Over the previous monitoring period (17-23 July), there were several activities carried out by pro-democracy activists to commemorate the 2019 Yuen Long attacks. During these activities, a mob of alleged triad members dressed in white shirts assaulted dozens of anti-extradition protesters and non-participant commuters at the Yuen Long MTR Station. In geopolitical developments, tensions have escalated between Beijing and the US, UK and The European Union (EU).

Prior to the events for the Yuen Long anniversary (21 July), there was a march on Sunday (19 July) to commemorate that significant day in the pro-democracy activist calendar. The march began at Yuen Long MTR Station and concluded at Shui Pin Tsuen Playground in Yuen Long, New Territories.

An activist taking part in a sit-down protest at Yuen Long MTR Station, Yuen Long, 21 July 2020

Activists also held another event in Yuen Long, where they handed out free hand sanitisers to people. The activists encouraged people to sanitise their hands in seven steps, seven days a week, and for a duration of 21 seconds, denoting the 721, or 21 July anniversary. Approximately 20 police officers were deployed in the vicinity; the event ended peacefully.

Prior to the 21 July protests, there were calls for activists and the general public to boycott so-called ‘blue’ businesses and support ‘yellow’ businesses. It is uncertain whether any significant rallies took place outside ‘blue’ businesses on the day. Pro-democracy events on 21 July constituted the bulk of incident reporting for the monitoring cycle, while the remainder of the period was relatively subdued with no significant street-level demonstrations.

Geopolitics and the local implications

There were a series of retaliatory events that translated into Beijing likely sponsoring a protest outside the British Consulate (20 July). This response has become another tool to instil unease across targeted nationalities of the expatriate communities in Hong Kong. Similar demonstrations have occurred outside the diplomatic missions of the US (28 June, 2 July), Canada (5, 9 July), UK (6 July) and Germany (14 July). Though these events have been rather small in scale and conducted peacefully, their occurrence is effective from a propaganda perspective and serves to ratchet up diplomatic tensions. More severe, however, has been Beijing’s most recent order to have the US Consulate in Chengdu in the southwestern province of Sichuan to shutter in response to the US government’s order to close the Chinese consulate in Houston, Texas over espionage allegations. Similar closures are unlikely (at this juncture) in Hong Kong given the economic importance of the US.

On Monday (20 July), the UK government announced it was suspending its extradition treaty with Hong Kong. The announcement followed UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab’s accusation against Beijing on Sunday (19 July) of ‘gross’ human rights violations regarding the Uighurs in China’s Xinjiang region.

The US State Department on Tuesday (21 July) said that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo during his visit in London met with well-known pro-democracy activist Nathan Law, who had fled Hong Kong after the national security law was implemented. Pompeo also met with Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong.

On Wednesday (22 July), The European Union (EU) expressed concern over the implications of the Beijing-imposed national security law on Hong Kong, namely its impact on democratic freedoms. EU foreign affairs minister Joseph Borrell said: ‘We will not simply stand back and watch as China attempts to curtail these freedoms even more.’

On Thursday (23 July), the Chinese government promised retaliation against the UK government in response to London’s efforts to provide a pathway towards British citizenship via the British National Overseas (BNO) scheme. Beijing released a statement through its embassy in London, where a spokesman accused the British government of interfering in the internal affairs of China.

Operational implications from COVID-19

Authorities are tightening restrictions as the territory faces a surge in COVID-19 infections amid its third wave of outbreaks. Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Sunday said the outbreaks were at a ‘really critical’ juncture, with more than 500 confirmed cases over the past two weeks. Hong Kong now has a total of 1,885 recorded cases and 12 related deaths. Lam announced measures including the requirement for civil servants work remotely for a week, as well as the compulsory wearing of face masks at indoor venues such as wet markets and supermarkets. Experts are calling for further stringent measures to be implemented within a week, which is likely.
Eleven banks, including Bank of East Asia, HSBC, and Standard Chartered, are partially or fully shutting down their operations at 50 branches from Monday and Tuesday (20-21 July) in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Hong Kong’s health authorities reported 61 more confirmed infections on Tuesday. From these cases, 58 were locally transmitted and the remainder imported. The figure is far below Sunday’s 100 reported cases, the highest daily number recorded since the pandemic was declared in February. However, 25 new infections could not be sourced through Hong Kong’s sophisticated track and trace system leading to concerns the virus may spread from its present epicenters in care homes and among groups such as taxi drivers and health workers. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam described the latest surge in cases as ‘critical and there is no sign the situation is being brought under control.’ The government has imposed a series of restrictive measures across the territory to contain the outbreaks.

Mask-wearing is now mandatory in all indoor public areas, most civil servants have been instructed to work from home, a number of bank branches have been closed with many other private companies likely to suspend or curtail operations in the coming days. Some public health specialists have called for a curfew, without offering details as to how this may be applied. Schools are already closed and tighter social-distancing measures are in place, including ending in-house service at all food outlets after 1800 hours; numerous other venues, including bars and gyms, have already be shut. The surge in new cases has already affected the territory’s current status as a low-risk area, with Singapore requiring all arrivals from Hong Kong to enter a 14-day period of quarantine in government-run facilities.