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'Free Hong Kong': Protesters press G-20 leaders ahead of summit

Key Points
  • About 10,000 people demonstrated in Hong Kong on Wednesday ahead of the G-20 summit to urge leaders to take up their calls for more democracy in the former British colony.
  • G-20 leaders including U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will gather in Osaka, Japan on Friday and Saturday.
  • China, which considers Hong Kong to be a domestic issue, said this week that it won't allow it to be discussed at the gathering.
Hong Kong protesters looked to keep their complaints about the Beijing-backed government on the global agenda with a series of demonstrations ahead of President Xi Jinping's attendance at the Group of 20 summit in Osaka, Japan.
Bloomberg | Bloomberg | Getty Images

About 10,000 people in Hong Kong demonstrated Wednesday in an attempt to urge this week's G-20 summit to discuss the need for increased democracy in the former British colony. Hong Kong has been rocked this month by massive protests against closer ties with mainland China.

G-20 leaders including U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping gather Friday and Saturday in Osaka, Japan for the annual meeting. Participants in the Hong Kong rally see it as a chance to focus high-level global attention on fears that the Asian financial center's freedoms are increasingly under threat.

Widespread local anger against legislation proposed by the Hong Kong government that would allow criminal extraditions to mainland China exploded this month in the form of mass protests that brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets of the territory of about 7.4 million people.

And while the demonstrations were initially spurred by the legislative plan, demands have moved beyond calling for the scrapping of the bill and the resignation of Chief Executive Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's top official, to broader issues of democratic accountability and the behavior of the local police force.

"I want to fight for democracy," Connie Lee, a part-time worker who joined Wednesday evening's "G-20 Free Hong Kong Assembly" rally told CNBC. Lee added that she wants global leaders including Xi to "hear our demand, our eager desire" for freedom.

Demonstrators holding placards reading "Free Hong Kong" and "Democracy Now" packed a public square near the city's famed harbor. Police estimated that about 10,000 people were present at the peak of the protest.

Hong Kong was a British colony until 1997, when it became a special administrative region of the People's Republic of China under a "one country, two systems" framework with the territory's legal system independent from the rest of China.

Politically, Hong Kong has its own legislature, but the chief executive is not directly elected and only candidates acceptable to the central government in Beijing are eligible for the role.

A man holds a sign at a pro-democracy rally in Hong Kong ahead of the G-20 summit meeting in Japan.
Kelly Olsen

'Nonsense'

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in an interview on Fox News Sunday on June 16 that he expected Trump and Xi to discuss Hong Kong at the G-20. But a senior Chinese foreign ministry official said Monday that China won't allow the status of the territory to be brought up at the meeting.

Darren Lau, a university student, said it's important for Hong Kong's voice to be heard internationally and dismissed as "nonsense" China's view that it can prevent discussion at the summit.

"China can't stop it or even reject it" if other countries want to do so," he said.

The Chinese government often reacts angrily to any outside criticism over Hong Kong's affairs, calling them a purely domestic matter.

Fierce opposition to the extradition bill, which opponents feared could expose people in Hong Kong to China's politically controlled courts, forced Lam to indefinitely shelve the plan. And while refusing protester demands to quit as chief executive and entirely withdraw the legislation, she has publicly acknowledged it is unlikely to be resubmitted for debate.

Business groups and foreign governments, including the United States, expressed opposition to the legal changes over concerns they could make Hong Kong a less attractive place for international business.

Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and a former president of Chile, on Monday praised Lam's decision to suspend the bill.

"I encourage the authorities to consult broadly before passing or amending this, or any other, legislation," Bachelet said, according to her opening statement to the 41st session of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

After Wednesday's rally ended, what appeared to be up to about several hundred demonstrators gathered outside Hong Kong's police headquarters. That was the site of a tense protest last week that saw thousands surround the building and some pelt it with eggs and write slogans on its walls.

Anger at police has mounted after violence during a demonstration against the extradition bill on June 12 in which riot squads fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters outside the legislature. The use of force was condemned by demonstrators as excessive, though Hong Kong's police commissioner said it was justified due to what he called a "hostile and very unstable" crowd.