BY ALEJANDRA O’CONNELL-DOMENECH | Protesters rallying at Confucius Plaza for Hong Kong democracy were met by hundreds of pro-Beijing counterprotesters on Sat., Aug 17.
The pro-Beijing crowd was a sea of red as they waved Chinese flags and signs with the words “One China” across the street from the plaza.
This weekend’s protest was the fourth demonstration organized by the group NY4HK (New Yorkers for Hong Kong) but was the first time the group has faced a counterprotest.
Before the pro-mainland China group’s arrival, tensions were already high at the rally since some members had seen threats against them on WeChat, a popular Chinese messaging platform. Some individuals posted images of bullets, handguns and even an AK-47 rifle. According to NY4HK, some messengers posted a text saying, “We are ready.”
According to NY4HK, the pro-China group believed the Confucius Plaza rally was for Hong Kong independence, a misconception fed to them by the Chinese state media.
“With WeChat and their own censored news, it is very easy for them to misunderstand,” Ken from NY4HK explained.
All told, between the two factions, several hundred people filled Confucius Plaza and the area around it.
Beijing supporters followed pro-democracy protesters as they marched across the Manhattan Bridge and to Manhattan Bridge Small Park, where a second, slightly smaller rally took place. Gothamist reported that pro-Beijing protesters began throwing bottles at the pro-democracy group as they walked across the bridge. Shortly into the second protest, a small group of China backers attempted to storm the park but were stopped by police officers.
According to NY4HK, the large turnout of China supporters is a reminder of the division that has always existed within the Chinese-American community. Exacerbating that division within the community abroad and in the U.S. was not the pro-democracy protesters’ intention.
During the protests on either side of the Manhattan Bridge, Hong Kong legislators Dennis Kwok and Alvin Yeung spoke words of encouragement, and called on Hong Kong’ government to meet protesters’ five demands. The protests in Hong Kong are now in their 11th week.
“We are not afraid of them. We will not back down,” said Kwok, a member of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, speaking to the prodemocracy protesters. Yeung also shared words of encouragement and support.
“We stand together on the five demands that Hong Kongers are reasonably demanding,” Yeung declared.
The democracy protesters’ first demand is the complete withdrawal of the extradition bill. The contentious piece of legislation would allow individuals in Hong Kong to be extradited to places previously lacking an extradition treaty with the semi-autonomous territory, like mainland China.
The second demand is stop the labeling of the protests as “riots.” The Chinese state media has branded the mostly peaceful protests “riots,” which is problematic due to the 10-year prison sentence one can get for rioting in Hong Kong.
In their third demand, they want an independent investigation into excessive use of force by the Hong Kong police and possible collaboration with the triads, organized crime groups. In July, a group of more than 100 men armed with metal rods began beating protesters and bystanders at a train station. Police, arriving late to the scene of the attack, initially made no arrests, according to The New York Times. Police later arrested a few individuals who had ties to the organized crime group. Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, responded by promising a police-led investigation into the incident.
The democracy protesters’ fourth demand is for the release of the detained protesters in Hong Kong. The fifth is the for the region’s chief executive and Legislative Council members to be elected by popular vote, rather than by an election committee.