Scenes like this play out in
Hong Kong almost every weekend now. It’s been this way since June 2019. Now the unrest is getting
more and more violent. So what’s going on in Hong Kong? In April of 2019, Hong Kong’s
government attempted to amend its extradition laws. The proposed changes would allow
criminal suspects from the city to be tried in mainland China. Critics said the bill would curtail
the city’s independence as well as free speech. The extradition measure was seen as
a pro-Beijing policy and indicative of the growing influence of mainland
China over the city. In May 2019, the U.S. weighed in as a congressional commission
warned that the bill could pose risks for national security
and economic interests. Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, who’s
kind of like a mayor and governor rolled into one, pushed
the bill forward anyway. So in early June of 2019, hundreds
of thousands of protesters marched in downtown Hong Kong. A few weeks later, protesters
demonstrated near the city’s government offices. The demonstrations eventually grew
violent when protesters began throwing bricks and metal
poles at police. The police responded with batons, one hundred
and fifty rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets. The government classified the event as
a riot, which meant anyone arrested there could spend up to
10 years in prison. Four days later, nearly two million
people took to the streets, according to organizers. Police, though, said that the number
was closer to three hundred and thirty eight thousand. Those protesters gave the
government five demands. The first was a total withdrawal
of the extradition legislation and a resignation from Carrie Lam. They also wanted a retraction so the
protest would not be classified as a riot. And they wanted an investigation
into the actions of the police during those violent protests. Finally, they wanted to release of
anyone who had been arrested in connection with the protests. Not long after, Lam said the bill
was dead and apologized for how she handled the situation. I have furthermore undertaken that because
this bill has caused so much anxiety and worries and differences
in opinion, I will not, as an undertaking, I will
not proceed again with this legislative exercise. But the chief executive felt short
of meeting protesters demands to withdraw the bill completely. So on July 1st of 2019, on the
22nd anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from British to Chinese
rule, more protests broke out. And those demonstrations continued
throughout the month. Hong Kong has long been Asia’s financial
hub, but that reputation has been shaken as the city has also
become the center of Asian unrest. Protests in the former British colony are
starting to bite into Hong Kong’s economy. The number of tour groups
coming from mainland China has dropped from an average of seven thousand eight
hundred per month to five thousand six hundred forty one in June of
twenty nineteen, right as the protests approached their peak. Also in June, occupancy rates of the
city’s hotels were down 20 percent from last year. They’re expected to be down
40 percent in July. But that’s not all that’s
weighing on Hong Kong’s economy. The trade tensions between the U.S. and China have slowed economic growth,
according to the city’s financial secretary. In fact, during the first quarter
of 2019, the city had its slowest growth in a decade. For Asia operations either you put your
headquarters in Hong Kong or in Singapore. So you know, from long-term
perspective, you know, if Hong Kong does not maintain relatively
stable political conditions. I’m thinking of for M and C’s the
have to hedge, you know, from their perspective. So this definitely will have
some negative impact into Hong Kong’s status as a financial center. As the Asia operations center from
a lot of companies’ perspectives. Hong Kong also remains one of the
most expensive cities in the world. And the unrest there has
squeezed citizens even more. Hong Kong’s real estate market was rated
the most expensive in the world for the fifth consecutive year
by real estate firm CBRE. The average price of a modest one bedroom
home in the city is one point two million dollars. A one hundred and twenty one square
foot nano-apartment recently sold for a quarter of a million dollars. About two thousand forty one
dollars per square foot. Meanwhile, the average rent for a one
bedroom apartment in the city is two thousand one hundred eighteen dollars, and
the average monthly salary for a man is only about two thousand
five hundred dollars, while the average salary for a woman drops to
one thousand nine hundred fifty dollars, according to the Hong Kong
Census and Statistics Department. The housing crisis in the city has gotten
so bad there’s a plan to build an 80 billion dollar artificial island
to deal with the problem. It’s also why many experts believe protests
are about more than just the extradition bill. One of the big things behind these
protests, quite frankly, is the terrible affordability of housing in Hong Kong, which
really is upsetting a lot of young people and
middle income people. So in a way, the housing affordability
issue is part and parcel of the protest movement. Government officials, including executive Carrie
Lam, have said that the extradition bill is dead. But activists want a formal withdrawal,
so the protests are likely to continue until that happens. Fear for the city’s future has
caused many residents to consider leaving, and that could lead to a
brain drain in Asia’s financial hub. At least two migration consultancy firms
have seen a jump in inquiries since June, according to the
South China Morning Post. People looking to leave cite
concerns ever increasing unrest, dwindling freedoms and growing influence
from mainland China. And then there’s cost of living. As a result, many young people
have been exploring options in Australia, Canada and Taiwan. And while the Chinese government may have
had its feelings hurt by the city’s protesters, things could get a
lot worse of young people start leaving the city. Major companies could leave, too. After all, Singapore is another major financial
hub, and it’s not that far away.