On Monday July 1, hundreds of protesters in Hong Kong broke into the Legislative Council (LegCo) building, vandalized it and raised the flag of the British colonial flag in the Council chamber. The incident happened during the 22nd anniversary commemoration of Hong Kong independence from the British in 1997 and its return to China, known commonly as Handover Day and officially as the Establishment Day. The Hong Kong riot police were called in to clear the city legislature of the protesters.
For the past few months, Hong Kong has been simmering over the controversial extradition bill that was introduced by the city-state’s government. Even though the violent action yesterday was reported by many as an extension of the anti-extradition bill protests, the bill stands suspended and is set aside to lapse, in light of the protests.
The day prior to the incident, June 30, hundreds of thousands of pro-government demonstrators came out in support of the city’s police and the government, and reaffirmed their faith in the Chinese sovereignty over Hong Kong.
The anti-government protesters had surrounded the LegCo building in the afternoon and eventually entered it at night by breaking down several glass walls of the building and overwhelming the security personnel and riot police who were protecting it. There was no reported provocation that could have triggered the vandalism, from either the city’s security forces or the pro-government demonstrators. The riot police could only clear the building after further reinforcements arrived in the early hours of July 2.
The protests against the extradition bill have largely been organized by an anti-Beijing faction, which recently sought an interventionist support from the United States and other western powers in an open petition that has been making the rounds recently during the G-20 summit in Osaka.
Ever since the British relinquished their colonial control over Hong Kong in 1997, anti-China protests have been common over the years on Handover Day, along with equally large demonstrations in support of China and the government. Violence or any direct attack on government institutions were not witnessed until this year.
The anti-Beijing protesters are demanding the release and clearing of names of all who were arrested or charged over incidents of vandalism and rioting in the course of the protests. The protesters have also demanded that the chief executive of the city Carrie Lam resign and that the extradition bill be permanently withdrawn.
The new extradition bill was proposed by the government to allow for a mechanism to extradite fugitives, charged under specific categories of crimes, to jurisdictions with whom it has no extradition agreements, including Taiwan, Macau and mainland China. The proposal of amending the existing extradition laws came up in the case of Chan Tong-kai, who is currently in Hong Kong and stands to be extradited to Taiwan for a trial over the murder of his pregnant girlfriend, to which he has confessed.
The government asserted that the bill will allow to plug the loophole that allows fugitives to take refuge in the city, especially from the mainland. Detractors have argued that the bill will make Hongkongers vulnerable to the legal and judicial system of the mainland and the city up for integration with the rest of China, something that they have resisted since 1997.