U.S. government urges increased caution for Americans visiting Hong Kong

Vastavam web: The U.S. government on Thursday stepped up its warnings to travellers to Hong Kong because of increasing violence surrounding pro-democracy protests in the Chinese city. The State Department’s Level 2 travel advisory issued Thursday urges “increased caution in Hong Kong due to civil unrest” and tells travellers to avoid demonstrations and to “exercise caution if unexpectedly in the vicinity of large gatherings or protests.” The protests were sparked two months ago by proposed extradition legislation that could have seen suspects sent to mainland China where they could face torture and unfair politicized trial.

They have since morphed into calls for broader democratic reforms in the former British colony, along with the resignation of Chief Executive Carrie Lam and investigations into alleged police abuse of force. The territory’s crucial travel industry has suffered as tourists put off their visits, with Australia, Ireland, Britain and Japan have also issued travel advisories to their citizens.

Hong Kong police say a total of 589 people have been arrested in the protests since June 9, ranging in age from 13 to 76. They face charges including rioting, which allows for prison terms of up to 10 years.

On several occasions, protesters have also been attacked by unknown persons believed to be linked to organized crime groups, while police took little action to stop them. The central government in Beijing has so far has not visibly intervened in the situation, though in editorials and public remarks it has condemned demonstrators and protest organizers as criminals, clowns and “violent radicals” and alleged that they have been inflamed by politicians from the U.S., Taiwan and elsewhere. On Wednesday, the head of Beijing’s Cabinet office responsible for the territory said Hong Kong was facing its “most severe situation” since its handover from British rule in 1997 and the central government was currently considering further measures.