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Protesters In Hong Kong Are Becoming More United In Their Strategy And More Desperate


Now to Hong Kong, where anti-government protests have become more violent and often destructive. The government still hasn't budged on several key demands for reform, leading to a spiral of more violence. And that's led some to ask, what's the point of it all? NPR's Emily Feng reports from Hong Kong.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Five demands.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Not one less.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: (Chanting) Five demands.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting) Not one less.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: Five demands, not one less; the slogan underlying nearly half a year of protest - it's the core ask of the entire movement. But just one demand has been met - the withdrawal of an extradition bill. The remaining four include direct elections for the city's chief leader and amnesty for arrested protesters. But ask Hong Kongers like Masie Fung, a 27-year-old office worker, about what they'll actually achieve, and they say...

MASIE FUNG: (Through interpreter) I think it's quite impossible for us to achieve these five demands.

FENG: That's the curious thing. People keep turning out every weekend and increasingly during the week, even though they know their demands will almost certainly not be met, especially the one for direct elections. So then what's the point of the protests, I asked Masie.

FUNG: (Through interpreter) Not everything has to have immediate results. The protesters have to try. They have to start somewhere. I'd rather see Hong Kong destroyed than for it to become like communist China.

FENG: Would rather see Hong Kong destroyed - as protests continue into their sixth month, the mood on the streets has darkened. Protesters talk about creating destruction so great the Hong Kong government won't be able to ignore them or their demands.

ANDY CHAN: So that is our ultimate strategy - is economic war.

FENG: Economic war - Andy Chan is one of the more radical political thinkers in Hong Kong. He wants outright independence from China. That sets him apart from the majority of activists who just want to see Hong Kong preserve its limited autonomy. But now Chan and other protesters young and old are becoming more united in this strategy of economic war. Chan echoes a slogan popularized through protest graffiti - burn with us.

CHAN: At least we'll get something or we'll burn together.

FENG: It sounds like a suicide mission.

CHAN: Yeah, because we have no choice. Once we give up, we become Xinjiang. There must be - there will be concentration camps.

FENG: He's talking here about mass detentions of Muslim ethnic minorities in China's region of Xinjiang. There's no proof that China's ruling Communist Party has the same plans for Hong Kong, but it's a widely held fear. And it's fed the feeling that Hong Kong is fighting for its survival.

Here lies a central tension. Critics, including many other Hong Kong residents, say protesters are destroying Hong Kong. Protesters say they're destroying Hong Kong to save it. And even if they fail this time around, protests have sharpened a spirit of resistance of Hong Kong identity. They paved the way for November's pro-Democratic landslide in local elections. And while these newly elected local councilors don't have lawmaking power, some do help choose Hong Kong's next leader. Wilson Leung is a commercial litigator and founder of a pro-democracy lawyers group.

WILSON LEUNG: Day to day, people are thinking about, what can I do to resist encroachment? And what can I do to hopefully, slowly, bit by bit, even if it takes generations, push towards greater democracy?

FENG: And, says Leung, they're also protesting so they can tell their future selves at least they didn't go without a fight.

Emily Feng, NPR News, Hong Kong. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.