Long-running protests on the streets of Hong Kong ramped up on Monday after a general strike crippled transportation networks and thousands of protesters took the streets in multiple locations around the territory.
For retailers it was perhaps the worst day yet of the Hong Kong protests which are now entering their third month. What began as opposition to a legislative bill which would have allowed Hongkongers to be extradited to China for prosecution has evolved into a broader anti-Beijing movement. A small proportion of protesters have become violent, vandalising police stations and other public assets, assaulting police and barricading roads and thoroughfares, including the cross-harbour tunnel.
Yesterday, hundreds of stores were closed across Hong Kong as staff joined the strike and participated in protest action. Many high-street shopkeepers shuttered their stores to protect against damage, while those in malls closed due to staffing issues or similar concerns about crowds.
“Losing a bit of money now is not such a problem, (compared) with losing everything that the freedom of Hong Kong used to stand for,” said Mark Schmidt, 49, a restaurant manager who closed on Monday.
“(The government) are making police the scapegoat and creating a situation that is becoming unbearable for everyone who lives here. So that’s one of the reasons we have joined the strike.”
In the prime Causeway Bay shopping destination, Sogo mall on Hennessy Road was closed in the afternoon as protestors began building a barricade outside the complex.
At 5.30pm, management of the nearby World Trade Centre advised shoppers and office staff via a tannoy to “remain calm” and watch out for their own safety after word spread that protesters may assemble at the centre. While some of the stores were closed, mall staff told the South China Morning Post reporter at the scene there were no plans to close the centre.
Earlier in the day, some protesters sought shelter in Tai Po Mega Mall as police conducted a dispersal operation outside. At Wong Tai Sin, protestors entered Temple Mall to escape tear gas outside.
A huge rally was held inside Sha Tin mall, where many shops were shuttered, including clothing retailer H&M and luxury brands Chanel and Dior. Protesters in the centre chanted: “Strike! Support to the end.”
Across the harbour, parts of Nathan Road and Argyle Street were closed and tear gas was fired on Nathan Road soon after 5pm. Rows of shops which would usually have been busy in early evening peak hour had their roller doors down and locked, one noticeable exception a McDonald’s restaurant where people ate in the window observing the chaos outside. Televised images showed often-bizarre scenes of suitcase-towing tourists stepping around riot police. In another part of town, protestors creating a bonfire outside the gates to a police station politely paused and stepped aside to let tourists pass by.
Long lines of traffic snaked across Hong Kong island into the heart of the business centre and hundreds of people were stranded at the airport, where more than 200 flights were cancelled at one point due to staff shortages related to the strike. The Airport Express train service was also suspended at one point.
Some MTR services were delayed or suspended after activists blocked trains from leaving stations, some by sitting between train doors, preventing them from closing.
The ongoing Hong Kong protests – combined with the escalating trade war between China and the US, is fuelling expectations of a recession in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong Financial Secretary Paul Chan said yesterday the territory risks a recession and IHS Markit’s July Purchasing Managers’ Index for Hong Kong showed private-sector business activity dropped to its lowest level in a decade.
“I would not be surprised if we see a technical recession – two consecutive quarters of contraction,” said Raymond Yeung, chief China economist at ANZ.
Reuters reports Hong Kong tourism numbers are already falling and hotel occupancy rates are slumping as the protests take a toll, adding pressure to an already struggling economy.
- Additional reporting from Reuters.