© 2024 WGLT
A public service of Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Indications Point To Division Within Hong Kong's Pro-Democracy Movement


One of the hardest things to preserve in any organized movement is unity, and we're starting to see that in Hong Kong. Protesters there have spent weeks pushing back against China's authority, but there are now signs of division in that pro-democracy movement. The protests, let's remember, started over a bill that would have allowed people in Hong Kong to be extradited to China to face criminal charges. And demonstrators have endured a strong, some would say brutal, response from police.

In recent days, though, as the protests spread to Hong Kong's airport, there have been questions about protester violence, with a journalist and a suspected undercover cop, both from mainland China, suffering assaults. Our correspondent Anthony Kuhn is on the ground in Hong Kong and joins me. Hi there, Anthony.


GREENE: So what is your sense? I mean, how unified is this movement right now?

KUHN: Well, I think there's been a clear division all along, and that's between protesters who reject violence and those who don't. And this is obvious because the protests have been getting increasingly violent, and it culminated in - on Tuesday night with the mauling of these two mainland people, and also an increasing number of tourists who are just getting hassled and not allowed to get through the airport to and from their flights.

And there were very violent clashes with police on Tuesday night. The court ordered an injunction, barring protesters from the airport. And today, the airport was completely cleared of protesters. So protesters now have expressed that they are concerned about, you know, being charged if they violate the court order. And they're also uneasy about what they've done. They felt like they acted like a mob. They're reflecting on their tactics, and some of them have even been apologetic.

And this is a real unexpected turn of events, and it's a lowering of a pressure in this protest movement. You know, this had a huge impact on the city, when two days-worth of flights are canceled, and people were very worried about a government crackdown because of it.

GREENE: So are people now questioning the strategy going forward? Or I guess asking in a different way, is there, like, one unified strategy for these protesters?

KUHN: The protesters say their strategy is no strategy. And their famous line is adopted from Hong Kong kung fu flick star Bruce Lee, who said be like water, by which of course he means, you know, guerilla hit-and-run tactics.

But it's really notable that, you know, I've been talking to protesters for days, and they just say we're not going to let up. We're going to keep fighting until the government gives in. But now they have beaten a tactical retreat, and that's a very important sort of thing to have in your vocabulary.

Now at a press conference today of civilians, sort of self-appointed spokespersons, there was a woman named Sophia Suen calling, and she reaffirmed that this is a peaceful movement. Let's hear her talk.


SOPHIA SUEN: Injury towards anybody is not the original intent of any of the protesters. And in line of that, we are not really sure whether those people who have committed those acts were, in fact, infiltrators or not.

KUHN: Infiltrators, you note she says that. And what she's talking about is undercover cops. The police admitted that they were in the crowds of protesters dressed like protesters, and the protesters say they were provoking violence. The Hong Kong police admitted they were in there, but they deny they did anything illegal. But now this is an added factor. The protesters can say we don't know who assaulted these mainland people or hassled the tourists. Maybe they were cops. And they also say they're just on edge because they fear they may have traders or informers around them.

GREENE: That's an interesting thing to realize about the violence. Do you talk to a lot of people in Hong Kong who are just against these protests?

KUHN: There are quite a few. There are working-class neighborhoods, there are rural villages and farmlands, there are politically conservative pro-Beijing residents there. But they're not so organized, and Beijing has not done a good job of mobilizing them to speak up.

GREENE: NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Hong Kong. Thanks, Anthony.

KUHN: You're welcome, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.