Should You Avoid Traveling to Hong Kong as Protests Escalate and Risk Chinese Backlash?

Hong Kong has faced massive and escalating protests over mainland China’s control. The proximate cause was proposed legislation that would allow Hong Kong residents to be extradited to mainland China at the request of Beijing, however protests have expanded to seek greater freedom and less intervention from mainland China.

While violence has mostly been concentrated at major protest sites, police are using tear gas and there have even been protests at the airport. Protesters are planning to appear outside the gates of Hong Kong Disney on Monday.

Until now most tourist locations have avoided also being hot spots for demonstrations, though there have been protests in Tsim Tsa Tsui and Causeway Bay. There have been protests outside the Intercontinental, and also outside the Peninsula. Some tourists have reported being gassed.

Hong Kong’s immediate past Chief Executive is “set[ting] up a foundation to help police arrest protesters who insult China.”

The Chinese military has warned that “Hong Kong authorities can request the assistance of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Hong Kong garrison if necessary.” The head of the garrison describes the protests as “absolutely intolerable.”

And the PLA is out with a new video showing “soldiers practicing shooting protestors.”

Lest there’s any misunderstanding over what this video is all about, at the 2:36 mark a man is quoted as saying “the PLA and the people of Hong Kong are integrated.” Taiwan’s foreign minister reacted, “The people of #HongKong are gifted a video of vile threats! The PLA is supposed to protect the people, not pound them into submission.”

My own general stance is that the world is a dangerous place. My daily work commute took me past the Pentagon, a primary target in the event of a pre-emptive strike on the U.S. Indeed, it was a target on 9/11. Normally I consider it safer to travel someplace after a terrorist attack than it was immediately before that attack.

Still people are rightly concerned. Overall passenger bookings to Hong Kong are down. Most people will be safe, but some will wind up collaterally embroiled in conflict. I’d rather wait for the current situation to play itself out if given the choice.

If you’re going to go, don’t wear black or white and avoid government buildings. It’s hot there now you don’t want to wear black anyway.

It seems curious that there aren’t any travel waivers at this point. Perhaps there’s skittishness over possibly offending Beijing by calling attention to the situation. A year ago Beijing was flexing its muscles over language on U.S. airline websites.

United tells me they’re monitoring the situation. American didn’t offer any explanation for the lack of a travel waiver. Delta, of course, dropped their only Hong Kong service (from Seattle) last year.

Hong Kong and Kowloon were ceded in perpetuity in the 19th century to Great Britain, and the New Territories were ceded until 1997 just before the turn of the century. In 1984 the U.K. and China agreed that the entire area would revert to mainland China in 1997, but Hong Kong’s market-oriented institutions would remain in place for 50 years – through 2047.

Now, 22 years in, China treats Hong Kong as a Special Administrative Region. There’s passport control between Hong Kong and the mainland. But Beijing exercises increasing amounts of control.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. @Gary, I have to ask: How well do you know HK, and when did you last go there and spend any time?
    I usually greatly appreciate what you write but not this scaremongering.
    I would cheerfully head to HKG today without a care, and I am fully educated about what is happening there.
    n.b.: I have a business there.

  2. @woofie I don’t think I am scaremongering at all. All things being equal I would probably put off a trip as a tourist. Easy to stumble into things accidentally right now.

    Is Hong Kong among the scarier places in the world? Absolutely not.

    If you have a business there you probably spend more time there than I do but I have spent a ton of time, know people there, have visited regularly for many years

    I am trying to put myself in the shoes of a first time visitor, not someone who is a local, in thinking through this question.

  3. Gary is definitely not scaremongering. Tensions are high, people are stressed. Why not come back to visit when things settle down? There are many alternative Asian destination for the casual tourist. I visit HK a few weeks before the protest happened and was thinking how stressful it would be if I was there when I saw the report.

  4. This is not scaremongering. What is happening in Hong Kong is a bit more nuanced than Gary is writing, but he is also writing in a condensed format for a broad audience. Bottom line is that with the escalations in violence over the past several weeks and major strikes scheduled for Monday it does not make much sense for someone to go to Hong Kong as a tourist right now. That is not the same as saying people should flee Hong Kong, but tourism is optional and there are lots of places in the world to visit that aren’t going through political instability at this particular moment. Things appear to be increasingly escalating and nobody can say with a certainty what will happen in the coming days.

  5. Yet there is still no premium seating for award redemption on Cathay Pacific lol
    That will keep me out of HK quicker than the riots or protests 🙂

  6. The safe answer is to suggest that tourists avoid places where there are protests. Easy. No expert analysis needed. Unless a tourist is intent on wearing black shirts, marching in the front line of protesters and challenging police, Hong Kong is a pretty safe place. Right now there is more drama than danger. Sometimes experiencing the drama can make for more rewarding memories! Of course the situation can escalate. A nice benefit of traveling to Hong Kong now is that room upgrades are more likely when hotel occupancy is soft.

  7. Only the most naive or hopelessly idealistic would have believed in the farcical “one country two systems” promise. From Day One of the handover I preached that China would bludgeon Hong Kong into submission and exert state control. That being said, me and my partners are helping facilitate the movement of investment capital out of HK into safe havens. So I will have to travel there and have no hesitation about doing so. For now.

  8. I adore Gary to write a post in a clam tone of what is happening in Hong Kong. Ben, on the other hand, can only write details of First Class.

  9. I was in HKG during a period of the previous demonstrations. Stayed away from the government buildings in Central, and HK was/is such a large place that there was no inconvenience at all. Agree that a first time visitor might want to postpone, but I probably wouldn’t. The historic nature of the times and developments there were fascinating, and I’m sure now would be the same.

  10. It’s not just about safety

    Vacations are often about getting away. Escaping.

    It’s not particularly fun or relaxing if you end up near a huge demonstration

    We were in Barcelona during the austerity protests, and also France during theirs.

    I felt 100% safe

    Although interesting, seeing the protests was also not super “fun”
    A lot of the people were stressed and discontent was high.

    Thus, I’d rather go when Hong Kong is settled, even though I wouldn’t fear for my safety there

  11. No wonder I got seats in SQ 1st later this month.
    I’ve been gassed plenty of times; just not with tear gas.
    New experiences….
    My theory Is the older you get, the more risk you should take as you’re closer
    to death.

  12. Tomorrow 8.05 there are city-wide strikes incl the ATC and airlines – many flights have already been canceled, both incoming and outgoing.

    For those who claim tourists can stay away from where the protests are, are either not reading the news or being super naive – because right now the protests are All Over the Hong Kong, incl the most touristic area of TST. The Peninsula for example, had closed its front entrance during the most recent protests just a day ago. Causeway Bay and Wanchai are constant battle grounds with Tear gas being used yesterday, AGAIN.

    There is no reason for a first time visitor to go, or anyone who does not have a compelling reason to go.

    For now, Communist China has said PLS is not needed with Hong Kong Police Force carrying its duty. Well, Hong Kong Police Force is being used the way as their counter parts inside China – carrying out suppression with brutal force.

    The 7.21 brutal, indiscrimating attack at Yuen Long, a satellite town very close to Chinese border, is a turning point – for the whole situation turns to decidedly worse. Instead of quieting the protestors thru the brutal attack by Triads who very obviously are being “sanctioned”, more and more ordinary Hong Kong citizens feel they can no longer stay by the sideline.

    So far the HKSAR government is essentially a no show government. Everything is carried out by the Police Force.

    How long this can last without a major blood shed, in the similar many of June 4th of 1989 at Beijing?

    Dont see an ordinary visitor should get caught in the totally unpredictable, at times very dangerous situation.

  13. I appreciate your article and some warnings and tips are very helpful. As a Chinese who was born in Mainland China, I would like to point out some mistake you have written in the first and second paragraph. In the first paragraph, the truth is the extradition act is not a order that Mainland China gives to the Hong Kong Government, according to the “Hong Kong Basic Law” and “One China, Two Systems” policies, Hong Kong Government have all authority to control and manage every issue except diplomacy and national defense, those are in charged by Mainland Chinese Government.

    The extradition act was proposed by Hong Kong government itself, because in Feb 2018, a Hong Kong couple was traveling to Taiwan, and during the trip the man, name is Chen Tongjia, killed his girlfriend Pan Xiaoying due to a intensive argument. After that he immediately back to Hong Kong with no issue, when Taiwan founds out this murder Taiwan wants to extradite him back to Taiwan, but due to the law in Hong Kong, Hong Kong only have extradition agreement with USA, Singapore and other countries (About 20 countries). Hong Kong only can charge this man by some small accuses to keep him in the prison and hopefully the act would be approved when he can be released from prison, the victim’s family were despaired.

    Many people now believe this act would help Mainland China extradite anybody to Mainland, this is not exactly correct. First this extradition must be qualify the following condition: 1: The crime must be also illegal in Hong Kong and will be faced over 7 years prison period. 2: Political crime is not qualified for this extradition act. In a word, Hong Kong will not be a paradise for criminal, and Mainland China will unable to use this act to against anybody in Hong Kong.

    Many protesting people are not aware and not willing to aware of that. They attack policy by throwing bricks, and attack opponent no matter who is very very old. One policeman’s finger were bite off by a rioter, two off-work police were attacked by a group of rioters. Please tell me what action would US police do in this scenario. The rioters in Hong Kong are holding the US and British flag on the street. Please image this in US. I remember in Wall Street Protest, the police were not very gentle right?

    And the last paragraph. Because Hong Kong is really small and packed, Mainland Chinese Government would like to control the amount of people into Hong Kong from Mainland otherwise it will interrupt Hong Kong people’s life. 80% of Hong Kong’s electricity is transmitted from Mainland which is produced in Guangdong; 70% of water is delivered from Mainland, those energy were extremely cheaper than getting from other places. Hong Kong has own finance power they don’t have to pay Chinese Government anything. I believe those informations and the story of the extradition act are not easy to find on US media, The invisible wall is not thin in US as well.

  14. Xuan must be an agent or spy or paid writer for the ruthless murderous regime of Communist China.

    Since 1948, over one hundred million Chinese were murdered.
    China has proven that they will arrest anyone anywhere in the world by kidnappings, murders by forcing the victims to kill themselves…

    China never kept any agreements.

    Hong Kong must be set as a free country or over one million will be in prison for life or murdered,
    Now or never, protest to the death. HK can drag China into total collapse or submission.
    Britain has no right to give back HK to China, they were given to Britain forever.

    Protest should be all over the world; including the Tycoons & Walmart.

    Britain gave away the farm, idiots, cowards; they should be protested against; organise a worldwide boycott against China; then world war III

  15. South China Morning Posts reports strike has impacted 200 flights on Aug 5 and all subways lines are not running. Doesn’t seems like scaremongering anymore.

  16. Born in HK, currently living in Shenzhen.

    So far the protesters are quite restrained in disturbing the public but they started strikes, purposely delay subway during peak hours and also started to block out the tunnels between HK island and Kowloon which is concerning.

    Last weekend they even marched to Nathan street where most shopping malls are.

    That being said, should one refrain from visiting HK?

    Imho you should not, and the reason is similar to what was explained – should we avoid US because of the 2 deadly shootings in past 48 hours?

    Clearly no.

    So, I would say one should exercise caution and move away quickly when you see crowd is gathering.

    PS: I hope Mr Zak Coluba is joking when writing.

  17. Xuan, you are a retarded, malignant cunt who has no idea about anything at all. I bet you worship pictures of Mao and xi. Your ultimate goal in life is probably to sleep with Them and let them shove a hammer and sickle up your butt. Have a good day 🙂

  18. As with commenters SST and JRMW above, I was in Hong Kong during the last protests, and was in Barcelona during theirs.

    I appreciate democracy in action, and if I want a quiet “don’t think about reality” vacation, I’d go to the Caribbean, not Hong Kong. I’m not going to join the protests certainly, but the protests are localized, pre-determined, and as long as you pay any attention to the news or inquire with the hotel staff, you’ll know areas to avoid for the day.

    Then again, I live in an American city known for crime, so I always keep my head on a swivel! xD

  19. @Xuan That’s nice and all, but what’s to keep China from pushing the Hong Kong legislature to expand the definition of all crimes and punishments so as to incorporate better with the Mainland?

    Beijing’s “word”? Hong Kong has been a Chinese SAR for 22 years now, and only now *needs* this extradition law? Do you honestly believe that Beijing is going to bat for a crime committed in Taiwan?

    The law as it stands is so transparently a recipe for expansion and abuse, that it’s insulting to think the people of HKG are idiotic enough to believe that’s the extent of its intent.

    You know what’s easier than an extradition treaty with the Mainland for crimes outside of HKG by residents of HKG?
    Creating a law specifically to try crimes outside of the HKG SAR in conjunction with foreign authorities who are not covered by extradition treaties!

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