China’s Northern Ireland?


I traveled to Hong Kong on November 11-12, the very days that the Hong Kong protests took a turn for the worse. 

I had thought I would avoid trouble. The protests had been mainly held on weekends, and we were there on a benign Monday and Tuesday. 

I was wrong. 

While we were there, one protestor was shot in the chest, and one Beijing supporter was doused with a fuel, lit on fire and critically injured. Protests have closed roads, bus routes and subways, and police are now posted seemingly everywhere in an attempt to contain the trouble. With a goal to “blossom everywhere,” protestors are firebombing subways, throwing objects on rail tracks and roads to stop traffic, dropping heavy objects on cars from overpasses, setting fires in tunnels and on campuses, throwing Molotov cocktails at buses, and assaulting those who try to remove roadblocks. Several area universities are becoming hubs for the protestors.

Schools are now closed, employers are letting employees work from home, and commerce has plummeted.

Many sympathize with the desire of the protestors to keep the freedoms they held under Britain, but find it difficult to witness the violence that is now part of that protest. 

Hong Kong anti-extradition bill protest

Reporters note that many ordinary citizens, including businesspeople, are providing support to the protestors. This is true. What is underreported, however, is the role of the Cantonese and Mandarin languages. Hong Kong residents speak Cantonese, and those across China speaks Mandarin. Few in the area are fluent in both. We spoke to one unassuming senior executive from a highly regarded business who is now based in Hong Kong. She speaks Mandarin, and not Cantonese. Over recent months she, her husband, and her children have been confronted and verbally accosted solely because their language unmistakably identifies them as not from Hong Kong. She told us that they have now decided to move from Hong Kong because of the fear that this will escalate into physical danger. There were many others that expressed a similar fear. 

It is impossible to envision China yielding to the protestors in any substantive way. Almost everyone we talked to now believes these protests will go on for months if not years. Some are beginning to refer to Hong Kong as “China’s Northern Ireland.”


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