which operates the restaurant, is a major food and beverage conglomerate that runs numerous bakeries and restaurants across Hong Kong, including the Seattle-based coffee chain Starbucks. The company has recently become a target of protesters. Their anger stems from Annie Wu, the daughter of the company founder and a staunch supporter of Beijing, who spoke at the United Nations earlier this month in defense of the Hong Kong government. Her support of the government and police has made her a darling of Chinese-state media.
Tiffany, 25, a kindergarten teacher who took part in Sunday’s demonstration, said Wu was “bending all of the reasons why we come out to the streets. She only sees what the protesters destroy, but she doesn’t see the reasons why.”
Another protester, Peter, 31, a photographer, said Wu “doesn’t understand what’s happening in Hong Kong. She said it [the demonstrations] are destroying peaceful life in Hong Kong. Does she really know what’s happening here?”
Wu spoke at the UN along with Pansy Ho, a billionaire gambling heiress who said protesters had “hijacked the well-intended bill and used it to spread fear among Hong Kongers,” prompting ridicule from demonstrators who said Ho, whose worth Forbes pegs at $4.3 billion, was grossly disconnected from the general population.
At V Walk, another shopping mall in the Sham Shui Po area of Kowloon, dozens of protesters marched past stores chanting “liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our time.” The group quickly laid siege to a Best Mart 360 outlet, a convenience store chain whose owner has deep ties to the southeastern Chinese province of Fujian, forcing the shop to shutter and sending protesters into a victorious roar before they quickly moved along.
“We have to fight in different ways. We have used a lot of methods already, occupying shopping malls is a new one,” said one female protester in her thirties who wore a black mask and said she was alerted to the demonstration after seeing posts on Instagram earlier in the day.
By Sunday evening, the originally peaceful protests again turned violent. Police fired tear gas, and protesters hurled bricks at officers in the streets surrounding New Town Plaza. Flaming piles of palm fronds and cardboard sent plumes of black smoke into the sky.
Plans to disrupt transportation links to Hong Kong International Airport on Sunday, one of the world’s busiest, had circulated on social media and messaging apps in recent days. The airport has been singled out at protesters before and they were successful in causing major flight delays and cancellations.
On Sunday, however, police deployed dozens of riot police to the main train station servicing the airport as a precaution. Officers dressed in green fatigues, some carrying shotguns and tear gas launchers, stood in groups throughout the station.
Officials preemptively reduced rail and bus service to the airport in an attempt to stop large numbers of protesters from making it to the airport to carry out their “stress test.” While the original plans appeared to be scuttled, many protesters said they were amused, and counted it as a victory, that police deployed such a huge amount of resources only to have demonstrations pop up elsewhere.
Sunday’s protests capped yet another weekend of unrest in the semiautonomous territory that has been in tumult for months started by a now withdrawn bill that would have allowed for extraditions to mainland China.
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s deeply unpopular chief executive, withdrew the bill earlier this month, but by then the scope of the protests had widened dramatically and are now focused more broadly on Beijing’s tightening hold on Hong Kong, as well as the use of force by police. Nearly 1,500 people — as young as 12 and as old as 83 — have been arrested since June, according to police.
On Saturday, police and protesters again clashed with pockets of violence popping up in numerous locations starting from the evening and lasting through the night. Police said they did not have a number of arrests from Saturday’s demonstrations, however at least one 13-year-old girl was arrested in connection with the burning of the Chinese national flag. Sunday evening police said she had been granted bail.
Protesters frequently target the flag and other Chinese symbols. Recently, the term “Chinazi” has been popularized by protesters to deride China. Stickers with the term, some with swastikas, were plastered around New Town Plaza on Sunday. Protesters again directed their frustrations at the flag with an impromptu conga line of demonstrators gleefully dancing on a flag in the middle of the mall.
Police also condemned protesters from Saturday for attacking an officer and attempting to “snatch” his revolver. This was an apparent reference to a scene captured by public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong, which showed a group of around six protesters attempting to free another demonstrator who was caught by police.
The group beat the officer with rods and umbrellas, one protester grabbed the officer’s baton and used it to repeatedly hit the downed officer. Another protester can be seen pulling at the officer’s weapon but was unable to free it before being chased off by other officers.