Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Hong Kong’s Summer of Discontent
Hong Kong’s Summer of Discontent

Hong Kong’s Summer of Discontent

This is a condensed version of an article that be published in the Fall 2019 issue of Orbis, titled “Hong Kong’s Summer of Discontent: Another Battle in the Long War over Autonomy, Democracy, and the Rule of Law.”

In the summer of 2019, Hong Kong once again plunged into political crisis over a legal issue.  Veteran observers across a wide political spectrum characterized it as the worst such episode in Hong Kong in many decades.[1]  It was the latest battle in a long-running war over interrelated issues of autonomy, democracy, and the rule of law.  As on other occasions following Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule in 1997, and with antecedents in earlier times, the struggle was between two sides holding fundamentally different notions of law and governance that underlay, and transcended, the disputes of the moment.

This time, the focus was proposed legislation that would authorize Hong Kong’s government to hand over to Mainland Chinese authorities those whom the latter identified as criminal suspects.  Colloquially referred to as an extradition bill, the proposed law formally was the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance (Amendment) Bill 2019.[2]  It would permit transfers to many other jurisdictions in addition to the Mainland China.  Indeed, the head of Hong Kong’s government, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, had presented the bill as necessary to permit extradition to Taiwan in a highly publicized case involving one member of a young Hong Kong couple who had murdered the other—over an alleged affair—during a trip to Taiwan.  The bill promised to limit extradition’s reach to a specific list of crimes that did not include political offenses or several commercial offenses, and provided for judicial review of government decisions to accede to Beijing’s requests for extradition.

For the bill’s opponents, such features and the Hong Kong government’s assurances were insufficient.  In their view, the legislation represented another in a series of moves undercutting foundational commitments set forth in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration that undertook the territory’s return to China, and in the Basic Law that serves as the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s mini-constitution: Hong Kong would enjoy autonomy in governance and continuity of its prior ways, including its rule of law.[3]  The extradition bill came against the backdrop of Hong Kong’s 2014 Occupy Central movement (or the Umbrella Movement, as its contentious public protest phase became known), which had arisen in reaction to Beijing’s rejection of demands for more democratic procedures to select Hong Kong’s Chief Executive.  The legislation was pushed by the Chief Executive who was chosen in 2017 through an unreformed process.[4]  Especially in this context, the proposed law resonated with critics’ arguments that another key promise—Hong Kong’s progress toward democratic governance—was being betrayed through the extradition bill.

After smaller public demonstrations and deepening disputes in the legislature (including a scuffle among members) in the spring of 2019, large-scale street protests against the extradition legislation began in June and continued for weeks, with perhaps as many as two million people—more than one-quarter of Hong Kong’s population—participating at their peak on June 16.  Although mostly peaceful, the protests led to sporadic—and, over time, escalating—violence.  The use of force by the police included pepper spray, tear gas, non-lethal projectiles, and beatings with batons and riot gear shields.  Accidental falls and suicides claimed the lives of a few opponents of the bill.  On the July 1 anniversary of Hong Kong’s reversion, one group of young protesters briefly seized the chambers of the Legislative Council (the body that would have passed the legislation), breaking doors to gain entry, and emblazoning walls with slogans critical of the government and the proposed law. 

Facing widespread public opposition and mounting concerns about the economic and political consequences of continued disruption in usually orderly Hong Kong, Chief Executive Lam first announced a suspension of consideration of the bill in mid-June and, on July 9, confirmed that the legislation was “dead.”  She vowed to do a better job of taking public opinion into account, but she refused other demands, including formal withdrawal of the bill, her resignation, an independent inquiry into police behavior toward the protesters, and a reversal of the government’s characterization of some of the more chaotic and violent moments in the movement as illegal “riots” for which participants might be prosecuted.[5]  The crisis deepened as protesters added renewed calls for democratic elections to their list of unmet demands.  Demonstrations spread to other parts of Hong Kong, along with violence among police, some demonstrators, and, on July 21, attacks on protesters and bystanders by assailants believed to be from Hong Kong’s notorious triad criminal gangs—attacks that drew what was widely denounced as an inadequate response from police and the government.  More street protests, large-scale sit-ins at the airport (leading to shutdowns), and acts of civil disobedience followed.[6]  By mid-August, a spiral of rising violence had set in, and Chinese sources ominously began to characterize some protesters’ activities as showing “signs of terrorism.”[7]

Déjà vu All Over Again

For longtime observers, the extradition bill-related confrontation between the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) government—and Beijing—on one side, and protesters and their supporters within and beyond the SAR on the other side, reprised a familiar pattern.  The conflict over the extradition legislation prompted comparisons to Occupy Central in 2014 and the controversy over proposed anti-sedition legislation in 2003.  It echoed other incidents of the post-reversion period as well, including (but not limited to) the ouster in 2016 of democratically elected members of the Legislative Council for not taking their oaths of office properly, and the proposal in 2012 for “patriotic education” in Hong Kong schools.

The extradition bill resembled the anti-sedition legislation and the patriotic education plan in some key respects.  To critics in Hong Kong, all three appeared to be efforts to use local law to extend Beijing’s reach—and the political values of the People’s Republic of China (PRC)—into the SAR, signaling an incremental erosion and growing betrayal of China’s promise of a “one country, two systems” model for Hong Kong.  The anti-sedition law would have authorized sanctions for “act[s] of treason, secession, sedition, [or] subversion” against the PRC, and raised concerns that the law would be used to punish a wide range of Hong Kong individuals and organizations critical of the PRC.  The patriotic education program threatened to mandate public school curricula that would give a highly favorable portrayal of the Chinese Communist Party, criticize multi-party democracy, and seek to instill Chinese national pride among Hong Kongers.  For its opponents, the extradition bill raised similar concerns that Mainland authorities would use it to quash—or at least chill—dissidents and critics of the PRC regime who were in Hong Kong.

The SAR government and, at times, Beijing framed all three prospective undertakings as unremarkable exercises of local governmental power.  In the view pushed by the SAR government, the proposed anti-sedition legislation (formally called the National Security (Legislative Provisions) Bill 2003) was mandated by article 23 of the Hong Kong Basic Law and proscribed behaviors that all states’ laws punished in some form.  The plan for a patriotic education program (formally called a “moral and national education curriculum”) was similarly framed as unexceptional government action on an issue that government policies and rules address in many polities.  In much the same vein, the Hong Kong government sought to present the extradition bill as legislation that would deal with a practical problem: handling criminal suspects who fled between Hong Kong and China (as well as other jurisdictions with which Hong Kong did not have extradition agreements).

More simply and significantly, the anti-sedition legislation and patriotic education plan both foundered in the face of large-scale public protests and other manifestations of strong opposition in Hong Kong.  The extradition legislation suffered a similar fate.

The protests over the extradition bill also resonated—albeit in more complicated ways—with Occupy Central and the disqualification of Legislative Council members-elect for improper oathtaking.  In both of those controversies, a formal interpretation of Hong Kong’s Basic Law by the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC-SC) had rejected more expansive versions of democracy in Hong Kong.  The Occupy Central agenda and the protests of the Umbrella Movement were, in many ways, progenitors of the anti-extradition law effort.  The movements in 2014 and 2019 both included mass protests (by extensively overlapping groups), high levels of participation and leadership by Hong Kong’s young people, takeovers of areas around the Legislative Council, government offices, and, later, more far-flung parts of Hong Kong, police uses of force against participants (which the protesters parried with umbrellas that gave the 2014 movement its name), the Hong Kong government’s condemnation of protesters’ actions as riots, the prospect of prosecution of movement leaders (which occurred after Occupy Central, and the foregoing of which became a key demand of the anti-extradition bill protesters), and much criticism of the government’s handling of the issues.  So, too, the moves to disqualify the legislators over oathtaking similarly brought protesters to the streets (albeit more briefly and in smaller numbers) and drew condemnation from pan-democrats and parts of Hong Kong’s legal community.

The legal contexts and political issues were less evidently analogous to those in 2019, but the connections are significant.  The Umbrella Movement protests were triggered by the NPC-SC’s Interpretation rejecting calls from Hong Kong pro-democracy groups and political leaders—and, specifically, Occupy Central—to democratize the system for selecting the Chief Executive in 2017.[8]  Reformers called for a “civic nomination” process that would open electoral competition to less pro-Beijing candidates and allow universal suffrage to choose a winner from among the nominees.  When more modest reforms favored by the Hong Kong government (and evidently acceptable to Beijing) were stymied by pan-democrats in the legislature and the emerging social movement, the NPC-SC’s Interpretation rejecting the democratizers’ plan meant that the next Chief Executive, like her predecessors, would be chosen by a narrow selectorate of 1,200 members who could be expected to produce a choice acceptable to China. 

In the oath-taking controversy, candidates who had prevailed in races for six seats (among the 35 of 70 seats in the legislature subject to fully democratic elections) were disqualified because they intentionally misspoke their Basic Law-mandated oaths of office in order to express criticisms (variously, of the PRC regime and Hong Kong’s lack of democracy and self-determination).  Hong Kong courts held that the legislators were barred from office after the NPC-SC interpreted article 104 of the Basic Law as mandating disqualification when members-elect did not recite their oaths “in a sincere and solemn manner with accurate, complete and solemn phrases” as stated in the statutory text (and with no opportunity for reinstatement by later reciting the oath properly).[9]

The extradition bill controversy did not involve a formal interpretation of the Basic Law, nor did it directly implicate issues of democracy.  Still, for critics of the SAR and PRC regimes, Beijing’s decisions on the Chief Executive selection process and the unseating of elected legislators were examples of the type of expanding overreach by the central government into Hong Kong politics and governance that also characterized the extradition law (as well as the anti-sedition legislation and patriotic education plan).  Negative assessments of the Hong Kong courts’ role in disqualifying elected representatives on the basis of the NPC-SC’s interpretation of the Basic Law and convicting and imprisoning leaders of Occupy Central (which had opposed an earlier NPC-SC interpretation of the Basic Law) also presaged criticism of the extradition law as a threat to undermine the robust rule of law and independent judiciary that Hong Kong long had enjoyed, that had been promised for the Hong Kong SAR, and that in recent years had seemed increasingly under siege.

By mid-July 2019, the protests against the then-“dead” extradition bill had added to their agenda calls for progress on democratization, specifically changes to the selection process for the Chief Executive, the rejection of which led to Occupy Central and the Umbrella Movement.

The Worsening Context of Conflict over Law and Politics in Hong Kong

The conflict over proposed legislation to authorize extradition from Hong Kong to Mainland China resulted in a near-term, incomplete win for the movement that took to the streets to oppose the bill, to support Hong Kong’s autonomy, including its distinctive rule of law, and to renew demands for democracy in Hong Kong.  Stiffening intransigence from the SAR and PRC governments, spiraling violence between police and demonstrators, mounting threats of severe and widespread legal sanctions against protesters, and an emerging prospect that the central government would intervene to “restore order” showed that any such victory would be costly and might prove pyrrhic.  The confrontation that roiled Hong Kong during the summer of 2019 was the latest—and surely not the last—in a series of controversies over legal and political-institutional questions in Hong Kong that have erupted since Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 and that have antecedents in struggles during the late colonial years over Hong Kong’s then-impending future as a Special Administrative Region of the PRC.  Despite two decades of often-dramatic developments, there has been much continuity in the opposing sides’ fundamentally different and irreconcilable conceptions of domestic and international law and related questions of political order.

The context of these clashes has been changing in ways that may be making conflicts more severe and intractable.  For Hong Kong opponents of the extradition bill and advocates for Hong Kong autonomy, democracy, and rule of law more broadly, the promise of “two systems” has been eroding, Hong Kong’s colonial rule-of-law legacy has been under mounting threat of becoming “Mainlandized,” and hope for progress toward fully democratic governance has been dashed again and again.[10]  These perceptions and experiences have underlain the recent emergence of a more radical, still-small, and surely futile movement for Hong Kong independence as well as a turn in some quarters to more violent methods of protest.  With the battle over the extradition bill and recent kindred struggles, the already-low legitimacy of the Chief Executive and the SAR government has reached a nadir among significant segments of Hong Kong society, including the younger generation.  The once-positive reputation of the Hong Kong police was badly tarnished in many quarters by uses of force against protesters and the lack of an adequate police response to (and charges of police collaboration with) the masked men who brutally attacked demonstrators and ordinary passengers at a mass transit station in late July 2019.[11]  This taint spread to the government more generally as Lam and other officials repeatedly defended police actions and offered seemingly equivalent condemnation of minor property destruction and sporadic violence by protesters in initial confrontations with police, on one side, and violence by police and the thuggish gang assault on peaceful demonstrators and bystanders, on the other.[12]  Here, again, the extradition law controversy strongly echoed, and seemed to amplify, patterns from the Umbrella Movement. 

The fear and belief that the PRC’s repressive ways of dealing with political dissent would surely reach Hong Kong have become widespread.  This view was reflected in tactics adopted by the anti-extradition law protesters to avoid the surveillance state: donning facemasks to hide from surveillance cameras, buying single-ride subway tickets and burner cellphones to evade electronic tracking, passing written notes among themselves and posting statements on physical “[John] Lennon Walls” rather than using Instagram, Twitter, WeChat, Facebook, and the like, and largely eschewing identifiable leaders in order to frustrate the government’s tactic of prosecuting prominent figures to decapitate the opposition and deter their followers (even though this meant foregoing the advantages of charismatic young “faces of the movement” that had energized Occupy Central). 

The conflict over the proposed extradition legislation, again building on the legacy of the Umbrella Movement, seems to have reinforced cleavages in Hong Kong society, between ardent (and often young) advocates of liberal norms and democratic change, on one side, and, on the other side, Hong Kongers (often older people) who are opposed to disruption.  In a society of immigrants from the Mainland and their descendants, the move by some in the anti-extradition law movement to play to popular resentment toward recently arrived, economically threatening, and largely unassimilated Mainland-origin Chinese could reinforce another axis of social division.  So, too, could official PRC and SAR statements’ and pro-regime sources’ demonization of protesters as violent revolutionaries or terrorists who would destroy Hong Kong and undermine Chinese sovereignty.  One of the few points of agreement in Hong Kong’s increasingly polarized society is that Hong Kong’s society is indeed highly polarized and at risk for escalating violence over legal-political issues.

As observers and participants have noted, Hong Kong critics of the SAR regime and the central government may have drawn lessons from their success in challenging the extradition bill (as well as the ups and downs of Occupy Central) that are conducive to heightened conflict.  Recent experience may have taught that highly confrontational and sometimes violent methods, including on-the-streets clashes with police and even martyr-creating deaths, are the best—or only—path to success or offer the only hope for success.[13]  The starkly unaccommodating positions and increasingly repressive measures of the SAR and central governments may fail to alter those perceptions and, indeed, may reinforce them for some Hong Kongers.

Any expectation of effective pressure from the international community has seemed to grow less plausible with each round of confrontation over legal and political-institutional change in Hong Kong.  Under President Trump, the United States has weakened notably its always-tepid or ambivalent commitment to human rights and related values in foreign policy, including toward China, Hong Kong, and the 2019 protests in Hong Kong.  With long-waning power abroad and a long-running political crisis at home, the UK is an ever-less-formidable factor in influencing Hong Kong’s future.  The track record of foreign efforts to support dissident and pro-democracy causes in China more generally has been on a downward trajectory since the dramatic days of international outrage at the Tiananmen massacre—which had done much to shape the drafting of Hong Kong’s Basic Law—and the departing British colonial authorities’ eleventh-hour efforts to use their fast-dwindling authority to shore up the rule of law and sow seeds of democratization in Hong Kong.

For Beijing, the course of the conflict over the extradition law added another piece of evidence for the mounting case that China cannot rely on the SAR government to govern Hong Kong competently and on terms acceptable to Chinese central authorities.  The Lam government’s handling of the issue—with the Chief Executive drawing weak support or pointed criticism from much of the pro-Beijing Hong Kong political and business establishment, declaring the bill dead, and acknowledging failure and a flawed process—had put Beijing and official PRC sources through the awkward (and surely frustrating) spectacle of expressing support for the legislation, backing the SAR government’s condemnation of the protests, supporting the abandonment of the legislation, vacillating visibly about how much to back Lam, and expressing alarm and outrage—and even raising the remote prospect of forcible intervention—in response to the scale, energy, and anti-China tone of the protests. 

According to reports denied by her government, Lam had sought to resign, only to be rebuffed by Chinese authorities who likely appreciated the additional crisis that her ouster could trigger in Hong Kong.[14]  In the relatively unlikely event that Lam remains in office (as she has insisted she will), the extradition legislation mess has made her look like the latest in an unbroken series of evidently failed Hong Kong Chief Executives, including Tung Chee-hwa (whose unsuccessful push for anti-sedition legislation was widely seen as a debacle and who resigned after a troubled response to the SARS crisis), Donald Tsang (who left office under a cloud of allegations of financial impropriety, leading to his conviction on charges of misconduct in office), and C. Y. Leung (whose handling of Occupy Central and the pro-democratization drive left him in low standing in Hong Kong and with Beijing, denying him nomination for a second term).

Beijing surely has lost much of the confidence it once had that Hong Kong is an “economic city” (one increasingly integrated with the Mainland through investment, immigration, and infrastructure) and not  a “political city,” or that Hong Kong would become less troublesome with the fading of the generation of British-colonial-influenced, cosmopolitan political leaders (many of them lawyers), who pressed for strong rule of law, extensive autonomy, and near-term democratization during the periods preceding and following Hong Kong’s retrocession.  Following on the Umbrella Movement, the protests against the extradition law underscored that many in a new generation, who had grown up under Chinese rule, were passionately committed to democracy, autonomy, and the rule of law.  For Beijing and the SAR government, the younger generation of Hong Kong activists are in some ways more problematic than their elders.  They have been more willing to turn to radical means.  Rather than seeing pursuit of democratic politics as a risk to material prosperity, many youthful participants (and older ones as well) in the anti-extradition law protests (and other recent movements) have discerned links between their disappointing economic prospects and Hong Kong’s lack of democracy and political autonomy.  Compared to the pan-democrat politicians of an earlier era who often struggled to connect with voters and the public beyond relatively well-off and well-educated Hong Kongers, the young and youngish leaders who came to the forefront in Occupy Central and the anti-extradition law protests have shown a greater, if uneven, ability to draw support—or at least sympathy—from a wider swath of a society that has become increasingly disenchanted with the SAR and PRC governments.

Finally, China under Xi Jinping shows signs of being less accommodating toward its critics in Hong Kong (and elsewhere).  This point was underscored in late July and August 2019 by the PRC and SAR governments’ hyperbolic denunciation of demonstrators’ defacing of the national emblem and flag as a challenge to China’s sovereignty, characterization of the protests as a color revolution and incipient terrorism, and dark warnings of China’s military or paramilitary intervention if the situation in Hong Kong were to get out of hand.[15] 

The Chinese leadership’s thinking and policy processes are notoriously opaque, but diverse analyses point to the same basic conclusion.  On one view, the Xi regime must take a tougher line on Hong Kong because Xi cannot afford to appear weak and because Chinese leaders fear that confrontational pro-democracy and pro-legality politics in Hong Kong, if left unchecked, could spread to Mainland China’s restive citizens, leading to demands for the higher level of legal and political rights enjoyed by their compatriots in what is, on the official view, merely another jurisdiction within China.  On another, very different account, Beijing will be less tolerant toward Hong Kong because, under Xi, a more centralized and unapologetically authoritarian leadership of a more powerful China does not care, and does not need to care, about the preferences of critics and opponents in the SAR whom they surely could crush if they were to determine that it was necessary, or wise, to do so.[16]  International criticism or pressure is, at best, a questionable constraint on Xi and China, whether because foreign efforts are so often weak, or because China is—and perceives itself to be—strong, or because Xi’s China has shifted from at-least-nominal acceptance of ostensibly universal norms to an increasingly strident ideological counteroffensive that embraces a Chinese model and rejects Western-style, liberal-democratic, rule-of-law values.

In these circumstances, future incidents in the long-running struggle over legal and political change in Hong Kong may stay within the broad parameters of the past, with conflict followed by limited victories (sometimes) and larger-scale disappointments for advocates of strong autonomy, robust rule of law, or greater democracy, followed in turn by a temporary return to normalcy.  But recent events suggest that it has become more likely that the chronic struggle over Hong Kong’s legal-political order will bring more fraught and fateful confrontations and deeper crises in Hong Kong and, potentially, in China’s relations with an outside world that is increasingly wary of China’s growing power, unsettling behavior, and ideational agenda.

[1] See, for example, Alice Fung and Nadia Lam, “Hong Kong Leader Thanks Police after Clashes with ‘Rioters,’” Washington Post, July 15, 2019 (quoting pan-democrat Hong Kong Legislative Council member Claudia Mo); John Burns, “Carrie Lam, Throw Away the Old Playbook if You Want to Rebuild Trust in the Hong Kong Gov’t,” Hong Kong Free Press, July 14, 2019 (views of political scientist and former dean of University of Hong Kong’s Faculty of Social Sciences); Albert H.Y. Chen, “A Perfect Storm: How the Proposed Law on Hong Kong-Mainland China Rendition was Aborted,” Verfassungsblog, June 19, 2019, (views of former dean of University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law and member of the National People’s Congress Basic Law Committee).

[2]  It would have amended two existing laws, the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, and the Mutual Legal Assistance Ordinance,

[3] These arguments, and the positions on the other side of the conflict, are addressed in more detail in later sections of this article.

[4] For an excellent overview of Occupy Central/the Umbrella Movement, see, Johannes Chan, “Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement,” The Roundtable: The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs, vol. 103, no. 6 (2014), pp. 571-580.

[5] “Fugitive Bill is Dead-CE”‌20190709_104811_661.html?type=category&name=admin (transcript of remarks); “Transcript of Remarks of CE at Media Session, June 18, 2019,”

[6] Mike Ives and Ezra Cheung, “Protesters Start Three Days of Civil Disobedience in Hong Kong,” New York Times, Aug. 3, 2019; Austin Ramzy, Mike Ives, and Tiffany May, “Hong Kong Strike Sinks City into Chaos, and Government Has Little Reply,” New York Times, Aug. 5, 2019.

[7] Sarah Zheng, “Beijing Warns of ‘Signs of Terrorism’ in Violent Unrest in Hong Kong,” South China Morning Post, Aug. 12, 2019 (quoting central government’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office spokesman Yang Guang).

[8] Decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on Issues Relating to the Selection of the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, Aug. 31, 2014,

[9] Interpretation of Article 104 of the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, Nov. 7, 2016,‌A115!en.assist.pdf

[10] For examples of expressions of these sentiments concerning contemporary Hong Kong generally, see, Michael C. Davis, “The Basic Law, Universal Suffrage and the Rule of Law in Hong Kong,” Hastings International and Comparative Law Review, vol. 38, no.2 (2015), pp. 275-298; and Suzanne Pepper, “Hong Kong’s Struggle to Define Its Political Future,” in Handbooks of Protest and Resistance in China ed. Teresa Wright (Edward Elgar, 2017), pp. 378-393.  For examples in the context of the anti-extradition bill, see, Chris Horton, “Hong Kong’s Protesters Earn a Victory. They Will Need More,” Atlantic, June 15, 2019; Griffiths, “Hong Kong’s Democracy Movement was about Hope”; and “Hong Kong’s Proposed Extradition Bill Could Extend Beijing’s Coercive Reach,” US-China Economic and Security Review Commission Issue Brief, May 7, 2019,‌USCC%20Issue%20Brief_HK%20Extradition%20Bill.pdf.

[11] See, for example, Mike Ives, “Hong Kong Police, Once Called ‘Asia’s Finest,’ Are Now a Focus of Anger,” New York Times, June 24, 2019; Greg Torode and Ann Marie Roantree, “’Lost and Confused’: Hong Kong’s Police Force Face Crisis of Confidence and Leadership,” Reuters, July 18, 2019; Amnesty International, “How Not to Police a Protest: Unlawful Use of Force by Hong Kong Police, June 21, 2019,‌document/?indexNumber=asa17%2f0576%2f2019&language=en; and Primrose Riordan and Nicole Liu, “Hong Kong Police Under Fire After ‘Triads’ Beat Protestors,” Financial Times, July 22, 2019.  On the earlier reputation of the police, see, “Creating a Legend, 1967-1994,” (concerning earlier reputation).

[12] “Hong Kong’s Leader Offers No Solutions After Night of Violence,” Time, July 22, 2019 (quoting Carrie Lam remarks at press conference and reaction by pan-democrat lawmaker).

[13] Examples of these views and worries include Ching Kwan Lee, “Op-Ed: Hong Kong’s New Political Lexicon,” Los Angeles Times, July 8, 2019 (emergence of “martyrs” and “institutional violence”); Lim, “Hong Kong has Nothing Left to Lose” (protesters occupying Legislative Council chamber spray-painted, “It was you [Carrie Lam] who taught me that peaceful protests are futile.”); Bradsher, “How Hong Kong’s Leader Made the Biggest Political Retreat,” (quoting former Chief Secretary Anson Chan, “people are forced to take to the streets to make their voices heard” and Hong Kong Baptist University political scientist Jean-Pierre Cabestan, “Without a bit of violence and political pressure on the authorities, you don’t get a thing.”); and Tony Kwok, “Lessons We Can Learn from the Anti-Rendition Bill Riot,” China Daily, June 14, 2019 (views of former Hong Kong government official, criticizing impact on anti-extradition bill movement of too-lenient sentences for Occupy Central participants).

[14] Henry Sender, Sue-Lin Wong and Nicolle Liu, “Hong Kong Chief Carrie Lam Offered to Step Down over Protests,” Financial Times, July 14, 2019; and Gary Cheung, “Carrie Lam’s Office Categorically Denies Report She Offered to Resign as Hong Kong Chief Executive,” South China Morning Post, July 15, 2019.

[15] “Liaison Office Attack a Challenge to Sovereignty,” RTHK, July 23, 2019,; Tony Cheung, “Top Beijing Representative in Hong Kong Condemns Attack on Liaison Office During Extradition Protest, Says Rioters Will be Punished,” South China Morning Post, July 22, 2019; Myers, “China Hints its Troops Could be Used”; and “Defense Ministry: Violent Attack on Liaison Office ‘Intolerable.’”

[16] For examples of this range of views among China / Hong Kong experts in discussions of the extradition legislation controversy, see, Steven Lee Myers, “Hong Kong’s Retreat Chips Away at Xi Jinping’s Iron Image,” New York Times, June 16, 2019 (quoting Jude Blanchette); Tom Mitchell, “How Hong Kong Defied Xi Jinping,” Financial Times, June 18, 2019 (quoting Minxin Pei); and Verna Yu, “‘They Will Definitely Take Revenge’: How China Could Respond to the Hong Kong Protests,” Guardian, June 29, 2019 (quoting Will Wo-Lap Lam).  For these views more generally, see, for example, Elizabeth C. Economy, “China’s Imperial President,” Foreign Affairs, vol. 93 (2014), pp. 80-91; and Gordon G. Chang, “The Hong Kong Moment: Trouble on China’s Periphery,” World Affairs, vol. 177, no. 5 (2015), pp. 9-15.

Xi Jinping’s address to the 19th Party Congress in late 2017 had sounded familiar themes about Hong Kong’s status as an inalienable part of China, and emphasized the need to strengthen patriotism in Hong Kong, while also asserting the Party’s ongoing commitment to a “high degree of autonomy” for Hong Kong and the policy of Hong Kong people governing Hong Kong (but with “patriots” playing the principal role).  Xi Jinping, “Secure a Decisive Victory in Building a Moderately Prosperous Society in All Respects and Strive for the Great Success of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” (Address to the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China), Oct. 18, 2017.