A further wave of protests against the adoption of an extradition law under discussion in the Hong Kong Legislative Council (“LegCo”) started on the evening of Tuesday 11 June 2019.
These protests have extended into Wednesday 12 June 2019, and gathered momentum, resulting in major disruption in the Central, Admiralty and Wanchai districts on Hong Kong island this morning.
Background to Confrontation
These protests follow a major march of hundreds of thousands of people on Sunday 9 June 2019 against the proposed extradition law. That Sunday march was largely peaceable, although some violence took place later that night, when a small minority of protesters sought to attack the LegCo building.
The proposed extradition law will provoke protests for at least the next week, until either its passage or withdrawal. The government shows no sign of abandoning the law, however, despite a deferral of a reading on Wednesday morning.
Indeed, the attempt to pass this law has injected new vigour into what was a much weakened pro-democratic movement in Hong Kong, hinting at the prospect of significant new protests in the weeks and months ahead.
The Current Situation – 12 Jun 2019 (Wednesday) at 1300 hrs
Starting from about 0800 hrs on Wednesday 12 June 2019, protesters blocked major roads in Admiralty and Wanchai, ironically making use of police barriers stored nearby. The police did not move quickly enough to maintain control of some major arterial roads, meaning that disruption has proven significant.
The risk of escalation is now very real.
Police searches of people’s bags on the MTR on 11 June had already prompted ire, amongst younger demonstrators. The police have announced that they will not tolerate any violence, and are prepared for a confrontation.
Protester numbers have grown fast. Some have come prepared with masks and headgear to counter police crowd control measures. Others were seen gathering bricks as potential weapons. Certain factions seem bent on seeking a confrontation. Should pro-government groups rally, their involvement would only heighten tensions and provoke conflicts.
Serious disruption thus seems likely to continue for some time, perhaps for at least a week. In this context, a number of scenarios may play out, such as:
- A series of rolling protests, waxing and waning, but focused around the government complex in Tamar. These protests may prove peaceable, perhaps with flashes of violence.
- Counter-demonstrations organised by pro-government forces, which may seek to provoke a contest, adding to tensions. A direct confrontation with protesters would likely result in violence.
- Government orders to the Hong Kong Police to clear the demonstration area and to regain control of the situation, likely involving the wide scale use of CS smoke or other crowd control mechanisms. Such action is likely, sooner or later, barring a resolution of the situation.
- The risk of a series of running, illegal protests, as tensions rise. This situation could present the risk of significant violence and disruption elsewhere, as in the Mong Kok riots of 2016, but may last for a longer period and extend beyond Admiralty.
Of course, the government may yet reduce tensions by suspending the proposed extradition law, although it has hitherto shown little sign of any willingness to do so and appears to have backed themselves into a corner.
Contingency Planning and Mitigating Corporate Risk
SVA recommends that all companies likely to be affected should carefully evaluate their risk profiles in relation to the various scenarios outlined above. Moreover, they should monitor developments closely.
At a bare minimum, planners should examine the following:
- Safety and security of staff;
- Protection of plant and property;
- Possible denial of access to business premises;
- Business disruption – reaction and priorities;
- Offsite operations for key assets, if necessary;
- Cancellation of planned business events and meetings, and;
- Developing first aid capabilities – such as dealing with CS smoke affecting staff or its introduction into building air-conditioned systems.
Different businesses have widely varying requirements, and thus all plans need to be practically tailored to meet specific needs. SVA stands ready to assist companies as may be necessary.