September 11th update: Protests have marked the US anniversary with a quiet day. Some overnight train services may be limited but protests and unrest are quiet right now.
Hong Kong is in the midst of change, as China seeks to gain a stronger political grip on the special administrative region, which puts the SAR in Hong Kong’s official title. Recent government proposals to extend Beijing’s power to Hong Kong have caused outrage amongst locals and outrage has lead to large scale protests around government buildings and an expanding range of the city, including the airport.
Naturally, all of the above has people wondering if it’s safe to visit Hong Kong right now.The short answer: generally yes, it is – but there are things to know.
If you’re coming for tourism or relaxation purposes, you’ll need to be a bit more aware, and there are some things you may want to avoid – like government buildings – but life is largely back to normal in many areas of Hong Kong.
First, Let’s recap the last few weeks.
Hundreds of flights were cancelled as protests made their way from the city to the airport from August 11th-14th, but things have since dispersed and flights have resumed normal service. Clashes became violent between riot police and protestors and at one point it appeared as if the city was on the brink of increased chaos and Chinese intervention. China has in no uncertain terms stated its opposition to the protests and has clamped down on any businesses which support the peoples right to protest.
With all that said, there are many parts of the city which are still business as usual entirely, and once again you could potentially visit the city without a clue that there was a large gathering of people near a building somewhere in town, because the rest is unaffected. The August 31st and September 1st protests were predominantly in Admiralty, Causeway Bay, Mongkok and Tsim Sha Tsui, but knock on effects appear to have caused transit delays and links to the airport.
Protests spreading to these popular areas means you could see these pro-democracy, anti Hong Kong extradition protests near popular hotels and shopping areas, but unless you are specifically wearing black and stay away from large groups, you should be absolutely fine. Strikes have been used by protestor groups in recent weeks, so there’s still a chance of transit strikes, though no exist at the time of writing.
Use Twitter to keep an eye out for where any actions are taking place, and if you see a crowd, go the other way. These instance are rare, and isolated but are important to bear in mind, should you find yourself near a crowd. Side note: try to avoid wearing black or white.
The US State Department has issued a “Level 2” travel advisory for Hong Kong, up from standard Level 1. Before that alarms you, a Level 2 warning is the same level as the UK, Spain, Barbados, Italy and many more, and 1 is the lowest of 4 possible ratings.
What about violence? In previous weeks, some protests became physically violent, with flames being thrown at police, and violent responses from police in return. This has once again crept up in recent end of August early September protests outside Chinese Peoples Liberation Army (PLA) buildings, and outside the residence of embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam. There have also been violent clashes in metro stations: Prince Edward, Mongkok and Kowloon Bay.
These crowds are generally isolated and to reiterate, you may be able to visit the city without knowing that they’ve happened – but you also may not.
The heavier HK protests are mostly away from where the majority of tourists and visitors stay, and away from many of the most popular things tourists do in Hong Kong. Keep in mind, tear gas has been deployed on large groups, so stay as far away from any demonstrations as possible. Basically – if you see a crowd, go the other way, or go into a hotel. But again – you may legitimately travel without ever knowing any clashes or protests had happened at all.
Sharpening Rhetoric From China, USA, Hong Kong
Beijing has sharpened rhetoric against these pro democracy protests and is threatening to bring heightened action if they do not cease, or return to a peaceful nature – which they have. At the same time, the US has decreed that any violence or action from China toward protestors will cross a red line.
This is effectively becoming a struggle to maintain the previously clear “one country two systems” independence for Hong Kong, supported by the West versus a newly sparked desire by Beijing in the East to control the region. China’s Aviation Authority (CAAC) has sought new measures to keep all protestors out of China, which lead to the departure of Cathay Pacific CEO Rupert Hogg.
At level 2, the US State Department is not saying to cancel a trip, it’s noting to avoid crowds and places where you could be caught up in civil action. It’s just a common sense look at keeping your eyes open.
Up until now, many of the Hong Kong protests taking place have been at specific areas around government buildings. Thus far, the main areas affected have been: Wan Chai, Admiralty, where the Hong Kong Central Government Complex is located, The Chinese Liason Office near Sai Wan, Tsim Sha Tsui and also Victoria Park, near Causeway Bay.
Remember: these protests are mostly peaceful, but they are best avoided due to increasing tension.
What Are The Protests About?
The Hong Kong Protests are centred around a government bill which would comply with a Chinese Government request to extradite citizens from Hong Kong to the Peoples Republic of China. China is looking to increase power and influence in the region, which is a wildly unpopular move amongst HK citizens. With the wavering commitment China has shown to basic human rights, transparency, freedom of speech and fair trials, the move is widely objected by youth in Hong Kong and
To avoid being accidentally caught up in the fracas, avoid avoid wearing white or black outfits and be sure to monitor social media and articles like this one to keep up to date on protest locations.
If you have plans to visit the Peak, the IFC Mall or the delicious eateries on Stanley or Wellington Streets, you could never know that any protests ever occurred. If you make the smart move to venture over to Quarry Bay, things are mostly quiet, and there’s great dumplings.
Hong Kong is one of the safer cities in the world, with low crime rates and excellent standards of medicine and healthcare, even with current unrest. With that said, this situation doesn’t seem as if it will come to a close anytime soon.
Unless you’re planning to join the protests, Hong Kong should still be safe for visitors and a new Level 2 warning from the US State Department means they equivocate all the action in Hong Kong to be of a similar level of caution as daily life in London, or Rome. However: watch this space.
Basically, be on alert, but no one is saying not to go. That’s up to you.
At this point, as violence has ceased and flights have resumed, it’s not worth considering cancelling plans or anything to that extent, but rather just be vigilant to avoid large crowds. If you have a trip planned for the future, just keep updated on this fluid situation.
If you don’t wish to travel, some airlines are issuing travel waivers which allow you to change for free.
Will There Be More Hong Kong Protests?
More protests are expected and are generally targeted toward Chinese Government buildings and Hong Hong Central Government offices, but the situation is changing constantly. Keep abreast of the situation using BBC News, and by following local media on Twitter.