Beyond the Headlines podcast: What sparked the Hong Kong protests?

Hong Kong is facing the biggest political crisis in decades, as 10 weeks of mass protests show no signs of fading.

Tens of thousands took to the streets in June to demonstrate against a bill to allow extraditions to mainland China.

The proposal was controversial for many as they saw it as an erosion of the city’s special status, dubbed ‘one country two systems’, agreed between the UK and China when the city was handed over in 1997.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has since suspended the bill but that hasn’t calmed the situation.

Instead, running battles between police and protesters have left dozens on both sides wounded.

But residents of the city who have long had faith in the police force were shocked to see officers fighting back.

With the protests ongoing, the calls for an investigation into police tactics have grown as the demands of those on the streets have evolved.

While Beijing has tried to stay out of the debate, saying it is a local matter for Hong Kong to handle, it has hardened its stance and rallies continue.

On Monday and Tuesday, thousands of protesters wearing their signature black T-shirts gathered at Hong Kong's airport, forcing authorities to cancel hundreds of flights.

Demonstrators turned on two men believing they were undercover police or spies.

Xu Luying, spokeswoman at the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs of the State Council, condemned the incident.

"We express the strongest condemnation of these terrorist-like actions," she said, calling the two men "mainland China compatriots".

Ms Lam has called for calm and accused demonstrators of putting the local economy at risk.

But demonstrators want the extradition bill withdrawn, an investigation into the police and guarantees that their rights would be protected.

The city’s leaders have made no indication that they’re willing to listen.

While the crisis may have been sparked by the new legislation, its roots lie deeper.

This week on Beyond the Headlines, we speak to David Schlesinger, the former editor-in-chief of Reuters news agency and an expert on Hong Kong and China, about how changes in the city, the economy and the local demographics have fed into the latest anger.

We also speak with one young resident of the city about her view of the protests as well as her hopes for the future.


If you haven’t yet listened to last week’s episode, where we spoke to Aya Al-Umari, the sister of Hussein Al-Umari, one of the victims who was gunned down in the Christchurch massacre earlier this year.

Last week she was in Saudi Arabia undertaking Hajj in Hussein’s name.