Hong Kong (CNN)No one predicted this.
When the final protesters were cleared from Hong Kong’s streets after 79 days of pro-democracy protests in 2014 — many of them forcibly carried off by police — they promised they’d be back. For years this seemed like a pipe dream. The Umbrella Movement, so-named in reference to the umbrellas used by protesters in defense of police pepper spray, changed Hong Kong forever. The movement awoke a whole generation of new activists and politicians, some of whom would go on to be elected to the city’s legislature, but in many ways it felt like a failed last stand, with everything that came after it seeming more like a desperate rear guard action against ever-increasing Chinese influence and control over the semi-autonomous city. Protest leaders who were elected were expelled from office on dubious grounds, and many others were arrested and jailed for their part in the unrest. Demonstrations and marches never attracted the numbers seen in 2014, and it seemed like the pro-democracy movement was on life support. Read MoreNow, four years, eight months and 12 days after the Umbrella Movement ended, ongoing protests have surpassed it in duration and massively overtaken it in terms of disruption and political turmoil — and they show no signs of stopping. The roots of the current unrest can be traced back to that summer five years ago, both in the radicalizing effect it had on a whole generation of young Hong Kongers and in the government’s failure to do anything. With the collapse of the protest movement in December 2014, a lid was placed on the disruption, leaving the underlying frustrations boiling and ready to explode. Photos: Hong Kong protestsProtesters clash with police after a rally in Hong Kong’s Tsuen Wan district on Sunday, August 25. Sunday was one of the most violent nights seen in Hong Kong since mass pro-democracy protests began in June.Hide Caption 1 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsProtesters gather in the lobby of Hong Kong’s Revenue Department.Hide Caption 2 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsSome protesters shine laser pointers at police lines on August 25.Hide Caption 3 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsPolice fire tear gas at protesters on August 25.Hide Caption 4 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsProtesters and police clash on Saturday, August 24.Hide Caption 5 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA protester throws back a tear-gas canister during clashes at Kowloon Bay on August 24.Hide Caption 6 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsProtesters pick up bricks to be used as projectiles on August 24.Hide Caption 7 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsPolice retreat after clashing with protesters on August 24.Hide Caption 8 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsPeople link hands as they gather at the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront on Friday, August 23. Protesters formed a human chain across Hong Kong in a show of solidarity.Hide Caption 9 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsProtesters shine light from their cell phones as they form a human chain on top of the iconic Lion Rock at Wong Tai Sin.Hide Caption 10 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsThe human chain was planned to coincide with the 30th anniversary of the “Baltic Way,” a historically significant peaceful demonstration against Soviet occupation. On August 23, 1989, an estimated 2 million people formed a 600-kilometer (372-mile) human chain across the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.Hide Caption 11 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsCell phones shine from the top of Lion Rock on August 23.Hide Caption 12 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsProtesters take part in a march on Sunday, August 18.Hide Caption 13 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsProtesters march under umbrellas on August 18.Hide Caption 14 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsTens of thousands of protesters showed up in the streets on August 18.Hide Caption 15 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsProtesters take part in a rally in Victoria Park on August 18.Hide Caption 16 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA protester participates in a march on Saturday, August 17. His eye is covered with red gauze, referencing a woman who was allegedly shot in the eye with a beanbag round during clashes between protesters and police.Hide Caption 17 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA protester ties a white ribbon, symbolizing the pure intentions of young protesters, during a march organized by teachers in Hong Kong on August 17.Hide Caption 18 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsProtesters react after police fired tear gas to disperse a demonstration at the Sham Shui Po police station in Hong Kong on Wednesday, August 14.Hide Caption 19 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsTear gas envelops demonstrators at Sham Shui Po.Hide Caption 20 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsProtesters point lasers at the Sham Shui Po police station on August 14.Hide Caption 21 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsTwo protesters hold up an apology sign at the Hong Kong International Airport, which resumed operations on August 14. For two days, protesters flooded the airport. Check-ins were suspended and dozens of outgoing flights were canceled.Hide Caption 22 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA police officer falls over an airport luggage trolley during a scuffle with pro-democracy protesters on Tuesday, August 13.Hide Caption 23 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA police officer draws his weapon during clashes at the airport on August 13.Hide Caption 24 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsPolice use pepper spray to disperse protesters at the airport on August 13.Hide Caption 25 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsPolice and protesters clash at the airport on August 13. The violence came after Hong Kong’s Airport Authority announced that all check-in services would be suspended for another night because of terminal operations being “seriously disrupted.”Hide Caption 26 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA traveler passes her luggage to security guards as she tries to enter the departures gate.Hide Caption 27 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA display board shows canceled flights on August 13.Hide Caption 28 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsAnti-government protesters stand at a barricade made of luggage trolleys during a demonstration at the airport on August 13.Hide Caption 29 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA woman wearing Minnie Mouse headgear looks on as stranded travelers gather near closed check-in counters on August 13.Hide Caption 30 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsProtesters display banners during a sit-in rally at the airport’s arrival hall on Monday, August 12.Hide Caption 31 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsPeople hold signs during airport protests on August 12. The signs reference the woman who was allegedly shot in the eye with a beanbag round during clashes between protesters and police.Hide Caption 32 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsMedics look after a woman who received a facial injury during clashes on Sunday, August 11.Hide Caption 33 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA pro-democracy protester is held by police outside the Tsim Sha Tsui police station on August 11.Hide Caption 34 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA “Lennon wall” featuring a raincoat is plastered with sticky notes on Saturday, August 10. Hide Caption 35 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsPolice fire tear gas at protesters during a demonstration in the Wong Tai Sin District on Monday, August 5.Hide Caption 36 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA train passenger gestures toward a protester, right, who was preventing the doors of a train from closing on August 5. The protester was trying to disrupt Hong Kong’s morning rush-hour commute.Hide Caption 37 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA man lies down on an underground train during a protest on August 5.Hide Caption 38 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA man comforts his pregnant wife near a train platform after protesters blocked the train doors on August 5.Hide Caption 39 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA protester stands in tear gas during a confrontation with police in the early hours of Sunday, August 4.Hide Caption 40 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA Chinese flag floats in water after it was thrown by protesters during a demonstration on Saturday, August 3.Hide Caption 41 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA protester sprays paint on a wall on August 3.Hide Caption 42 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsMembers of Hong Kong’s medical sector attend a protest in Edinburgh Place on Friday, August 2.Hide Caption 43 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsThe emblem on the China Liaison Office is protected by plexiglass during a demonstration on Sunday, July 28.Hide Caption 44 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA protester flees from baton-wielding police in the Yuen Long district of Hong Kong on Saturday, July 27.Hide Caption 45 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA protester looks through umbrellas during the clashes with police on July 27.Hide Caption 46 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsTravelers watch as protesters rally at Hong Kong’s international airport on Friday, July 26.Hide Caption 47 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsPeople paste Post-it notes on a demonstrator in the Hong Kong airport.Hide Caption 48 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsProtesters clash with police on Sunday, July 21.Hide Caption 49 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsMasked men in white T-shirts are seen after attacking anti-extradition bill demonstrators at a train station in Yuen Long.Hide Caption 50 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsPolice fire tear gas at protesters during a march on July 21.Hide Caption 51 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsMedical workers help a protester affected by tear gas on July 21.Hide Caption 52 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsAn egg thrown by a protester hits the emblem on the China Liaison Office on July 21.Hide Caption 53 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsThe office of pro-Beijing lawmaker Junius Ho was trashed by protesters in Hong Kong’s Tsuen Wan district.Hide Caption 54 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA protester covers a security camera outside the Chinese government’s liaison office in Hong Kong.Hide Caption 55 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsProtesters gather for a demonstration on July 21.Hide Caption 56 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsPolice officers use pepper spray to disperse protesters after a rally in the Sheung Shui district on Saturday, July 13. Hide Caption 57 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA demonstrator sprays paint inside a chamber at Hong Kong’s Legislative Council building, where protesters forced their way in on Monday, July 1.Hide Caption 58 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsThe meeting hall of the Legislative Council is taken over by demonstrators on July 1.Hide Caption 59 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA protester uses a megaphone to speak to other protesters inside the Legislative Council building.Hide Caption 60 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsProtesters stream into the Legislative Council building.Hide Caption 61 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA protester smashes a window of the Legislative Council building.Hide Caption 62 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsProtesters holding umbrellas face off with police officers wearing anti-riot gear on July 1.Hide Caption 63 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsPolice standing inside the Hong Kong government headquarters look through broken glass as protesters try to smash their way into the building on July 1.Hide Caption 64 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsColumns of sunlight are cast on a crowd during the march on July 1.Hide Caption 65 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsHelicopters carrying the flags of China and Hong Kong fly over demonstrators on July 1.Hide Caption 66 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsPro-democracy lawmaker Roy Kwong rallies demonstrators with a megaphone on July 1.Hide Caption 67 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA protester holds up a placard as thousands flood the streets of Hong Kong on July 1.Hide Caption 68 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA police officer uses pepper spray during a clash with protesters on July 1.Hide Caption 69 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsProtesters face police on July 1.Hide Caption 70 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsProtesters remove their shirts after being pepper-sprayed by police.Hide Caption 71 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA protester wearing a T-shirt with the word “revolution” walks past an inscription on a road that reads “Long Live HK.”Hide Caption 72 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsPolice detain protesters near the government headquarters in Hong Kong on July 1.Hide Caption 73 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsAn overhead view shows thousands of protesters marching through a Hong Kong street on Sunday, June 16.Hide Caption 74 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA protester returns a tear-gas canister fired by police during clashes outside the government headquarters in Hong Kong on Wednesday, June 12.Hide Caption 75 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsRubber bullets, pepper spray and hand-thrown tear gas were used to push back protesters who had occupied the city’s main thoroughfare and other roads near the government headquarters on June 12, Hong Kong Police Commissioner Steven Lo Wai-chung said.Hide Caption 76 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsProtesters run after police fired tear gas on June 12.Hide Caption 77 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA police officer reacts to an umbrella that was thrown near the Legislative Council building on June 12.Hide Caption 78 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsPolice officers use a water cannon on a protester near the government headquarters.Hide Caption 79 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA protester reacts as she is grabbed by police on June 12.Hide Caption 80 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsProtesters face off with police during the rally on June 12.Hide Caption 81 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA protester rests during the demonstration on June 12. Protesters began arriving the night before.Hide Caption 82 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsBy the morning of June 12, tens of thousands of mainly young people had arrived in the area, blocking streets and bringing central Hong Kong to a standstill.Hide Caption 83 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsProtesters block major roads near the Legislative Council and government headquarters. Hundreds of businesses, parents and teachers called for a boycott of work and school to show their opposition to the extradition bill.Hide Caption 84 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA demonstrator holds a sign during the June 12 rally.Hide Caption 85 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsPolice officers charge toward protesters during clashes on Monday, June 10. It was a continuation of protests that started the day before.Hide Caption 86 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA police camera films the rally on Sunday, June 9.Hide Caption 87 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsProtesters hold pictures of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on June 9.Hide Caption 88 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsProtesters on June 9 waved placards and wore white — the designated color of the rally. “Hong Kong, never give up!” some chanted.Hide Caption 89 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsA crowd fills a Hong Kong street on June 9.Hide Caption 90 of 91 Photos: Hong Kong protestsStudents wear chains during a demonstration on Saturday, June 8.Hide Caption 91 of 91The political roots of the current unrest The current protests — they don’t have an agreed upon name but the snappiest is the “Hard Hat Revolution” for the yellow helmets many protesters wear to protect against police weapons — began on June 9, when organizers say more than a million people attended a protest march calling for the withdrawal of an extradition bill with China. The bill was eventually suspended following violent clashes between protesters and police outside the city’s legislature on June 12 and an even bigger march the following weekend, which saw the largest ever turnout at a protest in Hong Kong’s history — but for many the suspension was too little too late. As the protests enter their twelfth week, overtaking the Umbrella Movement in duration, the complete withdrawal of the bill remains a key priority, but protesters have also expanded their demands to include the driving issue of the 2014 protests: Genuine universal suffrage in how the city picks its leader. When Hong Kong was handed over from British to Chinese control in 1997, it switched from having a London-picked governor to a local Chief Executive, selected by an “election committee” and officially appointed by Beijing. Per the Hong Kong constitution, the ultimate aim is for the city’s leader to be elected “by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures” and the election of all members of the legislature — which is currently about 50% democratically elected — “by universal suffrage.” Hong Kong protesters promised to return after the last Umbrella Movement activists left the streets in December 2014.In the more than two decades since 1997, reform has been slow coming. Carrie Lam, the current chief executive, is the fourth person to hold that office, none of whom were elected by universal suffrage. In 2007, China’s top lawmaking body agreed that the contest which eventually resulted in her appointment “may be implemented by the method of universal suffrage; that after the Chief Executive is selected by universal suffrage, the election of the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region may be implemented by the method of electing all the members by universal suffrage.”Seven years later, however, China’s leaders ruled out full universal suffrage, saying that candidates could be elected by the public — but only after they had been approved by a Beijing-dominated nomination committee. Most democratic activists and lawmakers rejected the deal as a sham and it was eventually defeated in the city’s legislature after a botched walkout by pro-government legislators. In the interim, hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers occupied parts of the city for 79-days, demanding Beijing withdraw its decision and allow the chief executive to be elected by “genuine universal suffrage.” After the use of tear gas in the early hours of the protests backfired spectacularly, bringing more people to the streets, authorities took a largely hands-off approach, and the Umbrella Movement had gradually fizzled out by the time police cleared the last dedicated protesters in December 2014. JUST WATCHEDTensions rise again in Hong Kong protests ReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH
Tensions rise again in Hong Kong protests 02:48Hong Kong’s wealth gap is a major cause of protestsWhile the movement did not achieve its main goals, the influence of the protests was massive. Legislative elections in 2016 returned the youngest, most politically radical parliament the city had ever seen — though several lawmakers were later ejected from office — and the protests are also widely credited with hastening the end of former Chief Executive CY Leung’s career. Lam, Leung’s former deputy and now successor, refused to consider restarting political reform after she took office in 2017, choosing instead to focus on livelihood and economic issues. This wasn’t necessarily a bad idea. Hong Kong is one of the most unequal cities in the world; housing prices and living costs rise each year, while youth employment rates have been largely stagnant and many young graduates struggle to find work.Inequality is linked to the desire for greater democracy, which is driven in large part by an understanding that the city’s leader and legislature — where around 50% of seats are appointed by industry bodies and other non-democratic groupings — are more responsive to the whims of Beijing and local elites than they are to the wider public. “The government should take from the rich and give to the poor so they can live in Hong Kong, too,” Tse Lai-nam, a 26-year-old who has taken part in the recent protests, told CNN this month. “The government has never done anything to promote social mobility, instead it has increased wealth disparity and made it more difficult for young people to buy an apartment.”Lam’s proposals to remedy these issues have largely fallen flat. Her most ambitious plan, to build a 17 square kilometer (6.5 square mile) cluster of artificial islands off Lantau at a cost of around $80 billion, has faced criticism and protests from local residents, environmentalists and opposition lawmakers. In particular, many point out that it does not address immediate concerns, with the first group of houses built on the islands not expected to be available until at least 2032. Other proposals to relieve the pressure on poorer Hong Kongers have fallen equally flat. Lam also attracted outrage — and renewed criticism for being out of touch — when she defended plans to raise the age limit for elderly welfare payments by saying “I am over 60-years-old but I still work for over 10 hours every day.” Less than 50% of over-60s in the city are employed. Lam makes around $635,000 a year and does not pay for her own housing. Hong Kong is no way strapped for cash, it has some $1.12 trillion in reserves, and has posted budget surpluses every year for the last decade. But this has largely not translated into the type of big ticket livelihood reforms and improvements Lam promised on taking office. Instead her administration has chosen to give cash handouts — $510 last year for around 2.8 million people — that while appreciated by their recipients, did little to address the underlying issues. Protesters changed their tactics, officials are stuck in the pastIn retrospect, a storm was clearly brewing. While Lam has so far failed to alleviate Hong Kong’s yawning inequality, she has also continued her predecessor’s policy of cracking down on Umbrella Movement leaders and moving closer to China. A controversial bill giving mainland Chinese authorities joint control over the city’s new high-speed rail terminus, raised significant alarm, as did plans to adopt a Chinese law banning insult of the Chinese national anthem and flag.Multiple Umbrella leaders, including Joshua Wong and Benny Tai, were imprisoned under Lam’s administration, and some more radical pro-democracy activists were barred from standing for election.On the other side of the border, the situation continued to worsen, as Chinese President Xi Jinping secured power for life and cracked down on dissent. In the far-western region of Xinjiang, millions of Muslims have reportedly been detained in “re-education” camps, and numerous activists have been jailed or disappeared. All of this tension and anger was a tinder box waiting to be lit by the extradition law. When the government failed to respond to a huge protest march on June 9 and pressed ahead with a second-reading of the bill days later, it exploded. Attempts by Lam to get the genie back in the bottle have proven unsuccessful, as the protests have outpaced her. JUST WATCHEDCarrie Lam says Hong Kong protesters are hurting economyReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH
Carrie Lam says Hong Kong protesters are hurting economy 00:55Unlike the government, protesters have learned from 2014. Rather than an exhausting, drawn-out occupation requiring people to camp out in the streets for weeks, making them vulnerable to police, counter-protesters and Hong Kong’s often miserable weather, they have instead adopted Bruce Lee’s slogan “be water.” A variety of protests, marches and strikes have taken place in the past months, evolving with the police and government response and impacting neighborhoods some of which had never seen a major protest before. “If this was an occupation on the streets every day it wouldn’t have lasted anywhere near this long,” Wong told CNN this week. Another key change has been in the leaderless nature of the protests. While this has its issues — most notably an inability to deescalate in violent or out-of-control situations — it has left the authorities without obvious targets for arrest. Some have argued that this also means there is no one for the government to negotiate with, but as Wong and others have pointed out, of five student leaders who met with Lam and other top officials in 2014, three were later jailed. Following a rare tear gas free earlier this month, Lam gestured towards future reconciliation, saying she would launch an “important fact-finding study” into the causes of the protest. “I hope that this is a very responsible response to the aspirations for better understanding of what has taken place in Hong Kong,” she said. “And most important of all, it is not just fact finding to provide the sequence of facts. It also will provide the Government with recommendations on how to move forward and also to avoid the recurrence of similar incidents.” For many Hong Kongers, the problems the city suffers were clear before the 2014 protests brought them to the attention of the world, and were even clearer afterward. That Lam’s government still does not apparently understand, or have any plan to address them, could mean the current unrest continues another 79 days.