Hong Kong, China – In the predominantly Chinese society of Hong Kong, 2019 began in earnest when the fortune tellers revealed their predictions for the Year of the Pig, the year according to the Chinese zodiac.
But none of them predicted the political upheavals that would come to define the year.
Approximately two weeks after the Lunar New Year recess, Executive Director Carrie Lam presented a draft amendment not noted with the stated purpose of ensuring that a local teenager who had confessed to murdering his girlfriend in Taiwan faced justice there.
Hong Kong does not have an extradition agreement with the island nation, or with mainland China, a measure designed to preserve an independent judiciary in semi-autonomous territory.
The bill, which would have allowed the suspects to be sent to trial in China, triggered anger in a city where many felt that the mainland ruled by the Communists was already invading guaranteed freedoms when he returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Worse, the approval of the bill was secured in a legislature controlled by Beijing loyalists. Just two years earlier, several popularly elected opposition lawmakers had been dismissed after Beijing reinterpreted the city's constitution to disqualify them from office.
As the government went ahead with the bill, people took to the streets hundreds of thousands in largely peaceful marches.
Then, on June 12, protesters gathered outside the legislative building managed to stop approval of the bill, despite meeting what they saw as aggressive police action.
When Lam filed the bill (before withdrawing it) on June 15, clashes between police and protesters had escalated and the demands had expanded to five, including an independent investigation into police conduct and the right to choose to Lam's successor.
Thereafter, mistakes and injuries worsened as police increased their response to the sometimes violent week after week protests that metastasized in many neighborhoods.
In the last seven months of civil unrest, the worst thing that shook Hong Kong in half a century, the apparent intransigence of the authorities in both Beijing and Hong Kong boosted resistance and launched a downward spiral of clashes between police and police. protesters
"Beijing had to support Carrie Lam all the time because she was chosen to lead Hong Kong. To step back is to admit the mistake," Ching Cheong, a long-time Chinese observer, told Al Jazeera. "For a dictatorship, any political conciliation is a sign of weakness. Any dissent is seen through the prism of the struggle for power."
But despite all the noise of sabers on the other side of the border, and even when protesters joined a strategy of razed land: raiding the airport, breaking facades and sinking the local economy into recession, the 12,000 troops of the Popular Army of Liberation stationed in the city remained mostly out of sight.
& # 39; Canary in the coal mine & # 39;
Instead, it is the Hong Kong police that has been on the front line, deploying tear gas, water cannons and rubber bullets against petrol bombs and other improvised weapons by protesters.
So far, more than 6,000 people have been arrested, with almost 3,000 injured.
In November, in some of the most intense clashes, a siege at the Polytechnic University lasted for more than a week and closed the nearby tunnel that connects Kowloon with the island of Hong Kong.
The clashes boosted support for an independent investigation into the alleged police brutality, but, even when some partisan politicians in Beijing backed the call, the administration refused to yield.
"It is likely that Beijing has been involved in the police decision, which will come to light in any investigation," said Dixon Ming Sing, an associate professor at the University of Science and Technology in Hong Kong studying political culture in Asia.
"That will prove too dangerous and embarrassing for the Communist Party and will also undermine the legitimacy of Carrie Lam's administration."
As Beijing insisted that Hong Kong was responsible for its internal affairs and investigated criticism from foreign countries, defiant protesters called for support abroad and found a receptive audience at a time when China's rise has sharpened diplomatic tensions.
"In the fight in Hong Kong, other countries were able to see the work of the Beijing maneuver," Ching said.
"In a way, the city is the canary in the coal mine of the free world."
A month ago, Washington enacted laws to punish officials who commit human rights abuses against Hong Kong protesters and even eliminate Hong Kong's commercial privileges if it is discovered that Beijing has further eroded the autonomy of the territory.
"This may encourage other countries to follow suit, which will result in a domino effect," said Sing.
Even if it is potentially Pyrrhic, the legislation was hailed as a victory by the protesters.
They are betting that Hong Kong remains crucial for China as the only financial center and internationally nominal stock market in the socialist country.
But on the 20th anniversary of Macau's return to China earlier this month, as Hong Kong under the framework of "one country, two systems," President Xi Jinping made a prolonged visit to the former enclave ruled by Portugal and praised his patriotism. and loyalty.
What were the great stories, problems and events of 2019?
At least two residents of Hong Kong were arrested by officials from mainland China, not far from the territorial waters of Hong Kong on a bridge that connects the city with the mainland, while a security cordon was closed around Macau.
For now, all parties in Hong Kong are wondering about the next move.
Beyond the complete withdrawal of the extradition bill at the end of October, the authorities seem unwilling to entertain more concessions..
Both Lam and his Beijing bosses may be waiting for the protests to finally run out, but protesters show no signs of giving in.
In what now seems to be the typical fashion of Hong Kong, 2020 will begin with protests and a march.