Protesters in Hong Kong Wednesday directly solicited foreign backing for their push for greater political freedom, in a bold move that is certain to draw the ire of Beijing.
Several hundred protesters gathered in the heart of the former British colony’s business district, wearing t-shirts reading “Liberate Hong Kong.” They then marched on the consulates of G20 nations, including those of the U.S., U.K., Japan and France, and handed over letters asking for the plight of Hong Kong to be raised at the G20 summit in Osaka at the weekend.
In the evening, thousands gathered for a rally outside the City Hall, chanting “Free Hong Kong! Democracy now!” and carrying placards that read “Give me back my freedom.” The crowds stretched to the towering International Finance Centre, almost a kilometer away, and spilled over into Lung Wo Road, blocking westbound traffic during the evening rush hour on one of Hong Kong’s main waterfront thoroughfares.
Organizers of the evening demonstration, the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), said it was held so that the people of Hong Kong could “sincerely urge” G20 leaders, “including Xi Jinping,” to consider the enclave’s desire for genuine self-rule.
Addressing the crowds packed into Edinburgh Place, the CHRF’s vice-convenor Wong Yik-mo said: “We are telling the Hong Kong government, the Beijing government and people of the world that we deserve freedom and democracy.”
After the rally, around a thousand people marched to police headquarters and surrounded the building, daubing it with obscene graffiti, barricading entrances, and hurling abuse at officers inside. The tense standoff lasted into the early hours and is a repeat of the siege of the building that took place last Friday.
Many are angry at what they claim is heavy-handed suppression of earlier protests by the police. The U.K. said Tuesday it would suspend sales of tear gas to the Hong Kong police until an independent investigation into the allegations is made.
Earlier in the day, protesters at the U.S. consulate held signs reading “President Trump please liberate Hong Kong.” One carried a placard asking for Hong Kong to be freed from Chinese “colonization.”
Beijing has made it clear that it regards the future of the semi-autonomous territory, which was retroceded to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, as a domestic matter.
U.S. President Donald Trump has indicated that he would talk about the protests in Hong Kong with his counterpart Xi Jinping in Osaka, but the Chinese side has said such discussion would not be tolerated.
The protesters also want foreign powers to pressure the Hong Kong government to withdraw—instead of defer—a contentious bill that would allow the extradition of fugitives to China for the first time. The government says the bill is necessary to prevent Hong Kong from becoming a haven for criminals, but its detractors say Beijing will use the measure to apprehend dissidents and activists on trumped-up charges.
“Our aim is to make the world more alert about the extradition bill in Hong Kong, and for world leaders to bring up this up as a discussion topic during the G20 summit,” 44-year-old housewife Teresa Yu said Wednesday. She was holding a sign bearing a picture of the White House and the words “We need help” as she marched to the U.S. consulate. “I don’t know if it’ll work, but if we do absolutely nothing, then there will be no chance of anything changing.”
An organizer of the protest, Ventus Lau, said: “This movement has incited much international attention. We hope to use this opportunity before the G20 summit to get even more international support.”
Another organizer, who only wished to be identified as J.L., said: “Hong Kong, as an international city, has stakeholders from everywhere in the world. It’s a fusion of East and West, and this is where all the interests meet. Therefore, a serious Hong Kong issue is a serious international issue.”
A crowdfunding campaign has raised over $700,000 for the purchase of a prominent advertisement against the extradition bill in the Financial Times before ministers gather in Osaka on Friday. Protesters also plan to book advertisements in newspapers in the U.S., France, Germany, and Japan, among other countries.
“If we can get other countries to hear our voices and act accordingly, that would be a great help to us,” said an 18-year-old student named Timothy Li as he protested outside the British consulate before handing a letter to the U.K.’s deputy consul general, Esther Blythe.
“The extradition bill is a major challenge to universal human rights, freedom and liberty. We hope that the G20 will extend our voices to an international level,” he told the assembled crowd.
He added that as Hong Kong’s former sovereign power, Britain had a “responsibility” to uphold the freedoms promised to Hong Kong.
Wednesday’s protesters also handed in letters at the legations of the E.U., Canada, and Germany, where a member of consulate staff came out to greet the crowd to shouts of “Danke!” (thank you).
Staff at the Russian, Indonesian and Indian consulates declined to meet with protesters, who chanted “Free Hong Kong from China!” and “Save Hong Kong from China!” Organizers said a total of 16 consulates were visited during the course of the day.
‘We can’t do this ourselves’
What began as opposition to an unpopular legal measure has now broadened into an open struggle for democracy and even self-determination. Huge anti-government marches took place on June 9 and June 16, numbering millions strong according to organizers.
On June 12, police unleashed rounds of tear gas, rubber bullets and bean bag pellets at thousands of protesters, who had surrounded the legislature, forcing lawmakers to scrape a debate on the extradition bill.
Protesters also occupied major government offices on June 21, including the headquarters of the tax and immigration departments, and forced the closure of the High Court. The unrest is being viewed as a stunning repudiation of the administration of the city’s top official, the Beijing-backed Carrie Lam, who has not been seen in public for several days.
“We can’t do this ourselves—the international governments do have a responsibility to help us,” said a 22-year-old protester surnamed Chan. “Maybe Beijing will [step up accusations of foreign intervention], but we don’t live under the advice of the Beijing government. What they say will not affect our will.”
At the evening rally outside City Hall, calls for the withdrawal of the extradition bill were read out in the languages of the G20 nations.
Rachel Choi, a 27-year-old teacher, said: “We wouldn’t turn to foreign powers if we could deal with it locally, but the Hong Kong government is not answering us. That’s why we’re turning to seek help.”
Nearby, 40-year-old protester Kimberly Fan described the struggle as a “battle between Hong Kong people and the Communist Party.”
She said: “We have to tell the world Hong Kong is in danger now.”
—With reporting by Kamakshi Ayyar, Amy Gunia, Hillary Leung and Abhishyant Kidangoor / Hong Kong