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Protesters Occupy Hong Kong International Airport, Causing Cancellations And Delays


Thousands of protesters have occupied the Hong Kong International Airport for a few days now. At one point, almost all flights our of the airport were cancelled or delayed. At this hour, operations have resumed. The airport is the latest stage in protests that started about 10 weeks ago in Hong Kong over a law that would have allowed for extradition to mainland China. The demonstrations have gotten more violent in recent weeks. NPR correspondents Emily Feng and Anthony Kuhn have been covering the story from Beijing and Hong Kong.

Hey, guys.


ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hey there, Ailsa.

CHANG: Anthony, I want to start with you. You're at a Hong Kong airport. What has the day been like there?

KUHN: About mid-afternoon the announcement came out that flights had been canceled. Police said there were about 5,000 protesters occupying arrivals and departure areas at the airport. And a lot of people were afraid that the police were going to come in and clear the place out by force. Now the situation is pretty peaceful. A lot of the flights that were canceled are now just delayed, and still there are just tons of black-clad young protesters sitting all across the floors. The place is festooned with banners. And the protesters have been here since Friday trying to explain to the world what is going on in Hong Kong and what their demands are.

CHANG: And why did the protesters choose the airport?

KUHN: Well, it's one of the biggest in the world. Hong Kong is one of the world's big financial capitals. And one of the protesters here described to me the sort of hit-and-run strategy that they've been using. This was a young secretary sitting on the ground. Her name was Aly Poon (ph), and she was speaking to me from behind dark glasses and a scarf. And this is what she said.

ALY POON: We just flash (ph) and go, flash and go. Anywhere we can let the government hear our voices, we will be there.

CHANG: Was there also a sense that there would be less of a chance that police would be abusive at a location like the airport?

KUHN: Well, initially some people feared that this is why they canceled flights because they were going to come and clear the place by force. But one of the protesters here just said to me, they're not going to do that with all these foreign travelers here.

CHANG: So there's been no violence at the airport, at least today so far.

KUHN: Right, but that's certainly not the case in the city. I was one of the most violent weekends in the 10 weeks so far. At least four major districts in the city saw black-clad protesters occupying the streets, setting up barricades, throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at police, who then charged in with batons and tear gas. Then the rest of the protesters melted away and popped up in another spot.

CHANG: Let's take a look at the view from Beijing. Emily Feng, how has state media in China been framing all of these demonstrations happening in Hong Kong?

FENG: They have been framing them as criminal activities. And, in fact, when the protests started in Hong Kong's airport today, they said that protesters had, quote, "begun to show signs of terrorism." Their remarks are sure to infuriate protests even more. They also praised the Hong Kong police for upholding law and order over the weekend. Of course, the protesters went to the Hong Kong airport today specifically to protest Hong Kong brutality and violence. So they're still at odds with each other.

CHANG: And the use of the phrase terrorism by the Chinese government to express what is happening in Hong Kong, what does that signal to you?

FENG: Well, it's part of this increasingly confrontational, threatening rhetoric. It's also been a total reversal of Beijing's strategy. Up until about two weeks ago, Beijing has stayed completely silent on the Hong Kong protests. But since then, they've come out and called these protests evil and criminal. State media has likened the protests to a color revolution, which insinuates that the protests are seeking some sort of regime change to overthrow Beijing's governance. And this is worrying for people on the ground in Hong Kong because it means that Beijing sees the protests as a serious threat and can use all that as justification for more extreme measures.

CHANG: Do you have any sense of whether this can end without massive violence? Anthony, let me direct that question to you first.

KUHN: Well, one of the things that people were really angry about this weekend is that there were undercover cops who seemed to be inciting violence which the riot police then came in to quell. But it's been reported in the local media that these undercover cops were targeting the radical elements in an attempt to take them out. Protesters feel it's not going to work because they may just radicalize more people. And short of mass arrests, it's really hard to see how they can do anything to stop the protests.

CHANG: Emily, what's your sense of how this will pan out?

FENG: Beijing so far, as Anthony described, is still grasping at methods that skirt around the edge. But Beijing has also been increasingly putting pressure on businesses. So over the weekend we saw China's say that they're going to ban any Hong Kong airline staff with Cathay Pacific, which is a Hong Kong airline, from flying over Chinese airspace if they had participated in protests. And, of course, basically all flights that Cathay Pacific has fly into Chinese airspace. So I expect that we'll see more of that kind of corporate pressure that would cut off support to the protesters.

CHANG: That's NPR's Emily Feng in Beijing and Anthony Kuhn in Hong Kong.

Thanks to both of you.

KUHN: You're welcome, Ailsa.

FENG: Thanks, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Anthony Kuhn is NPR's correspondent based in Seoul, South Korea, reporting on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and the great diversity of Asia's countries and cultures. Before moving to Seoul in 2018, he traveled to the region to cover major stories including the North Korean nuclear crisis and the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear disaster.
Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.