Here’s why the politically-motivated protests are happening and how they will affect your trip.
For several days during the past two weeks, protesters have filled Hong Kong’s streets, blocking roads and demonstrating against Hong Kong’s top official, chief executive Carrie Lam, who has attempted to pass an extradition bill that many say would weaken the protections around those who live in the semi-autonomous territory.
Organizers say an unverified estimated 2 million people demonstrated peacefully on Sunday (June 16), according to the New York Times, following a smaller protest on Wednesday (June 12) that turned violent. (Hong Kong has a population of slightly more than 7 million.)
“There have been some skirmishes with police—with most here considering the police to be overly aggressive,” says Kate Appleton, a former AFAR staffer based in Hong Kong. “It has been remarkable how peaceful and orderly the protests have been. There are reports of protesters picking up trash and clearing the way for ambulances.”
Here’s what travelers need to know about visiting Hong Kong right now.
Which areas have been affected?
The protests have occurred primarily in Admiralty, the Central Government Complex of Hong Kong, and SAR Tamar Park—much of Hong Kong’s downtown core.
The June 16 march began in Victoria Park and headed west along Hennessy Road through the Wan Chai neighborhood to end up in Admiralty by the Legislative Council, says Appleton. (A map of Sunday’s route appears here.)
What should I know if I’m traveling to Hong Kong?
As of December 31, 2018, the State Department’s travel advisory for those visiting Hong Kong is at a Level 1, which suggests travelers exercise normal precautions. The State Department has not released any more alerts for upcoming protests, which are typically announced one day before they happen, but it suggests travelers “stay alert,” “keep a low profile,” and “monitor local media for updates.”
Given the size of the demonstrations, large parts of the city can become inaccessible, and public transport can be impacted. Appleton says that last week, the Admiralty MTR station was closed for less than 24 hours but has since reopened; in general, she notes it’s still easy to move about the city via car and public transportation.
Travelers should monitor the situation via social media and news. Some of the best local outlets are:
For additional assistance, contact the U.S. Consulate General Hong Kong & Macau by telephone using the following numbers: 852-2841-2211 or 852-2523-9011 (after hours). It can also be reached by email, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Are any attractions or hotels affected?
Appleton says Hong Kong is still safe for travelers, and “as of now, they can expect to move about the city and experience things normally.”
Some 100 art institutions also went on strike on June 12, closing their doors in solidarity with the protesters. They’ve since reopened, but if you’re traveling to Hong Kong while more demonstrations are planned, be sure to check the website of any attraction you’d like to visit.
On June 12, the Peninsula Hong Kong released a statement, saying:
“The Peninsula Hong Kong is operating as normal. While local residents and international visitors can continue to travel around Hong Kong as usual, guests are advised to check with the Concierge before venturing out to Hong Kong Island.
“The Hong Kong International Airport is open and operating as normal. However, guests with flights are advised to allocate extra time prior to their scheduled flight departure time and to check the flight status prior to travelling. Additionally, guests are recommended to check with their respective embassy for travel advisories.
“The Peninsula Hotels takes the safety of its guests and staff extremely seriously. As such, we will continue to closely monitor the situation, and will advise guests of any change in the situation or security-related measures that should prove necessary.”
What caused the protests?
The extradition bill, which has been delayed indefinitely as of Saturday, June 15, is the root cause. Since February, Lam has pushed for the passage of the bill, which she says is necessary to a murder case: In 2018, Poon Hiu-wing and her boyfriend, Chan Tong-kai, went on a trip to Taiwan. Only Chan returned; he later told police he had strangled Poon.
Yet under Hong Kong law, Chan can only face charges related to where the death occurred, in Taiwan. Because Hong Kong does not share an extradition agreement with Taiwan, Chan remains in Hong Kong. Because of this, Lam has been an advocate for entering an extradition agreement with Taiwan as well as China.
What do protesters say?
Protesters have said this extradition agreement would expose them to China’s legal system. A former British colony, Hong Kong today is a special administrative region of China that has control over its politics, laws, and economy and operates under the “one country, two systems” principle. Many critics of the extradition bill, like Claudia Mo, an opposition lawmaker, say it’s nothing more than an opportunity for Lam to push a broader agenda of incorporating Hong Kong into China (Lam was selected by China to lead the territory).
“I think the whole thing is a political maneuver more than anything else,” said Mo, according to the New York Times. “Ever since the handover, it’s been stipulated in the law that we do not hand over fugitives to mainland China. Now they are taking advantage of this particular Taiwan case and pretend it is for compassion and humanity.”
Mo has said the protests will continue until Lam steps down, though there are currently no plans for more demonstrations.
This article was originally published on June 18, 2019. It has been updated to include quotes from on-the-ground sources.