MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Tuesday the 8th of October, 2019. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.
NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. First up: those pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong.
Weekly rallies in the Chinese territory began in early summer. They show no sign of slowing down. And they have become increasingly violent.
REICHARD: Last week, WORLD East Asia correspondent June Cheng traveled to Hong Kong to see the protests for herself. She spent part of her time there with a church-run group called Protect the Children. It works on the front line of protests to de-escalate tense situations between protesters and police. She joins us now to talk about it.
Good morning, June!
JUNE CHENG, GUEST: Good morning, Mary.
REICHARD: Tell us about this group, Protect the Children. How did it get started and what has it been doing during all these weeks of protests?
CHENG: It was started by Roy Chan, and he’s the pastor of a church called Good Neighbor North District Church. And how it began is after the protests began in June, Roy started to see that there were a lot of young protesters that were feeling a lot of despair because they had very clear demands and the government was not listening to them. And so he had worked in crisis intervention in the past and so he knew that what this despair would lead to would be suicide, just violence. And he really wanted to prevent that. And so they decided to create this group called Protect the Children. And what they would do is they would go into the frontlines of these protests and they would try to deescalate the violence by, sometimes they stand between the protesters and the police and they talk to the police about, you know, calming down. They talk to the protesters. And in other instances, they actually help distract the police so that the protesters can escape. And their whole idea is that they want to help the protesters in whatever way they can. And a lot of the members of this group, they’re actually either in their middle age or they’re elderly folks. And most of these protesters, they are actually in their teens or in their early 20s, so they are very young. And there’s been times when these young protesters will come to them crying and these volunteers will just hug them and hold them and be a presence that cares for them.
REICHARD: You spent the day with some of the group’s members last week. Tell us what you heard and experienced.
CHENG: I joined the group on Sunday. It was September 29th and that was the day of the global anti-totalitarianism protest. And there was a meeting spot where about, I would say, 70 volunteers had showed up. And they all wear this yellow vest that says “Protect the Children” on it and they broke off into teams of seven. So the team I went with, it was with one of the more well-known volunteers. His name is Uncle Wong and he’s 82 years old. He has grey hair and he walks with a cane and he’s a very tough old man. And so in the beginning, that group I joined, they would hand out supplies to these protesters—maybe a coupon for drinks—and then they would talk with them. And then as we got closer to the frontlines, they would help these young protesters who got tear gassed. So they would pour saline solution into their eyes to wash out the chemicals from their eyes. And they would also, they had a microphone in which they would let people around them know what was happening in front of them. Because sometimes you’re in a situation where you can’t really see what’s happening very far away. And so they would tell them, “OK, there’s tear gas ahead. If you don’t have gear, please move back. Get out.” And that same day at another location another group of Protect the Children, they saw protesters that were getting trapped by the police into this enclosed area. And so what they did was they stood in front of the police holding hands, in essence blocking the police, and allowing the protesters to secretly escape by lifting up a metal gate and escaping under it.
REICHARD: Tell us about the role faith is playing in this effort to bring freedom to Hong Kong. I understand that several of the protest leaders in Hong Kong are Christians.
CHENG: Right. So, when I have interviewed most of them, and they point to just Biblical ideas of justice as well as just each human having inalienable rights. And that they deserve to be able to have a say in their government. And as in my last article that I wrote, I saw that there was a lot of pastors who were opening up their churches so that protesters have a place to rest. And even allowing them a place of sanctuary when the police are looking for them. But this time I found that actually a lot of churches feel stuck and are unsure about what to do in this movement because in their church they have both protesters but they also have police officers or other people who are more pro-government. And so there’s just a lot of division within churches as well as they’re still trying to figure out their role in this whole movement.
REICHARD: China shows no sign of backing down. Did you hear any talk during your time in Hong Kong about the protest leaders’ next steps?
CHENG: I did ask this question to everyone I met and nobody had a good answer. Nobody knows what is going to happen. On Friday, the Hong Kong government used emergency powers to pass a law that banned all face masks. So, I think the big fear is that there would be a military crackdown. There’s just a lot of uncertainty about what will happen. But I saw one analyst that said most likely China would not crack down before January because in Taiwan there will be elections in January. And if China makes such a big move, it pretty much ensures the victory of the current president Tsai Ing-wen and that she would get another term because she is more anti-China, anti-Beijing.
REICHARD: June Cheng is WORLD’s East Asia correspondent. Thanks so much for joining us today!
CHENG: You’re welcome, Mary.