At the moment I am writing this, vans of police have surrounded Hong Kong’s airport, which has been shut down for the past two days. Hong Kong’s airport is the 8th busiest airport on Earth, and it is a vital nexus for aerial transportation across East Asia. The airport serves as a major pillar of Hong Kong’s economy, as business travellers regularly fly in to Hong Kong. The airport is also the world’s busiest airport in terms of air cargo, though it is unknown as to the status of cargo flights, which may not be disrupted.
Hong Kong’s airport protests have not been related to Carrie Lam’s controversial extradition bill, but instead are in reaction to reported police brutality against previous protests. Chinese state media has called the protesters “terrorists”, citing incidents of Hong Kong’s protesters hurling petrol bombs at police officers. Excessive force was likely used by police officers at some point – but with 22 officers reported injured, some excessive force incidents may have been instigated by protesters. Other clashes could be related to Hong Kong’s use of undercover police officers who may have instigated clashes in order to smear the protesters.
Shutting down Hong Kong’s airport is a new level of escalation that is completely counterproductive to the goals of the Hong Kong protesters. The airport shutdown does not hurt China – ultimately, wary airlines will fly to Shenzhen or Guangzhou, rather than risk flying into a volatile Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s economy, heavily dependent on international business, will be severely harmed. Protesters appear to be attacking and assaulting accused undercover police officers – that is not an act of protest, but an act of outright illegal violence for political gain.
Moreover, the fact that Hong Kong’s airport was shut down for two days indicates restraint on behalf of Beijing and the Hong Kong government. If protesters seized JFK airport in the US, and shut it down for only hours, the National Guard would have been sent in to disperse protesters – America, or any other nation, would likely not tolerate a major international airport being shut down. As anecdotal evidence, I saw anti-Trump protests at Grand Central Station over Trump’s ICE raids – the protesters were kept in a certain area by police, and not allowed to shut down Grand Central Station. The NYPD displaced Occupy Wall Street protesters out of a mere city park (admittedly, after a month of occupation) – ultimately, a most countries will not tolerate mob seizure of public places for long periods of time. Hong Kong’s police moving in – and perhaps the Chinese military moving in – is inevitable to maintain financial stability in Asia and to maintain the integrity of Hong Kong’s economy.
Are the Hong Kong protests justified? Possibly, especially with regards to Carrie Lam’s extradition bill. But shutting down an entire city does not help anyone, and only further helps to justify a crackdown. TV images of protesters beating up accused undercover protesters will not help, and only further help to justify a crackdown. Hong Kong, ultimately, is a part of China, and China has never been a true democracy. Hong Kong’s current protests are bordering on riots, and the protesters will lose international support if they continue to attempt to hold the airport.