HK protesters march, withdraw money from Bank of China

Hong Kong protesters on Saturday continued through different means to oppose the controversial extradition legislation, despite Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s Tuesday description of the bill as “dead.”

On Saturday evening, hundreds of armed police were deployed to disperse the protesters in Sheung Shui with their batons and long shields after thousands of protesters ended a march at 5pm. Police also used pepper sprays against the protesters.

North District Parallel Imports Concern Group, established in 2012 to monitor how Hong Kong’s North District was affected by the incoming Chinese tourists and individual traders, was to hold a march titled “Recover Sheung Shui” in the North District Sports Ground in New Territories from 3:30pm on Saturday. It expected about 2,000 people would join the march.

Apart from the main theme of opposing the extradition bill, the group also calls for the government to curb parallel trading activities, which it said seriously affect the livelihood of local residents in Sheung Shui and Tai Po.

Organisers ended the march at about 5pm. They said a total of 30,000 people had joined the march while the police said there were 4,000 at its peak.

After the march, thousands of protesters occupied Sun Wan Road in front of Landmark North, a shopping mall opposite to the Sheung Shui MTR station. Some protesters were staying on Lung Sum Avenue and Lung Wan Street.

Armed police started dispersing the crowd from 6pm, RTHK reported. At 8pm, more armed police arrived while a lot of protesters decided to go home as they planned to join the anti-extradition march in Shatin in New Territories on Sunday.

After the march ended at 5pm, masked protesters continue to gather on streets in Sheung Shui. Photo: RTHK

Armed police try to disperse the crowd. Photo: RTHK
Some shops are damaged. Photo: RTHK
Parallel trading activities – a bonus issue for some multitaskers who have protested against the extradition bill – are active in Shek Wu Hui in Sheung Shui in New Territories. Photo: Google Maps

Parallel imports to Hong Kong from the mainland are not pirated or counterfeited goods; they have been manufactured by – or under the authority of – whoever owns the intellectual property rights. Rather, the dispute focuses on the grievances of Hong Kong business persons who object to competition by parallel importers.

“There is no universal consensus on the legal issue relating to parallel importation, and whether it should be restricted is a controversial issue with endless debates,” says HG.org, a specialist legal publication.

As the day’s activities revealed, multitasking Hongkongers have begun to use the protests to agitate on other issues they have with the mainland, whether closely related to extradition or not.

Queues were seen at certain branches of the Bank of China (Hong Kong) in the morning after netizens called for a money-withdrawal campaign to stress-test the cash storage situation of the Chinese bank.

A queue was seen out side the Tai Po branch of the Bank of China. Photo: RTHK

Since last week, netizens have been promoting the campaign as a way to urge the Hong Kong government to “withdraw,” not only suspend, the extradition bill. They also called for the retraction of “riot” characterization of the June 12 protest, the release of the arrested anti-extradition protesters, the establishment of an independent commission to investigate the police brutality and Lam’s resignation.

Over the past week, an online poster had been circulated, saying that Hong Kong citizens should avoid depositing money in the Bank of China as the bank is facing the risks of cash shortage due to non-performing loan problems in China. The poster said the warning was issued by the Hong Kong Monetary Authority (HKMA).

On Thursday, HKMA said in a statement that such online claims are “untrue and totally unfounded.” It said the warning was falsely attributed to the HKMA. It urged the public to be discerning when dealing with online information.

On Friday, netizens said on discussion groups that the Bank of China had taken the abnormal precaution of ordering all staff to work on Saturday.

An unnamed Bank of China staff member told the Hong Kong Economic Journal that the bank’s staffers were verbally told by their supervisors to work on Saturday. Citing bank staff members, Ming Pao reported that the Bank of China increased manpower on Saturday for the launch of “silver bonds,” which target elderly customers. The report said some staff were relocated to the branches in Sheung Shui in New Territories, where protests would be staged in the afternoon.

Bank of China’s spokespersons did not respond to media enquiries.

Read: HK protesters moot Bank of China ‘stress test’ after latest clashes

Read: HSBC cashes in on growing anti-BoC sentiment

According to Radio Television Hong Kong, some customers were seen queuing up in the Tai Po branch of the Chinese bank in the morning but not in many other branches such as in Sham Shui Po and Sheung Shui. Other media reports said some police took pictures at some of the bank’s branches.

In another case of protesters’ mixed motives, on July 6 local groups called for a “Recover Tuen Man” march to oppose the extradition law – as well as “indecent” singers in Tuen Mun Park. These singers, who came from mainland China, with some of them being new immigrants, were seen dancing in short shirts in the entertainment area of the park in order to get money tips from elderly local men.

Accused of making too much noise, the women were reportedly backed by some profit-making organizers. Local pressure groups had been complaining about the situation for more than decade but failed to make any change.

Despite some clashes in the crowd, the latest “Recover Tuen Man” protest was called successful as the District Council on Tuesday passed a motion to stop providing an entertainment area in the park.

Read: Residents rally against HK’s ‘Singing Aunties’

The anti-extradition law protests have extended to different districts in Hong Kong as protesters set up “Lennon Walls” in public areas to express their opinions. However, some volunteers who helped monitor the walls were attacked by local residents in some districts, including Yau Tong and Tai Po.

Starry Lee Wai-king, chairperson of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, which is a pro-Beijing political group, said posting memo papers on public walls is illegal but people with different views should stay calm.

Read: Retired HK cops held for allegedly assaulting protesters

Read: More clashes break out at ‘Lennon Walls’ in HK

On the afternoon of July 7, anti-extradition protesters marched from Tsim Sha Tsui to the Hong Kong West Kowloon Station – the terminus for high-speed trains to Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Organizers said more than 230,000 people took part in the protest, while police said up to 56,000 attended in Kowloon.

The march was aimed to tell the mainland shoppers in Tsim She Tsui about the anti-extradition campaign. After the march ended in the evening, protesters walked to Mongkok, occupied key roads and held a late-night standoff with the police in the district.

Police dispersed the protesters with batons and shields with some people suffering head injuries and bleeding. The police were slammed for using excessive force at protestors and journalists.

Read: Bloody clashes after latest rally in Hong Kong

Read: Citizens planning protests in HK’s 18 districts

On Friday evening, hundreds of students gathered at Sun Yat-sen Place on the campus of the University of Hong Kong to oppose the extradition bill. They said they were disappointed by the statement previously issued by Zhang Xiang, Vice Chancellor and President of the University of Hong Kong, who condemned protesters for storming the Legislative Council on July 1.

They then went to Zhang’s apartment. Zhang came out and talked to them for 40 minutes. Zhang reiterated his anti-violence stance but promised that he would not allow police to arrest students in the campus without court orders.

Zhang Xiang (right), Vice Chancellor and President of the University of Hong Kong, talks to the students. Photo: RTHK

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How has war affected Syria’s oil and gas sector?

Syria’s eight-year war has seen the Damascus regime lose control of key oil fields and caused state hydrocarbon revenues to plummet by billions of dollars.

Weak production has forced President Bashar al-Assad’s regime to import oil, but Western sanctions on Damascus and Tehran are hampering incoming tankers.

Here’s an overview:

Who controls what?

In 2013, Syria’s oil reserves were estimated at 2.5 billion barrels, and gas supplies at 241 billion cubic meters (8.5 trillion cubic feet).

Control of these is split between the regime and the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces who have been fighting the Islamic State group.

The US-backed SDF control Syria’s largest oil field in Al-Omar in the eastern province of Deir Ezzor, as well as the nearby Tanak and Jafra fields.

They also hold the Rmeilan field in the northeastern province of Hassakeh, as well as other smaller ones there and in the northern province of Raqa.

The Russia-backed regime, meanwhile, holds the country’s largest gas field in Shaer, as well as those of Sadad and Arak.

It also controls some oil fields in Deir Ezzor, Raqa, and the central province of Homs.

What’s the damage?

Before the war, oil and gas were key to the country’s economy.

In 2010, they contributed about 35 percent of export earnings and 20 percent of state revenue, the Syria Report economic publication says.

After war broke out in 2011, production plummeted as fighting and bombardment destroyed infrastructure, and the government lost control of its largest fields.

International oil companies suspended activities, including to comply with Western sanctions on the regime.

Up to $74.2 billion in revenue has been lost in the war, Oil and Mineral Resources Minister Ali Ghanem has said.

Crude oil production plunged more than 99 percent between 2010 and 2016, from 385,000 barrels per day to just 2,000, according to figures provided by Ghanem in April.

Natural gas production fell 69 percent from 21 million cubic meters per day to just 6.5 million over the same period.

But since the regime took back Homs oil and gas fields from IS jihadists in 2017, production has increased to 24,000 bpd for oil and 17 million cubic meters for gas, according to the minister.

But this is just 20 percent of Syria’s oil needs, and between 60 and 70 percent of its gas requirements.

Are sanctions biting?

After production plummeted Damascus had to resort to importing hydrocarbons to fulfill its needs.

The Syrian government turned to ally Iran, who opened up a credit line to supply it with oil.

But Western sanctions on oil shipping, as well as US punitive measures against Iran, have complicated imports.

In November, Washington slapped fresh sanctions on Tehran, accusing it of creating a complex web of Russian cut-out companies and Syrian intermediaries to ship oil to Damascus.

From October 2018 to the start of May this year, no oil tanker reached Syria, pro-regime Al-Watan newspaper has reported.

A fuel and gas crisis hit regime-held areas this winter and spring, causing the government to take austerity measures.

Damascus also accuses Egypt of having closed the key Suez Canal shipping lane to vessels heading to Syria.

Last week, Britain detained a tanker carrying Iranian oil on suspicions it was heading to Syria, but Tehran on Sunday denied that was its final destination.

Last month, Damascus accused an unnamed foreign entity of “sabotage” of underwater pipelines to its Banyas oil refinery on the Mediterranean.

What options for Damascus?

With the country’s most important oil fields in the far east still out of reach, Damascus faces two options: strike a deal with the SDF, or military reconquest.

The Kurdish-led forces have in the past insisted that any deal with the regime would have to ensure an equal sharing out of oil and gas.

Before the war, crude extracted in the east was transferred to either Homs or Banyas to be refined, whereas Syria’s Kurds only have small refineries designed to meet just local needs.

Yet the regime taking back military control of the eastern oil fields would allow Syria to be self-sufficient in all petroleum products, according to the oil minister.

During the conflict the regime has bought oil from Kurdish and IS-held areas to secure part of its needs, several sources have said.

Analysts say revenues from the oil and gas sectors are likely to be key in rebuilding Syria should a peace deal be struck and sanctions lifted so exports can resume.