Is Hong Kong still a safe place to live in?
Updated: Jul 30, 2019
It has been a turbulent summer for Hong Kong. The world took notice and watched. And friends living in other countries ask: Is Hong Kong still safe?
As a tourist you might wonder if you should cancel your trip. As someone who is considering or is about to move here, you might have second thoughts about becoming an Expat in Hong Kong. As someone who has lived here for almost 15 years, I felt safe in Hong Kong even during the anti-extradition protests. But the government's inability to bring people together and to actually bring peace back to the country, is starting to give me cause for concern. Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam keeps presenting herself as stone faced and tone deaf leader.
People here appreciate safety and stability as it makes fertile ground for prosperity. But for many it seems the opportunities to prosper have become rarer. What was safe and stable has become rigid and inert for the younger generation. With a dreary future at the horizon people take to the streets. An explosive discord about what is right and wrong, what needs to be abolished or protected, ensues.
What has been happening?
Since the beginning of June 2019 there have been mass protests against the suggested extradition law that would legally allow China to get hold of anyone they deem as suspect in Hong Kong to be extradited to face trial in the questionable Chinese court system. Black quickly became the colour of defiance. Hong Kong was “plunged into a political turmoil”. Many following protests which started peacefully ended up in violent confrontations between protesters and the police. The police’ reputation, known to be Asia’s finest, took a major dent in the public opinion. They were accused to have used excessive force towards the protesters. On the other hand, protesters who clashed with police were classified as rioters by the government.
Yet, my family felt mostly safe. We did family outings to Hong Kong Island and even joined one of the protests. No matter where you were standing regarding the extradition bill, the protests were at their hearts always pro-people. There was an undercurrent of solidarity and so many glimpses of goodness: Huge crowds in black parting for ambulances, people giving out their asthma medication to someone who forgot to bring their own, highschool students holding their umbrella over people with children when it started to rain. There were countless moments which made me proud to call Hong Kong my home.
But then two days ago late night on July 21st, hundreds of men dressed in white rumored to be triad members hired by pro-government village leaders stormed Yuen Long station. They were seen, waving Chinese flags and armed with bamboo sticks, when they assaulted protesters coming back from a rally. Although people wearing black were the initial target the men started violently lashing out at people indiscriminately.
We have viewed the footage of the attack and my stomach just knotted: the journalists being pummeled, the lone woman struck down to the ground for trying to protect a stranger, people covering their children and loved ones from cane blows. This attack was cowardly, sinister and most notably dumb.
Hong Kong experienced a collective what-the-f*ck moment. Where was the police? Why has no arrests been made? Why were the government leaders more upset that protesters have defaced the Chinese liaison building than Hong Kong citizens being ambushed by a mob.
Now the Guardian reports that the government or at least pro-Beijing officials are “utilising triads to assault citizens, threatening them to withdraw from the social movement.” The country's guard is up and the trust towards the government further eroded.
After all this is it still safe?
So we’re returning to the question at the beginning of the post. Yesterday several big malls near the MRT stations of Tuen Mun and Yuen Long have closed their shops fearing there might be more triad mob aggressions.
Albeit all the ongoing public precautions right now most of the territory is safe for tourists to go. You will have to be a little more vigilant and up to date on what is going on. I will later write a post on how to stay safe when you're out and about in Hong Kong, and how to avoid being caught in the middle of a fray.
Even people who live and work in the conflict areas go about their regular day, being a bit more vigilant and planning ahead, of course. As I’m about to upload this, I’m also making plans to visit a friend in Tuen Mun (yes, where the triads ran rampant) with my son today. She lives at an estate at the edge of Tuen Mun far away from the MTR station. We will take a cab to get there. So we can get quickly in and out if necessary . That according to my risk assessment should be ok. We all do those little calculations so life can resume as usual most of the week. Tourists from the Mainland keep shopping. People go to work, and helpers accompany their wards to summer camp.
We're trying to cope with human decency having taken a hit in the place we call home. I once read following defintion: "Home. A feeling of safety and security fused with comfort and peace." So yes, Hong Kong is still safe. It has to be. It is home. But for how long?