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Hong Kong Protests Force Flight Cancellations for 2nd Day as China Loses Patience. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired August 13, 2019 - 11:30   ET



[11:33:12] KATE BOLDUAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back.

We're following breaking news we've been watching play out.

I want to get back to Hong Kong International Airport where, just the last few minutes, we have seen real chaos breaking out among protesters and riot police, entering the airport, blocking protesters, a real confrontation that we are seeing play out.

Paula Hancocks is there for us inside Hong Kong International Airport.

Paula, what's it looking like in there now? What are you seeing?

PAULA HANCOCKS, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Kate, just in the past few minutes, since we've been in a break, it has appeared to calm down significantly. Whether this is the calm before the storm we simply don't know.

What we know is that many of these protesters are now trying to use barricades, to use the trollies for the luggage to block different entrances of the airport. Whether that will keep the riot police out is very doubtful. They're tried that in the past when it's happened on the street.

But they are just trying to bed down. We have seen, it appears, a number of people who have dispersed. There's definitely less people here than there were. Whether they've been spreading out a little bit, I don't know. It's unclear at this point.

But we can't see the riot police from where we are. We can see that the riot and the police vans have moved along. They're not outside the area where we are right now. Whether they're going to come in different entrance or whether they'll come in a different entrance, we simply don't know.

When they first emerged and appeared at the entrance of the Hong Kong International Airport, it was chaos in here. There was panic among the protesters.

Many of them telling me they didn't believe that would happen. They believed this was a protest that they could continue because they didn't believe the riot police would actually want to come into one of the busiest airports in the world.

[11:35:07] Bearing in mind, there are still passengers here who were trying to get on flights that have been canceled because of these protests. There are a number of passengers milling around with their luggage, come looking confused, some annoyed that they can't get on flights.

I think after the riot police appearance, I think some will be quite concerned as well -- Kate?

BOLDUAN: Paula, stand by with me.

Right now, joining me now on the phone as we're looking at this -- just for our viewers, a quick update, you see Paula on the right side of your screen. That's where we are right now. On the left side of your screen, that was moments ago when that was the chaos that was breaking out.

And we saw, obviously, some protesters get their eyes washed out, clearly indicating some kind of pepper spray was possibly used on the part of the riot police, which we saw riot police had in hand when we got a different perspective from outside of the airport from another camera.

Joining me now on the phone is Mike Chinoy, the CNN bureau chief based in Beijing, also a senior correspondent based in Hong Kong.

Mike, can you hear me?

MIKE CHINOY, CNN HONG KONG BUREAU CHIEF (via telephone): Yes. I can. Hi, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Hi. Thank you so much for jumping on the phone.

You're seeing this play out, just as we're all seeing this play out in Hong Kong airport together. What is the significance of this moment and what we're seeing?

CHINOY: Well, I think what we've seen here in the last couple of days with the occupation of Hong Kong airport has been an attempt by the protesters to take their tactic of disruption sort of regardless of the costs and paralyze a central part of the city. People come and go tens of thousands every day.

What the protesters appear to have been wanting to do by paralyzing the airport is to try and press home the demands that they have from the government.

But at the same time, it seems clear now that this is a relatively small radical group that's engaged in essentially disruption for its own sake, although it has been, until now, peaceful at the airport.

But for the Hong Kong government, this is a huge crisis because the government seems unable or unwilling to take the steps to clear the airport. You've had massive disruption for two days. And the question is, how long is the government prepared to let this

go on. And at what point will either the Hong Kong authorities or the authorities in Beijing decide that enough is enough, that images of the airport of this huge city being paralyzed crosses a line that requires a very forceful reaction?

BOLDUAN: This seems to be an inflection point that we're looking at. This has been really the past two days of the airport being the focus of the protests and where they've gone.

But beyond that, we've been talking about months of protests on the streets of Hong Kong and clashes with police there. Beyond the airport, where does this all stand?

CHINOY: I think we're at a very dangerous moment here. This protest movement has been going on for most of the summer. The government has essentially refused to give into most of the demands of the protesters.

It started out as a demand for the government to withdraw a bill that would allow the easy extradition of people from Hong Kong to mainland China, and people in Hong Kong don't trust the Chinese legal system, so they were against that. And the government now says that bill is dead.

But the confrontations with the police and the aggressive behavior by the police, massive amounts of tear gas in densely populated areas and so on, has really infuriated people. So the demands escalated for an independent commission to investigate the issue for greater representative government and democratic reform in Hong Kong. And the Hong Kong authorities have dug in and said, we're not giving in on anything.

So what you now have is an increasingly frustrated group, particularly kind of hard-core protesters who see that they're not getting anywhere and seem determined, therefore, that they feel their only choice is to try to disrupt things wherever they can.

Meanwhile, the noises, the signals from Beijing have become increasingly harsh.


CHINOY: The language used by Chinese Communist Party has become tougher and tougher.

And so the question is, at what point will the authorities decide that they're really going to have to crack down. There's concern about whether or not there might be possible intervention by the Chinese People's Liberation Army. Although, I think that's somewhat unlikely.

But the Hong Kong police, as we've seen in the last few days, seem to be incapable of, for example, clearing the airport and getting operations back to normal. And this does raise the question of, at what point do the powers that be, either here or in Beijing, decide enough is enough.

[11:40:04] BOLDUAN: Yes. And just how many days are they going to -- from their perspective, allow images like what we're seeing play out in Hong Kong airport right now continue is a really key question.

You talked about how Beijing is reacting and very clearly losing patience. I'm looking at a quote from one official saying, "Those who play by fire will perish by it. Don't ever misjudge the situation and mistake our restraint for weakness."

If that's not a warning, Mike, I'm not sure what is.

CHINOY: The Chinese have been making very clear that what started out as a peaceful protest movement for essentially internal Hong Kong issues, which I think is still that, despite this extreme fringe, but the Chinese authorities are now talking about this as a color revolution, as a challenge to the authority of the Chinese Communist Party.

And don't forget, China is now ruled by a ruler, Xi Jinping, who has taken a very tough line internally, increased domestic repression, and become much more assertive internationally.

This is seen in Beijing as a major challenge to the central authorities. It's gone beyond, in Beijing's view, just internal Hong Kong issues. And it's a huge embarrassment that it continues like this without any resolution.

On the other hand, it's not going to be so simple to just go in and clear the streets.

I was in Beijing in 1989 covering Tiananmen Square for CNN. That was one piece of real estate in a flat urban area. This is one the most densely populated city in the world, full of high-rises. It's not going to be so easy in a purely military sense. So I think China wants to hold off from doing that hoping that the Hong Kong police can do the job.

The question is, with scenes like we're seeing and what are being shown now around the world on television, where the police look ineffectual, at what point does Beijing decide they've got to do something. Nobody knows the answer to that but that's the central concern here.

BOLDUAN: It raises real concern in everyone's mind, any kind of relation to Tiananmen Square to what we're seeing in Hong Kong.

Mike, thank you so much for jumping on. I really appreciate it, as we're watching this all play out.

Let me get back to the airport where Paula Hancocks has been for us.

Paula, it's seems -- it's almost remarkable how quickly it flairs up and then subsides. And also amazing how you have -- you see passengers below you moving about and then protesters beside you putting up barricades against riot police. It's truly remarkable. What are you seeing now?

HANCOCKS: Kate, a bit of an update. It appears as though the police have left. It appears as though the riot police have left. The regular police have left. And they have moved at least away from the front of the Hong Kong International Airport.

So you can see that many people here are ready for them. You can see the barricade they have brought up here. They've used all the trollies to try and keep -- (COUGHING). And the police have now left.

BOLDUAN: Go ahead, Paula. I saw you needed a moment. Please continue.

HANCOCKS: Thank you.

So a lot of the protesters appear to have left as well. Certainly, downstairs.

I was talking about, just a moment ago, where people were still arriving and it was a regular functioning arrivals hall. That was where thousands of protesters had put up propaganda posters and all sorts of things. They have now cleared away all of that. They have tidied up after themselves and all of the protesters have gone.

That was packed with people just 15 minutes ago. But since the riot police made an appearance, a very fleeting appearance but, quite frankly, one could say a very effective appearance, it does appear as though a number of these protesters, who wanted a peaceful protest, have now left or at least they've certainly dispersed from this area where we are, the arrivals hall and the departures hall.

There's a small contingent that have put up the barricades that have the gas masks and helmets on, that may potentially, may want some kind of confrontation with the police. It appears as though they will be deprived of that, at least for now, because the police appear to have left.

But I can't underplay or overstate just how significant it is that riot police were even at the entrance of the Hong Kong International Airport, an airport that is the eighth busiest in the world, that has about 74 million people coming through this airport last year alone.

And then you have riot police who are spraying pepper spray, as far as we could tell from the injuries of those protesters coming in and having their eyes washed out, just at the entrance of the airport. So really quite remarkable scenes that we're seeing here tonight.

[11:45:11] BOLDUAN: Absolutely. And we're continuing to see it on the left side of your screen, Paula. It appears it's in a different part of the airport from where you are. But we're looking at images coming in live of protesters kind of on top of a structure using umbrellas, which they've been using throughout the protest for months, to disguise themselves, but also now using the umbrellas to cover up security cameras in the airport.

Let me get to Ivan Watson who is joining me on the phone. He's on the way there.

Ivan, can you hear me?

IVAN WATSON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT (via telephone): I can hear you fine, Kate.

BOLDUAN: Thank you so much.

I've been talking to Paula about what we've been seeing play out inside the airport. You've been there for weeks, if not months. Talk to me about -- about the atmosphere of how this has all played out in Hong Kong, the atmosphere in Hong Kong, and what that means now as we're looking at the chaos in this airport.

WATSON: This was a city that had a reputation for stability and efficiency. And what we've seen now going into the 11th week is, week after week of protests, where the confrontations between the security forces and the protesters have gotten increasingly ugly with outside groups of civilians getting involved.

And the scene at the airport, starting with its closer on Monday, when demonstrators besieged it and basically blocked -- created a blockade on Monday, and forced the cancellation of hundreds of flights. And then a repeat today with more physical confrontation with passengers than we had seen the previous day. It's just a scene that's gotten uglier and uglier with no signs of compromise between the city government and the demonstrators.

And it just feels like one massive self-inflicted wound by both sides, unwilling to find a compromise and resorting to do more and more damage to their own city in their effort to try to get some kind of an upper hand in this incredible test of wills.

BOLDUAN: And for our viewers, we're not really clear what is coming in live right now. We're watching videos showing us what is happening with protesters and we're going to continue watching this.

But it looks like protesters are taking someone kind of -- holding someone down and kind of handcuffing them like they would -- the kind of thing that riot police would use.

There have been some fears amongst protesters, and correct me if I'm wrong, Ivan, of undercover police kind of infiltrating, if you will, and walking amongst the protesters and monitoring their movements in the airport and kind of on the streets as well, right?

WATSON: Certainly. That's part of the narrative here and that's created more paranoia. Amid clashes on Sunday that I was covering in different neighborhoods around Hong Kong, stories and anecdotes emerged of possible undercover police. And police commanders kind of alluded to that in press conferences.

So according to our reporters on the ground, the demonstrators detained an individual that was suspected of being an undercover police officer. And what our reporters on the ground have said is that those

demonstrators then refused any medical first aid access to that person, who then became unconscious, which is just an ugly turn of events and will definitely damage the reputation of these protesters, who have tried to kind of present themselves as heroes to bystanders.

But the fact is, with their escalation of this campaign of civil disobedience, what they've done is ensnared a lot of innocent bystanders in this ongoing drama here.

I was in the airport last night. I met a young mother with a 1-year- old infant who was just stuck there sleeping on the floor overnight with no information about what was to happen with her future flight.

And the kids would come and try to offer her and her baby water, the protesting kids, because most of them are quite young, teenagers, 20 years old.

And when I translated for this woman -- she was Russian -- that she doesn't know what's going to happen, what her fate is and she's stranded there, they would say, I'm sorry, we're fighting for our freedom, kind of viewing this infant stuck in the airport at 11:00 at night as kind of collateral damage in their test of wills with the city authorities, and, by extension, the Communist Party rulers in Beijing.

[11:50:03] BOLDUAN: Let me also ask you kind of what has -- what we know, at least, since there's a lot of unknowns, but what we know has transpired in the last few minutes since we've been on air, is we saw multiple large police buses pulling up to the airport. We saw police in riot gear outside. We saw some police walking into, it looked like a brief moment, into the airport and now out.

Now Paula is telling us that the police buses have at least left from that location. I don't know if entirely left the airport or what.

That just seems really surprising that they would show this big -- present this big show of force and then turn around. What do you think?

WATSON: Kate, I've seen, on multiple occasions now, riot police move in, do a show of force, maybe fire tear gas and bang their clubs on their shields and intimidate people and scatter protesters, and then withdraw amid roars of outrage not only from demonstrators but from ordinary citizens as well.

This has been what's been so peculiar about this cycle of confrontation is that, so far, it has not clearly been a lethal drama playing out here. Nobody has gotten killed in the confrontations directly.

And the police in Hong Kong are -- while their tactics have grown more violent with every passing week, and the protesters are more violent, there has been a reluctance to use the kind of deadly force that you might see, for example, the U.S. law enforcement using in the event of threats out on the streets. We haven't seen, for example, people using live rounds, deadly force

on the part of the Hong Kong police. And there's a real, I think, reluctance that if they go too far, that they could create more outrage and cause more harm amid public opinion here in Hong Kong.

Some of the scenes where young people have been battered with clubs or hit with clubs and tear gas and then bystanders have been hit as well, that's created backlash for law enforcement here. So that may be part of the reasoning here.

But it's a real dilemma that the city authorities face.


WATSON: What do you do with thousands and thousands of kids who refuse to -- who are just defying the police?

BOLDUAN: Yes. It looks like we are seeing that yet again. And we saw that play out -- literally we're seeing it play out live right now as we are looking at images which we don't know, but it looks like protesters as you were describing, you've seen before, it looks like they're doing it yet again, detaining someone in the airport, sitting them down on a luggage trolley to detain them.

Again, this is in Hong Kong International Airport, one of the largest airports in the world and what we're seeing play out at this moment.

Ivan, thank you so much. Ivan is on the way to the scene. I really appreciate it, Ivan.

While we're watching these images continue to bring in, let me bring in Will Ripley, our CNN international correspondent, based in Hong Kong. He's been living there quite a long time, having a moment in New York actually at the moment.

Will, but I'm so glad you are here.

Talk to me about what you are seeing here, what this means. And also how China is viewing what we are seeing play out here today, yesterday and, honestly, what we've been seeing for months now.

WILL RIPLEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: This, Kate, is an escalating battle for the future of Hong Kong. These are young people who feel essentially they have nothing to lose.

They feel that mainland China is slowly tightening its grip on Hong Kong, which is a semi-autonomous special administrative region of China since the handover in 1997.

And so they're not afraid, protesters say, of a confrontation with the mainland because they feel that is inevitable anyway. They feel it's coming anyway, that China will eventually create the same kind of conditions and restrictions on their freedom and their life on the mainland, for the billions of people who live there.

So for these people, even if it's a small minority in Hong Kong, they feel that it's a fight for their life and their future.

What we're seeing is the mainland kind of creating this narrative that the protesters are becoming increasingly dangerous, almost terrorists.

And videos have been posted on some Chinese state media of armed military police from the mainland assembling a very short distance from Hong Kong. Keep in mind, there's a new bridge that connects the mainland with Hong Kong so, theoretically, a convoy of military vehicles could travel across from China to Hong Kong very quickly and move in.

[11:25:07] And these videos are a deliberate attempt, Kate, to intimidate the protesters, to let them know, if Beijing decides to intervene -- which would be a very tough decision -- but if they decide to do it, it will be a very firm, very swift, very decisive move on the part of mainland China. In some way, I wonder if these young people are pushing for that because they feel like it's inevitable anyway.

BOLDUAN: I was wondering what the options are when you see what is happening here. Neither side is backing down. It's only escalating at this point. Will, what do you think?

RIPLEY: I don't see it dying down at this stage. I don't see how this ends without some sort of bigger force to move these people out, because what the police are doing just isn't working. You saw even police in riot gear had to pull back because they're overwhelmed by the numbers.

I have been in and out of Hong Kong's airport so many times. I covered the protests back five years ago. Never anything like this.

BOLDUAN: Unbelievable.

Will, thank you so much.

Thank you all so much. Much more on this breaking news after a quick break.


ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.


We begin this hour with dramatic breaking news. Remarkable pictures. You see them right there. This is Hong Kong, its airport. A dramatic clash between protesters and riot police. Protesters overran that airport for a second straight day, paralyzing commercial air traffic.

[12:00:02] Last hour, riot police tried to move in with busses in tow. Police say the operation was not to clear the protesters but to get a man detained out and to a hospital.