The protests in Hong Kong against the extradition law are gathering momentum and metamorphosing into a broader call for greater democratic freedoms. Ten successive weekends of demonstrations and guerrilla type hit-and-run rallies have led to Beijing dubbing the demonstrators as "violent thugs", while the United States called China a "thuggish regime" for making public the name of a diplomat who met some rebels in the line of duty. China is facing the opprobrium of the West for its "robust" moves to stifle a movement that began as an amorphous and leaderless clutter, but now may be sucked into a dangerous fray as divisions between pro-democracy and pro-Beijing groups grow. What Hong Kong citizens dread most is the prospect of being extradited to mainland China, from where they could just disappear. Chief executive Carrie Lam has put the bill on hold but few believe it's all settled.
They fear the island, a sanitised capitalist outpost with a reputation for law and order, may become a target of China, like Xinjiang province where Uighur Muslims are subjected to extreme State control in the name of re-education. As the protests escalate into better organised baiting of the police and the shutting down of thoroughfares and metro stations, China blames outside forces, or "foreign hand", for stoking unrest. A crackdown on Hong Kong, in the figurative manner of Tiananmen Square, may see China's ties with the world deteriorating. And yet, given its authoritarian inclinations increasingly evident in its treatment of the former British colony since the 1997 handover, China is seeing a maelstrom of freedom issues. The very future of Hong Kong, that grew out of its origins as an entrepôt between East and West, is at stake.