Hong Kong Willing to Put Up a Fight to Defend its Freedoms

June 14, 2020
China | Foreign Affairs | Relations with China

Ever since the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997, there have been concerns that the freedoms of the people of Hong Kong could gradually be eroded by the Chinese Government. Increasingly, these views appear to be well-founded, with Beijing recently imposing a national security law that bypassed Hong Kong’s democratically elected parliament. As a result, there has been a global conversation about welcoming migrants from Hong Kong who fear repression from China. In the midst of this turmoil, from June 4th to 7th, we at Redfield & Wilton Strategies polled a representative sample of permanent residents in Hong Kong to better understand current public sentiment in the territory.

Our poll found that the majority in Hong Kong do not have confidence in the Hong Kong Government (58%), compared to 42% who said they do have confidence.

Moreover, only 21% of respondents approve of Carrie Lam’s job performance since becoming Chief Executive of Hong Kong. On the other hand, the majority (52%) disapproves of the job performance of the pro-Beijing Chief Executive.

Lam has been under pressure to resign ever since the widespread protests last year in opposition to the extradition bill that her Government introduced in Hong Kong. Furthermore, she is currently on the spotlight once again due to her role in Beijing’s imposition of a new national security law in Hong Kong that bypasses the territory’s democratically-elected parliament, and which has unleashed a new wave of protests. These protests, in conjunction with coronavirus, have had a very negative impact on Hong Kong’s economy. Therefore, it is not surprising that the majority of Hong Kong respondents think Carrie Lam should resign (56%), with only 24% saying they do not think she should resign.

However, beyond Lam herself and the current government, what is most concerning is that the majority of respondents do not have confidence in the integrity of elections in Hong Kong (55%), which is worrying evidence of the weakening of democratic institutions in the territory. This weakening has an impact not only on governance and civil liberties, but also on the economic and legal risk of many firms operating in Hong Kong.

A further sign of the erosion of trust in democratic institutions is that nearly two-thirds of respondents think the level of freedom they have in Hong Kong is under threat (67%), with only 29% of respondents disagreeing with this view.

The desire for more democracy in Hong Kong is palpable when 67% of respondents agree there should be more democratic rights for the people of Hong Kong, compared to only 20% of respondents who disagree and think there should not be more democratic rights in Hong Kong.

Consequently, not only do two-thirds of respondents think the level of the freedom they currently have in Hong Kong is under threat, but also two-thirds of respondents want a greater level of democratic rights than those currently in place. More importantly, a significant proportion of respondents says they are willing to take the necessary actions to secure these rights.  Indeed, our poll found that three quarters of respondents think the freedoms of the people of Hong Kong are something worth standing up for (75%). Only 15% disagreed with this statement.

As a result of this high level of agreement that Hong Kong’s freedoms are something worth standing up for, a plurality of respondents approve of those currently protesting the actions of Hong Kong’s government (39%), compared to the 29% who disapprove of the protesters. However, it is worth bearing in mind the impact of the coronavirus situation when considering the gap between the 75% who think the freedoms of Hong Kong are something worth standing up for and the 39% who approve of those currently protesting.

Indeed, 49% of respondents indicated they do not feel safe leaving their home and trying to live their life as close as possible to how it was before the coronavirus pandemic. Thus, the risk of contracting the coronavirus is clearly still on the minds of nearly half of Hong Kong respondents, explaining why the rate of support for those currently protesting is slightly lower than the proportion of adults in Hong Kong who consider their freedoms to be under threat and worth standing up for.

In a scenario where the Chinese Communist Party’s influence and control in Hong Kong increases and where respondents feel like their democratic and legal rights are under serious threat, 43% of respondents would consider joining the protesters. Given that there are roughly 6 million adults in Hong Kong, this figure essentially means that 2.6 million adults in Hong Kong would consider joining the protesters if the situation deteriorated. For context, the largest protest in Hong Kong’s history was the anti-extradition bill protest in June 2019, which attracted nearly 2 million marchers.

In addition to joining the protesters in such a scenario, respondents expressed support for various other means of revolting against Beijing’s interference, including how over a third of respondents would consider resisting Beijing’s interference by no longer paying their taxes (36%). Furthermore, 43% of respondents would consider withdrawing their money from the bank and a staggering 57% would consider leaving Hong Kong to go live in another country if the CCP’s influence and control over Hong Kong were to increase.

Even more astounding, nearly a third of respondents say they would be willing to risk their lives to defend the freedom of Hong Kong (29%). With an adult population of roughly 6 million, this percentage translates to approximately 1.7 million adults in Hong Kong saying they would risk their life to defend the freedoms of Hong Kong.

Although the situation is yet to reach such extreme circumstances, the tensions are evident—and they are manifesting themselves in the local economy. Our research finds that it is not only powerful financial actors who are making spending decisions on the basis of the situation in Hong Kong, but also that about 2 in 5 adults in Hong Kong are making spending decisions based on whether the businesses they patronize have been supportive of protesters or not.

The message from the public is clear: the overwhelming majority of adults in Hong Kong believe their freedoms and rights are under threat, and—most importantly—they are willing to stand up for them, including a third of respondents who would say they would risk their lives to fight for Hong Kong’s freedoms. Despite recent attention on how the UK has made it easier for Hong Kong residents to relocate to the UK, our poll suggests that many people in Hong Kong will not be leaving without first putting up a fight.

To find out more information about this research contact our research team. Redfield & Wilton Strategies is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.