Riot police used tear gas to forcibly remove hundreds of protesters occupying a Legislature building early Tuesday morning. The activists began their occupation on Monday when they stormed Hong Kong’s Legislative Council and smashed the glass to gain entry, tearing down portraits of officials and spray-painting the walls. The action took place as hundreds of thousands flooded the streets Monday to mark the anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese control 22 years ago. It was just the latest mass demonstration since millions took to the streets in a series of marches last month to protest a contested bill that would allow for extraditions of Hong Kong residents and visitors to mainland China. We speak with Claudia Mo, a democratic lawmaker in Hong Kong.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today’s show with massive civil unrest in Hong Kong, where riot police used tear gas to forcibly remove hundreds of protesters occupying a Legislature building early Tuesday morning. The activists began their occupation on Monday, when they stormed Hong Kong’s Legislative Council and smashed the glass doors to gain entry, tearing down portraits of officials and spray-painting the walls. Some demonstrators held a sign reading, “There are no violent rioters, only a violent regime.”
The action took place as hundreds of thousands flooded the streets Monday to mark the anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese control 22 years ago. It was just the latest mass demonstration since millions took to the street in a series of marches last month to protest a contested bill that would allow for extraditions of Hong Kong residents and visitors to mainland China. Activists say the law is an infringement on their legal rights and on the independence of Hong Kong.
AMY GOODMAN: Protesters are calling for Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to step down over the legislation. She postponed the bill under public pressure but has not yet fully withdrawn it. This is Carrie Lam speaking at a news conference earlier today.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE CARRIE LAM: We have not responded to every demand asked, because of good reasons. Now, first of all, if the cause of the social tensions that we have seen is a bill to amend the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, on the 15th of June, I have announced the suspension of the bill. And subsequently, we have explained and elaborated by suspending the bill at this point in time, with no timetable and no plan to resume the debate of the bill in the Legislative Council.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam.
Well, for more, we go to Hong Kong, where we’re joined by pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo. She’s a member of the Hong Kong Legislative Council.
CLAUDIA MO: Hi.
AMY GOODMAN: Welcome to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us, Claudia Mo. Can you talk about what took place yesterday?
CLAUDIA MO: Thank you. Now, the pictures you see are actually rather shocking. They were devastating and perfectly unexpected. But then, behind all this, I hope the whole world will try to understand and sympathize with Hong Kong’s young people, the anger and the resentment, the frustration, that’s been penting up all these years, the sort of environment they’re growing up. And so, they might have become, probably, unnecessarily militant. But they’re trying to get their voices heard, not just in Hong Kong, but hopefully across the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about where you were yesterday, Claudia Mo?
CLAUDIA MO: I was milling around, basically. Sometime in the afternoon I tried to urge to apparent leaders of the more militant protesters to rethink about their plan to storm the legislative building. But the reply I got was that “We know you are very concerned,” but then, “Don’t worry about us. We are OK. We perfectly know what we are doing.” The sad thing is, there seems to be a tiny bit of this martyr mentality among our young, that they would die; they don’t mind dying for this democracy fight in Hong Kong. What’s their voice? Basically, it’s democracy now for Hong Kong.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Claudia Mo, I’d like to ask you, in terms of the existing so-called democratic structure in Hong Kong, obviously under China’s “one country, two systems” policy, how is the Legislature chosen in Hong Kong, and what is the impact of the People’s Republic of China government over Hong Kong?
CLAUDIA MO: Yes, exactly. That’s a great question to be answered. The young had a particular anger at the Legislature. It mainly stems from the fact that it’s this very Legislature that was going to pass that controversial China extradition bill. Why? Because they’ve got enough Beijing votes in there. And it’s all because of our very twisted and convoluted kind of election system. They make sure that the pro-Beijing votes will occupy at least half of our seats. That’s a total number of 70. They make sure they will have enough votes to pass just anything, any policy, any bill, any funding application from the government. And democrats are always outnumbered. We are outnumbered, not because we are unpopular, but because we just don’t get the seats. We have more votes, but fewer seats. That sums up the Hong Kong legislative election. And the young knew it.
And from the last election, back in 2016, right after that, because of some oath-taking ceremony stunt, political stunt, on the part of a few, the Hong Kong government managed to twist and bend rules and laws — without breaking them, of course — and successfully kick out altogether six of our elected democratic lawmakers. And the young grew up with that sort of news. They knew perfectly what’s going on in Hong Kong. Their anger is justified. May not be their action, but their anger needs to be understood.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you, though, about — Hong Kong is relatively prosperous as an entity in the world. It’s got the — it’s rated with the highest level of economic freedom for business in the world, very low taxes. It’s got the seventh-highest human development index of any country in the world. And its GDP, its per capita GDP, is almost as high as the United States, at 56,000. So it has prospered economically under Chinese rule, but could you talk about the impact of the economic prosperity versus the lack of political democracy?
CLAUDIA MO: Now, you have to note that Hong Kong’s Gini coefficient is also amongst the highest in the world. This wealth divide in this city, it’s just incredible. It’s preposterous, really. And it’s very free to businesses, right? Business prosper. Businessmen make money. But then the wealth divide is getting worse and worse.
And I just heard this afternoon from an Uber driver that, “Oh, of course, we need to count in billions in Hong Kong. We are all very money-minded in Hong Kong, because political protests, where do they take us? The government simply don’t pay attention to you. Beijing tells you to just restore order. So, we try to earn as much money as we can, so that we can leave Hong Kong, emigrate.”
AMY GOODMAN: Are you calling for Carrie Lam to resign? And the specific bill that she put forward, if you can briefly explain it?
CLAUDIA MO: Oh, Carrie Lam has been saying that she would suspend this particular controversial bill. Now, suspension is always temporary. It can come back anytime. Why couldn’t she just use the word “withdraw,” “scrap”? Right? I was told that it’s a face problem, a face issue in Chinese politics, that she has done, climbed down. She has agreed to suspend it. And she is not going to make any further climb down. It’s so pathetic, right? And I’m quite convinced that she wouldn’t dare to bring back that issue. But the thing is, it boils down to trust among the people, which she has completely lost by today.
AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what happened inside the Hong Kong Legislature yesterday?
CLAUDIA MO: The militant, well, mostly young protesters stormed the Legislative Complex. And they are — they were genuine students. They are not infiltrators or provocateurs and that sort of things. And they were so angry. They did everything they could to damage the chamber, obviously.
But one peculiar thing is, just before the storming, the police, who have been stationed inside to guard the building, suddenly sort of withdrew, retreated. The police chief subsequently said they had to redeploy their teams, the police teams. It’s all due to very flimsy reasons. So, you couldn’t help but thinking that it’s just possible they were trying to lure the protesters into the compound, the building, and do the vandalism expected, and so that the whole world will see those shocking photos and pictures and footages, and the young will get the blame for vandalism in Hong Kong, and the cause they’re trying to fight for will be forgotten.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And so far it’s been the Hong Kong police who have basically been dealing with the demonstrators. Do you have any fears that if the protests continue, there’s the possibility of actually military from China coming into Hong Kong or not?
CLAUDIA MO: Yes, that’s a fundamental scare about the Hong Kong security situation. Last night I heard the youngsters talking about them needing to stay on outside the legislative building, because they need to outnumber the police force: “As long as we have enough people, they can’t possibly arrest us all, and we have to protect those who have already gone in.”
Now, I’ve heard similar lines from young protesters 30 years ago on Tiananmen Square in Beijing. They were saying just the same things: “Well, there’s so many of us, they just cannot grab all of us” — that kind of mentality.
And under Hong Kong’s mini constitution, the government is allowed to declare Hong Kong to be under some emergency state, and the People’s Liberation Army would be sent out to the streets of Hong Kong to retain social order, what have you. That was a very scary thought. But then, thank god it didn’t happen. And I hope it will never get to that sort of situation again.
AMY GOODMAN: Again, are you asking for Carrie Lam to resign?
CLAUDIA MO: Of course. Of course. Her days are numbered, as far as I could see, and many of us in Hong Kong. I mean, Beijing has tried to distance itself from Carrie Lam, suggesting that she’s the one who started all this controversy and saga in Hong Kong. And assuming that’s the case, Carrie Lam has proved herself to be completely inefficient, and she’s been unaccountable almost to Hong Kong people.
You saw the footage of her speaking at some press conference in the middle of the night yesterday. And she was putting on this bureaucratic face, and complete with her bureaucratic voice, telling Hong Kong people, “Yes, I will humbly listen to you again.” Where’s the humility? You never got it.
And the thing is that she will be sticking around a bit still, because I understand — well, many of us here understand that there’s no replacement that’s acceptable to Beijing yet at the moment. And it would be also a loss of face to Beijing if they would have to let her go now. It’s too soon, right? It’s like bowing to the people, bowing to public pressure. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if she would need to go, after all, say, this time next year.
AMY GOODMAN: Claudia Mo, we want to thank you for being with us, democratic lawmaker in Hong Kong, attended the protests on Sunday.
CLAUDIA MO: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! We were speaking to her in Hong Kong. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: “Do You Hear the People Sing?” from the soundtrack of Les Misérables. Protesters in Hong Kong have adopted the Broadway show tune as their anthem.