It seemed like things were stabilizing a little here in Hong Kong. But today we have had the first firmly protest-related death, of a college student, which is kicking off flash-mob protests and vigils across the city. Get set for a tear-gas-misted weekend, of tearful mourning and violent vandalism.
Fellow students of poor Chow Tsz-lok on Friday trashed the official residence of the president of the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology. That's where Chow was in the second year of an undergrad degree in computer science.
Chow died of cardiac arrest on Friday morning, an outcome we knew was likely since tests this week showed he was brain dead. The student fell from the third to the second floor of a suburban car park in Hong Kong following protests on Sunday night. Riot police had chased protesters into the car park and fired tear gas nearby.
My firmly pro-protester wife is sure the conspiracy theorists are correct that the police threw Chow off the building. She showed me a seconds-long social-media clip of a figure in black pushing another figure in black along, in what looks like a car park, which she says shows an undercover cop taking Chow into forceful custody. Then again, she is sure just about every single body falling from a height - the leading form of suicide in this city of skyscrapers - is a victim of police death squads operating in the city.
The police deny any wrongdoing, but they've already obfuscated so many details of this summer's protests, and bashed so many skulls, that no one believes them. "Yellow-ribbon" protest supporters call the police force the "hak ging," or "black cops," comparing them to triad gangs. It does little to dispel the conspiracy theories that Chow's fall happened while the parking lot's security cameras had rotated elsewhere, and were in any case partially blocked by cars.
Hong Kong's most-successful real estate investment trust, the Link REIT (LKREF) , is likely to now become a target of the protesters. It owns the Sheung Tak Estate parking lot where the incident took place, in the Kowloon suburb of Tseung Kwan O, a "New Town" of residential skyscraper towers. Watch those Link REIT shares.
We're unlikely to get a satisfactory picture of exactly what happened to Chow. The police claim he may have misjudged that there was a ledge below the third floor, which led him to fall 13 feet to the storey below. Friends of Chow have posted notes on cars in the lot asking the owners to come forward with dashboard-camera footage that captured anything. Pro-democracy politicians are demanding an autopsy.
HKUST protesters aren't hanging around for answers. They want their university president, Wei Shyy, to condemn police brutality. After trashing his official home on campus, they then went on to smash up a Starbucks (SBUX) and a Bank of China (BACHY) branch, both seen as mainland symbols.
Starbucks in Hong Kong is operated by the privately held Maxim's Group. Annie Wu, the company founder's daughter, has recently backed up comments made to the United Nations Human Rights Council attacking "radical protesters."
"I think we have lost two entire young generations," Wu said this week in an interview with Beijing's foreign-policy mouthpiece, the Global Times, which is hardly going to endear her anymore. She advocates greater "patriotic" education for Hong Kong's youth, for which you can read pro-mainland, pro-Communist brainwashing.
Hong Kong stocks lost ground on Friday after Chow's death, and also thanks to second thoughts about the viability of any trade deal between the United States and China. China wants the United States to drop some of its tariffs, which only seems fair enough; there's said to be fierce dissent within the U.S. administration as to whether this should happen.
I've said before that the "Phase 1" deal trumpeted by President Trump is no form of deal at all. The two sides are still in talks, and at this stage that's about all we can say for sure.
What we can also say for sure is that the rash of publicity surrounding Chow's death plays into the perception that China hopes to maintain that there is dangerous "chaos" in Hong Kong. The Communist Party, obsessed with the stability that sustains its reign, paints these pro-democracy protests as the work of an anarchist rabble intent on destroying the city.
For the most part, life is quite normal in Hong Kong. Weekends is when it gets hot. There are specific hotspots such as Central - Hong Kong's Wall Street - and the normally heavily touristed Kowloon neighborhoods of Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok. After the government and police stopped authorizing official protest marches, the demonstrators have switched to holding flash-mob, hit-and-run protests.
It was during one of those that Chow fell to his death. I'm seeing wall-to-wall coverage internationally of this unfortunate event. After more than five months of protest, though, this is the first confirmed fatality. (Don't ask my wife about how many of those arrested have been beaten to death in custody, only to wash up on Hong Kong shores). That's more akin to the anti-government protests currently sweeping Lebanon, and less like the demonstrations in Chile and Iraq, where dozens have died.
Hong Kongers do not want to be dealing in death counts, however. We want the democracy promised in Hong Kong's constitution, the Basic Law. We want less of the interference from the Communist Party that has become increasingly prevalent since the election of Hong Kong's former Chief Executive C.Y. Leung, and under his successor, Carrie Lam.
So the protests continue. Lam has so far always acted with too little, too late, and has shown no leadership characteristics at all. Leung keeps chirruping on social media about how vile these protesters are.
An interesting note is that on Thursday, a 24-year-old Chinese citizen became the first mainland person convicted in this summer's protests. Chen Zimou he received a six-week prison sentence for carrying an expandable baton. A handful of demonstration arrest cases are now coming to court in Hong Kong.
Mainland-born Chen is a music major at the University of Hong Kong. He pleaded guilty to carrying what is considered a weapon in Hong Kong, even though the baton is legal in mainland China. Chen bought the baton on Alibaba's Taobao site operated by Alibaba (BABA) , and picked it up across in the border in Shenzhen.
Chen pleaded guilty but said he didn't realize the baton is illegal in Hong Kong. The music student, who teaches piano in his spare time, said he was carrying it for self-protection after commuters were attacked by triad gangsters in the Hong Kong subway. Chen said he was on July 28 walking home when he ran into a group of protesters besieging the central government's office in Hong Kong. When he asked riot police to let him through their cordon, they searched him, and arrested him for carrying the baton.
Now Chen, who describes himself as more "liberal" than his compatriots, says he is unsure if he can ever return to the People's Republic of China. He had to shut his account on the Twitter (TWTR) equivalent in China, Weibo (WB) . That was swamped with death threats by virulent online critics who have deemed Chen a traitor.
"I am sorry for their inability to deal with their own emotions and recognize the facts," he told The Washington Post. "I recognize I may not be able to go back to the mainland. I'm not really sure how officials see me now."
The Chinese Communist Party's greatest fear is that the pro-democracy, anti-government protests in Hong Kong should spread across the border into mainland China. President Xi Jinping, who this week talked up China's "democracy" as a "whole-process democracy," warned last month that anyone attempting to split China will "end up in crushed bodies and shattered bones."
Hong Kong has its first crushed body, today.