Hong Kong Marks Handover Date with PLA, Protests

On the 18th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong to China, crowds gathered for the annual vigil, though in much smaller numbers than in years past. Following last year’s Occupy Central street protest movement, and the Legislative Council’s veto of proposed electoral reforms, protesters were less motivated to take to the streets. Heather Timmons and Zheping Huang report on Wednesday’s scene in Hong Kong for Quartz:

The People’s Liberation Army marked the anniversary by holding a demonstration of military might on a Hong Kong naval base, complete with marching drills and gun demonstrations.

Hong Kong’s deeply unpopular chief executive CY Leung presided over a flag-raising ceremony, buoyed by a small crowd of identically-dressed cheerers.

Elsewhere, tens of thousands turned out for the annual pro-democracy parade, a tradition that has gathered steam as Beijing proposed various unpopular laws over the past 18 years.

Today’s march was carnival-esque, full of families with young children moving slowly down the carefully-blocked off street, and pensioners gathering to listen to speeches. There were Guy Fawkes mask T-shirts for sale, and free rubber balls depicting chief executive Leung as begging puppy dog. Shops nearby did a brisk business in bubble teas and fish balls on sticks. [Source]

Kelvin Chan at AP reports on why fewer people turned out today than in previous years:

Thinner crowds at the protest highlight the uncertain direction for the democracy movement after accomplishing its immediate goal last month of blocking the government’s Beijing-backed restricted election plan.

Police lined the route of the protest, held on a public holiday marking Hong Kong’s handover from British to Chinese rule.

Public appetite for more street protests is also diminished after tens of thousands of student-led protesters blocked streets in key districts for 79 days last year to demand free elections for the southern Chinese city’s top leader. The movement caught the world’s attention but did not result in any meaningful change.

“Maybe some of them feel tired and stressed from all these fights and arguments so maybe they want to take a rest,” said Drake Leung, a 27-year-old information technology worker attending the rally. “The package is already vetoed so there’s no real clear reason to come out.” [Source]

Reporters for the New York Times’ Sinosphere blog spoke with protesters about their reasons for showing up and their vision for the future of Hong Kong.

While the Beijing government attempted to assert their presence on the July 1 holiday, many protest participants and other young people in Hong Kong have indicated that they are growing less and less content with being identified as “Chinese” and instead identify only with Hong Kong. From Violet Law at the Los Angeles Times:

Earlier in the day, officials celebrated the anniversary with a flag-raising ceremony, attended mostly by mainland Chinese tourists. Fleets of fishing boats in Aberdeen Harbor were festooned with China’s national flag. Civilian medals of honor –- a recognition that was initiated in 1998 — were announced. Among the honorees were a former police chief known for handling demonstrations with a heavy hand.

Poll figures released by the University of Hong Kong on Tuesday showed that 56% of respondents aren’t proud of being Chinese nationals. Notably, 78% ages 18 to 29 –- the very group who came of age in post-British Hong Kong –- said they took no pride in their Chinese nationality.

“In-depth analyses show that the younger the respondent, the less proud one feels of becoming a Chinese national citizen, and also more negative about the central government’s policies on Hong Kong,” said Robert Chung, director of the university’s Public Opinion Program. [Source]

See also a discussion from ChinaFile titled: “Hong Kong’s Umbrella Protests Were More Than Just a Student Movement.”