Protesters marched in central London on Saturday in solidarity with the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.
Up to 1,000 joined the Stand With Hong Kong protest, which gathered in Trafalgar Square before marching to Downing Street and Parliament Square. They chanted, “Reclaim Hong Kong,” and, “Fight for freedom.”
The action was in support of a mass movement that is gripping Hong Kong. It began in opposition to a law that would allow extraditions to mainland China. But it quickly morphed into a movement demanding more freedom and democracy.
Many of those marching were from Hong Kong, and had family and friends there. One protester told Socialist Worker, “There is a lot of violence in Hong Kong. The police surround people and fire tear gas at them.
“The situation is escalating – now you have gangsters attacking people too. Everyone is very upset about that.”
Kan is from Hong Kong and working in London. “Every weekend I wake up and watch the news to see what’s happening,” he told Socialist Worker. “On 21 July there was an attack in a train station by men in masks.
“They attacked everyone, not just protesters. We need to tell the world what’s happening.”
Protesters also put demands on the British government.
Hong Kong citizen Ying told Socialist Worker, “Britain has been exporting a lot of weapons to Hong Kong. We need to let people know that’s not ok.
“Britain does deals with China – it could say it won’t do them if China won’t allow democracy in Hong Kong. It has that bargaining chip.”
An organiser of the protest told the crowd that Britain should impose “sanctions” on Hong Kong in response to its treatment of protesters.
Another protester said, “We want the government to hear our voices. We want the British government to issue a declaration condemning what is happening.”
She added that protests outside Hong Kong can have a powerful impact on the movement there. “It’s important that people in Hong Kong know that every country is watching what is happening,” she said.
“If they see our protests it can be empowering. It can help them to continue the fight, knowing that people are supporting them.”
Rachel agreed. “Protests like this can help people feel like the world’s backing them up,” she told Socialist Worker. “I have a lot of hope because protesters in Hong Kong know what they are doing. They are really impressive.
“But the situation is getting tense. Now the government is dishing out money to try and bribe people – a month’s free rent and things like that. But there’s nothing for university students. They are trying to divide people.”
Hong Kong is part of China but people there have more rights and freedoms under a policy known as “One Country, Two Systems.”
Mrs Wan told Socialist Worker, “One country, two systems is broken. The Hong Kong police are like murderers.”
A loud counter-protest in support of the Chinese state taunted the protest. Counter-protesters waved Chinese flags, carried placards reading, “Hong Kong is part of China forever,” and chanted, “One country.”
The Hong Kong protest chanted, “Two systems,” in response. And they switched from chanting, “Freedom for Hong Kong,” to, “Freedom for China,” in reference to the repressive regime there.
Shao Jiang is a survivor of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre, when China used tanks to smash a mass movement off the streets. Shao told Socialist Worker that the counter-protest was the result of “a global campaign by Chinese embassies”.
“Many people in China have been brainwashed,” he added. “For many most of their information comes from the Chinese government. I’ve said to those protesters, isn’t it good that you can practice freedom of assembly? Try practising it in China.”
Rachel said, “A lot of people in China are too scared to speak out. But a lot of people are also proud of the Chinese state. It has built up this nationalism since 1949 and it’s very strong.”
The protest came as more mass protests took place across Hong Kong, most in defiance of police bans. The movement, which has seen Hong Kong’s first general strike in over half a century, has worried the authorities.
But many fear that they will ramp up repression in response.
As one protester put it, “Beijing would never allow the movement to win. Look at Tiananmen Square. They will kill to stop movements. They are scared that if people win in Hong Kong, there could be protests in China too.”