Daniël in Hongkong and the ravage after the violent clashes. Photo’s Daniël.

‘As foreigner in Hong Kong, you’re not a target of the riots’

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Because of the heated protests in Hong Kong, Utrecht University is advising its students to return to the Netherlands. Student Daniël won’t be returning yet: he feels safe enough. “You can still go out and have a beer in town.”

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Hong Kong has been in a state of unrest for months now. People started with protests against a law that made it easier to extradite suspects to China. Although the draft law was repealed in September, the protests escalated to violent confrontations at universities between protesters and police. The current protests are mostly aimed at the growing power China has in Hong Kong. After the Hong Kong Polytechnic University was besieged, the UU advised its students to return to the Netherlands. Utrecht University has announced that the first of the 18 UU students has since left Hong Kong.

Third-year student of Molecular Life Science Daniël went to Hong Kong in September, and is still there. He went to China for one semester to take several courses at the technological university in the city. Although the protests had already started at that time, he still chose to go to Hong Kong, because the university has a good reputation, he wanted to discover a new culture, and didn’t think the protests would bother him. The technological university he’s studying at is outside of the protest area, he says. “The protests are quite intense, of course. But the city is so large that it’s pretty easy to avoid them. As a foreigner, you’re relatively safe, because you’re not the target of the protests. And there are maps you can use to check where the protests are. That way, you can easily bypass them.”

The protests go hand in hand with a lot of violence. On November 8, a student died when, during demonstrations in a parking garage, he fell down a storey. This happened at the same university Daniël studies at. Still, he himself isn’t afraid, because these types of incidents and other violence generally don’t happen at every street corner. “You can still go out and have a beer in town, or go shopping.”

Devastation
Daniël says all universities in Hong Kong are all lumped together by Dutch media. “At my university, the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), it’s safe. It’s elsewhere in the city that areas have become a war zone. Stones have been taken out of the pavement to throw at the police, and anti-China slogans were painted on the walls of the university. Tear gas cartridges are all over the ground. It’s total devastation.” Daniël has had to run away a few times to avoid the tear gas. “Thankfully, you do get pointed in the right direction. No one wants to hurt you; the conflict is mainly between the police and the protesters.”

Utrecht University sent emails to its students in Hong Kong, Daniël among them. In the first few emails, the UU announced it was keeping a close eye on the situation in Hong Kong. “Other students, from countries like the USA and Japan, were brought back to their countries at a much earlier stage. I contacted my coordinator then, and said the HKUST was safe. Shortly after that came more emails from the UU, advising us to leave Hong Kong.” Daniël appreciates the attention the UU is paying its students in Hong Kong, but he says he doesn’t need its concern. He feels relatively safe.

“I don’t know which direction these protests will go in. As long as there’s no military intervention from China, I think it’s pretty doable. Perhaps it’ll get worse. The situation seems hopeless.” He doesn’t think it’ll succeed, but Daniël does hope the protesters get their way, and that China’s power won’t grow. If the protesters get their way, he says, that might be cause for other minorities in China to turn against the government. China won’t want that, he thinks, and so the protesters probably won’t get their way.

Daniël would prefer to see the city free of violence and protests, but he does understand why the Hong Kong residents are taking to the streets. “In the Netherlands, freedom and democracy are self-evident, but in Hong Kong, China is trying to take those things away. Peaceful protests are suppressed, or they’re not listened to at all. That’s why the protesters started rioting – you get more attention that way.”

Online classes
Classes at university have now been put on hold, and continue online. “Everything’s fine when I’m in my room, just studying. Plus, I do want to travel through the area more. I can also take my online classes at the beach in Thailand, for example. It’s cold in the Netherlands, so I don’t want to go back there yet. I’ll probably go home around New Year’s.”

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