Panel Abstract

Massive Political Mobilisation in Hong Kong: Against the Extortion Bill

In February 2019, the Hong Kong Government proposed the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill, commonly known as “the extradition bill”, which sparked off a series of protests and demonstrations locally. Starting then, citizens began to organize demonstrations, rallies and other online and offline events in protest.

Some protests turned into violence and police brutality was observed, while the publicmade these demands:

  1. Withdrawal of the Bill;
  2. Unconditional release of all arrested protestors without the threat of future prosecution;
  3. Renunciation of the characterization of the June 12 protests as “riots”;
  4. Appointment of an independent commission to inquire into the excessive violence used by the police in the protests;
  5. Universal suffrage to elect a truly democratic government

However, the Government only announced the suspension of the bill and neither refused to withdraw it nor make any apology. More people took to the streets and also used other means to express their views, like signing declaration, newspaper advertisements in other countries, visiting consulates, and even blocking public transport. The series of demonstrations against the extradition bill has become the most significant event after the Occupy Movement in 2014 affecting the governance of Hong Kong.

In order to gauge public opinion for policy reference, one of the authors of this paper proposed a non-government organization Project Citizen Foundation to (a) conduct a large-scale opinion survey of over 1,000 randomly selected Hong Kong citizens aged 14 or above to gauge and record the public’s view towards the extradition bill, and then (b) conduct some focus group studies of youths plus an engagement meeting to understand their demands and proposed solutions, and (c) compile an independent public sentiment report on the entire incident.

The project required a budget of HK$1M. Because the researchers wished to let the public owe the entire project, so they decided to take a post-modern approach to sourcing funding – that by online crowd-funding. Within only one and a half day, the funding target was achieved, which is a clear indication of public support. The campaign promotion was launched through a press conference and spread wildly in different online forums.

By the end of July, the opinion survey was completed, results showed that

  1. Nearly 70% of the Hong Kong people opposed the extradition bill;
  2. Chief Executive Carrie Lam was considered to be the most important factor leading to the governance crisis, followed by Hong Kong Police Force and the Central Government;
  3. People considered the deeper reasons of the crisis included the lack of universal
  4. Central government suffrage and intervention from the Central Government

Judging from the survey results, there is no doubt that the general public strongly opposed the extradition bill, and the Government failed to satisfy people’s demands. This expectation gap was quickly and significantly widened as more protestors resorted to viral discussions and call for actions in the online forums. This paper describes how public opinion, protests and online mobilization interact with each other in this extradition bill incident in Hong Kong.