Power of the purse: Hong Kongers find new ways to protest

Amid the holiday season, residents call for boycott on business establishments perceived as unfriendly to protesters.

Hong Kong - Protest - Al Jazeera
Hong Kong residents say they have less appetite to celebrate the holidays this year amid violent crackdown on protesters [Al Jazeera]

Hong Kong – As demonstrators clashed with police on Christmas eve in the shopping districts of Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kong, another group of protesters gathered across Victoria Harbour on Tuesday night to call for more pressure on the Chinese government for its response to the ongoing unrest.

Demonstrators in black shirts and masks converged in the Central district, providing a sharp contrast to the glittering lights across the road at Winter Carnival and the festive decorations on both sides of the harbour.

The demonstrators came in support of Spark Alliance, a group that saw its bank account frozen by the government following its effort to raise funds for protesters.

At least four people were arrested and accused of money laundering in connection with the case. The group has raised HK$70m ($8.9m) in support of the anti-government protests.

Spark Alliance and its supporters have denounced the move and are accusing the Chinese government of using profits from its state-owned corporate listings in overseas markets and Chinese bonds to fund a media clampdown in Hong Kong. 

The Alliance is trying to draw international attention to this issue, as well as China’s allocation of resources to detaining Muslim Uighurs in the westernmost province of Xinjiang.

Its reputation for being a wealthy territory has become Hong Kong’s leverage against the Chinese central government.

Anti-Government Protests Continue in Hong Kong
Plain-clothes police clash with protesters in a shopping mall on Christmas Eve [Anthony Kwan/Getty]

For more than six months now, the city has been facing massive protests. During that period some 6,000 people have been arrested, with 1,000 charged, many of them young protesters and student activists.

The protests began as a movement against a proposed extradition bill. The plan has since been shelved, but the protests continue, with the demands evolving into calls for more freedom in the self-governing territory, including direct election of its leader.

Weak business activity

December, January and February are the peak season for Hong Kong, with residents marking Christmas and Chinese Lunar New Year back-to-back.

However, the continuous protests have dampened business activity, with large shopping malls hesitating to promote holiday sales.

In November, a Christmas tree was burned at the Festival Walk shopping centre in Kowloon, prompting it to shut down until the end of the year.

Harbour City, a seaside shopping mall in Tsim Sha Tsui, also held its Christmas-related events nearly a month later than it did last year, announcing the Christmas celebration just a week before December 25.

Why are people protesting in Hong Kong?

Hong Kong residents say they have less appetite to celebrate this year, with the protests leaving many injured or arrested. At least two people were also reported killed during the unrest.

Shop Yellow, not Blue

Kaylie, a senior medical student, says she makes sure to eat at “Yellow Shops” – food establishments that support or sympathise with the protesters.

With a following of over 250,000, members of the “Yellow Economic Circle” Facebook group share information about which restaurants to go, and which places to boycott.

William, one of the owners of LLB Bistro in Sheung Wan district, said people have flooded his restaurant just one day after he was praised by an Instagrammer for donating to the protesters.

Despite the restaurant’s location in hilly Hong Kong Island, William says people kept messaging him wanting to come and eat at his restaurant. He says he is fully booked for the Christmas holiday.

The Tailormade cake shop also received support from customers after it announced that it is holding a charity sale for the Spark Alliance and for an independent investigative newsroom.

Amid criticism from government officials and big business, the “Yellow Economic Circle” is thriving.

Hong Kong Protests
People run away from tear gas during a Christmas Eve Hong Kong protest march outside the Harbour City mall on Tuesday [Lucy Nicholson/Reuters]

In contrast, many Hong Kongers say they are boycotting so-called “Blue Shops”, which are mostly established with Chinese capital or have shown hostility towards the protesters.

One company being boycotted is Maxim’s Group, the Starbucks franchisee in Hong Kong.

Anger against Maxim was sparked by Annie Wu, the 71-year-old daughter of the deceased founder, who denounced the protesters as “radicals” while defending Hong Kong police.

William, who owns LLB Bistro, said some people are complaining about the protests because they benefited from the existing economic order.

Chow Sung-ming, who teaches at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University, says the call for boycott has had an immediate impact although a support system would be needed for the favoured businesses in the long run.

Source: Al Jazeera