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What Hong Kong Residents Think Of Pro-Democracy Bill Passed By U.S. Congress

Nov 22, 2019
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AILSA CHANG, HOST:

OK, let's go to Hong Kong now, where NPR's Emily Feng is on the ground.

Hey, Emily. Thanks for getting up early for us.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Of course. Hi, Alisa.

CHANG: So how much are people there actually following what's happening in the U.S. Congress?

FENG: Very, very closely. And people are in jubilation that Congress has passed this bill. They see it as a sign that public support globally is on their side, even if they're fighting a much larger enemy - China. But the bill is controversial because some argues - some argue that the biggest victim would be Hong Kong. Central to the bill is potentially revoking Hong Kong's special trading status with the U.S. And that status is what allows Hong Kong to become this global financial hub and act as an interface for China, a huge market to the rest of the world.

Now Hong Kong's economy is already in a recession. Without this special trading status, it's possible that its economy would never bounce back. But protesters I speak to here, even the least radical ones - these are housewives, parents - they say that's exactly what they want. They - one of them even described the bill as a nuclear option. Basically they're willing to destroy Hong Kong if it doesn't become like authoritarian mainland China.

CHANG: Wow, willing to destroy Hong Kong. You know, the headlines about Hong Kong that we're reading over here have continually focused on how violent the protests and the police response have become lately. But you are there. You're seeing it up close. How does this city feel right now to you?

FENG: Life goes on. There's a semblance of normalcy that's returned. Earlier this week, the city saw some of its most violent clashes yet. But right now, things are really quiet. I'm actually on this really quiet street right now. And...

CHANG: Yeah, it sounds quiet.

FENG: ...People are still ambling back home from Friday night revelries.

CHANG: (Laughter).

FENG: But it's strange because only - like, less than a 10-minute walk away as Polytechnic University. And there are dozens of protesters and volunteers that are still stuck inside. They've been stuck since Sunday...

CHANG: Wow.

FENG: ...When they stormed the campus. They tried to shut down a cross-harbor bridge that's really close by. And they barricaded themselves in with Molotov cocktails and homemade catapults, bows and arrows when riot police arrived. I walked around the police cordon on Thursday, and the air still smelled like tear gas because police had fired more than 1,000 canisters since Sunday. Police have said they're not going to immediately charge protesters who peacefully give up and walk out of campus. But there's just no trust, and so dozens of protesters still remain inside. And it's been long enough that parents of the people on campus have been taking to local television to try to send messages to their children. Here's one of them.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Chinese).

FENG: She's saying, you are my dearest son. Please be good. Please pull yourself together. So it's heart-wrenching messages like that from the siege in Polytechnic that's further galvanized the city against police. The latest opinion polling that came out early this week shows that despite the fact people don't like the escalating violence, three-fourths blame the government and the police for it.

CHANG: Now I understand that there are supposed to be elections this weekend in Hong Kong. Are those still going forward as planned despite all the unrest the city has seen?

FENG: Yes. So far, it seems like they definitely will go ahead on Sunday. Things have actually been really quiet over the last two days because protesters want to make sure they don't do anything that justifies a delay in the district elections. The district council positions are not legislative lawmaking positions, but they do represent local neighborhoods and community needs. And so it's become a referendum for how much public support there really is for the protests. Beijing is watching really closely, obviously. They're trying to get a sense of whether there actually might be legislative change once lawmaker elections come around.

CHANG: Yeah.

FENG: And there are a lot of new pro-democracy candidates who are running for the first time. It's a reminder that a lot of Hong Kong still works despite the chaos of the last half year.

CHANG: That's NPR's Emily Feng with the view from Hong Kong.

Thanks so much, Emily.

FENG: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF KUDASAIBEATS' "LIMITED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.