Why Hong Kong's uprising could be doomed

Tuesday 13th August 2019 09:30 BST

We stopped and asked where they were going.

"Away," was basically the reply.

Some of them had been at the airport for four days, protesting, demonstrating, singing and mainly sitting down.

They had caused a certain amount of chaos with their presence.

The arrivals hall at Hong Kong International had turned into the biggest meet and greet fest in history.

Demonstrators were offering to talk about, and hand out leaflets about, police brutality to every international passenger arriving at the city since Friday.

But then something big happened.

They actually shut the whole place down.

They managed by weight of numbers to close the airport. Nothing out, a few long hauls in. But shut.

I can't remember this happening anywhere before and I know for certain it wouldn't happen at Heathrow.

But here it just did.

It has all been about disruption and chaos from the start. But this is really the big one.

Travellers with no planes to go to sat at the check-in desks waiting for news.

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All the shops and cafes were closed. The lifts and escalators were shutdown. The arrivals concourse a mass of teeming protesters.

They had turned out in their thousands after a terrible weekend of violence because they wanted to show solidarity for a medic shot in the eye by a tear gas round in the centre of Hong Kong Island.

Then I met the thousands on the motorway heading home.

"Why are you leaving?" I shouted at a few as they passed by. Eventually a young man spoke to me.

"Because the police are coming and we don't want to get hurt. We are protesting but we aren't violent."

In that moment I saw first-hand how this remarkable uprising, initially against an extradition treaty with mainland China, but now a real debate about the future of Hong Kong, has little chance of succeeding.

If the core group, the people who make up the numbers, who have the backing of others, whose mums and dads allow them to go on the marches, don't want to get hurt, then it is doomed.

The fact that they are taking on China is a bit of a no-win anyway, but not wanting to get hurt? Forget it.

I have covered a lot of uprisings. Most of them don't go well.

But one thing I know for certain is this: if the would-be revolutionaries aren't prepared to die, let alone get hurt, they hardly stand a chance.

China knows this. So the police have been instructed to smash this uprising.

It started on Sunday.

It all changed.

The police tactics evolved from calm warnings of potential violence written on large banners to sudden charges on the protesters, rounds of tear gas and rubber bullets and mass arrests.

We watched as snatch squads moved in and grabbed protesters.

We have broadcast video of demonstrators tear-gassed and beaten on the subway as they try to escape or move to a new location.

The police now deploy plain clothes squads into the protests, dressed as the activists.

It's not unexpected or particularly dastardly - it's called policing a riot.

The real question though, is what will this achieve for Hong Kong?

Some of the protesters have been smashing up police stations and shopping centres - but most are not.

Most are very quiet and law abiding.

Some of the police have been beating the hell out of protesters. But most do not.

My very good source in the police tells me that most officers agree with the sentiment of the protest but they can't stand by and watch vandalism.

Where does it go?

China won't improve on its natural 'control at all costs' position and Hong Kong won't ever really feel part of mainland China.

It's really sad.

But unless there is a sudden compromise from Beijing, this protest seems doomed.

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