Asia in 2016: Hong Kong

Just as the aftershocks of the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement demonstrations of 2014 had calmed down, the Year of the Monkey began in Hong Kong with a violent surprise.

In February, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department cracked down on popular but unlicensed street food vendors in Kowloon’s gritty Mong Kok neighborhood, prompting an angry response from residents. As the protests escalated, police used pepper spray, and fired two rounds of warning shots over the crowd’s heads. Protesters returned fire with water bottles and bricks. The South China Morning Post reported that 124 people were sent to hospital. Separately, Umbrella leader Joshua Wong Chi-fung was denied entry to Thailand in October, at the request of China’s government.

Another hangover from a previous year was the disappearance during 2015 of five employees of a Hong Kong publishing company that sold books banned in China. All have since returned but only one has spoken about his abduction by Chinese security police. “I think the objective of the move is to purposely tighten freedom of speech in Hong Kong, and to a certain extent it has succeeded,” Lam Wing-kee said last year. Lam told media in June 2016 that he had been abducted in October 2015 and kept in solitary confinement for five months.

Another political controversy shook Hong Kong after the Legislative Council election held in September. Two newly elected pro-democracy legislators, Sixtus “Baggio” Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching, both from the Youngspiration party, misstated their oath of office, using a derogatory Japanese colonial term for China, among other issues. Their oaths were declared invalid by LegCo President Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen, a decision confirmed by a controversial interpretation of Hong Kong’s Basic Law by China’s National People’s Congress. Hong Kong’s High Court re-affirmed the legislators’ removal from the legislature.

The government’s economic management was called into question when it announced in late November that it would invest HK$5.8 billion in a HK$10.9 billion project to expand Hong Kong Disneyland. The government says the six-year project it is expected to increase annual visitor arrivals by 40 percent to 9.5 million people. Lawmakers criticized the concentration of government resources in the Disneyland project, while other critics warned of increasing competition from new theme parks such as Legoland Japan and 20th Century Fox World Korea.

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying closed the year with his announcement that he would not serve a second term as Hong Kong’s leader, citing family reasons. Possible candidates to succeed him include the number two officeholder, Chief Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, former security secretary Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, and former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah.

Nov Povleakhena is a master's degree candidate at the University of Hong Kong's Journalism and Media Studies Centre.