Hong Kong braced for rare strikes and further protests amid an escalating standoff over a controversial bill that would allow extraditions to mainland China.
Local companies said they would suspend work or allow flexible office hours on Wednesday to accommodate workers planning to demonstrate near the city’s Legislative Council, which will meet to debate amendments. The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, a pro-democracy labor group, and several student associations urged members to join the strike and reprise a protest Sunday that drew of hundreds of thousands.
The legislature was expected to gather around 12 p.m. Wednesday to consider changes proposed by opposition lawmakers. The body’s leader closed off the area outside the chamber -- a popular protest site known as the Drum -- after scuffles in that area early Monday morning.
Opponents want Hong Kong’s leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, to withdraw the legislation and threatened to organize a bigger, general strike June 17 to keep up the pressure.
“We are calling on Hong Kong people to come and join our protest rally right outside LegCo,” opposition lawmaker Claudia Mo said a news conference with other protest organizers Tuesday. “When we will call this off is up to Carrie Lam. If she doesn’t scrap this controversial extradition bill, Hong Kongers will fight on.”
Meanwhile, Lam cancelled a monthly legislative question-and-answer session slated to take place at 11 a.m. Lam’s popularity fell to its lowest rating since she took power in 2017, according to a survey by Hong Kong University’s Public Opinion Programme. The poll, which was taken before Sunday’s protests, saw her approval rating plunge to a record low 43 points, down from 64 points the week she assumed office.
‘Hong Kong Is Sick’
Hong Kong-listed Most Kwai Chung Ltd. said in a Facebook post that it would close business for the day because “Hong Kong is sick” and they “wish Hong Kong will get well soon.” Law firm Vidler & Co. Solicitors said it had notified all employees that “in the event they wished to act in accordance with their conscience” and not attend work Wednesday to go on strike against the bill, the firm would support their actions.
While the potential scale of the strike was difficult to assess, one unconfirmed list of participating companies circulating online had grown to 1,000 mostly local firms by late afternoon. People claiming to be airline crews and teachers urged strikes in their own organizations online.
Some of the almost 1,400 multinational corporations with regional offices in Hong Kong, such as the global accounting firm Deloitte, gave employees the option of working from home or at offices away from the protest site. Hundreds of thousands of protesters wearing white and calling for Lam’s resignation marched through the center of the city Sunday in one of the biggest mass demonstrations since the city was returned from British rule in 1997.
Hong Kong’s government is working to pass the law, which would for the first time allow extraditions with mainland China, before the end of the current legislative session ends in July. Critics say the proposal risks undermining the autonomy China guaranteed Hong Kong before handover, as well as its status as a global financial center, while the government argues they need to prevent the city from becoming a haven for fugitives.
Although the legislation was expected to easily pass the city’s legislature, which is dominated by Beijing loyalists, the opposition had introduced scores of amendments to undermine or slow the proposal’s approval. Hong Kong Legislative President Andrew Leung set aside almost 70 hours of debate, ending June 20.
The U.S. on Monday expressed “grave concern” over the legislation, raising pressure on Lam and her backers on the mainland. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang on Tuesday reaffirmed the government’s support for the extradition legislation and urged the U.S. to “exercise caution in its words and deeds and stop interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs and China’s internal affairs.”
--With assistance from Kevin Hamlin, Yan Zhang and Sheridan Prasso.