HONG KONG • A growing majority of people in Hong Kong support the pro-democracy movement’s goals after China introduced a national security law for the city, but backing for the protest movement was a smaller 44 per cent, a survey conducted for Reuters showed.
Demonstrations have been far fewer and smaller than the mass protests that rocked the Chinese-ruled city in the second half of last year, largely because of coronavirus-related restrictions on gatherings and the impact of the sweeping new law, analysts say.
The survey taken by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (HKPORI) was the first since the law was passed in the Asian financial centre on June 30.
It found nearly 60 per cent of people were opposed to the security law, up from about 57 per cent in HKPORI’s previous survey in June, when few of the details were known.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s office and China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, which comes under the State Council, or Cabinet, did not respond to requests for comment about the results of the survey.
Senior lecturer Ivan Choy of the Chinese University of Hong Kong’s department of government and public administration said public attitudes shifted after the new security law was implemented.
“Now there are more concerns when you ask people to come out” to protest, he said, adding that police arrests have triggered “more anger in society”.
Police said they have arrested 25 people as at Aug 20, including protesters, activists and a media tycoon, under the new law, which makes crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces punishable with up to life in prison.
The Hong Kong police force did not respond to a request to comment on the impact of the arrests on public opinion.
The government has said the law was needed to plug holes in national security exposed by the protests and to restore stability in Hong Kong. The survey found public support for the law was slightly over 31 per cent.
Critics say the legislation further eroded the wide-ranging freedoms promised to the former British colony on its return to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” agreement.
The latest survey asked: How much do you support or oppose the pro-democracy protest movement? The responses showed support at about 44 per cent.
The question replaced one in the June survey that asked: Generally speaking, how much do you support or oppose the protest movement surrounding the extradition Bill? The responses showed support at about 51 per cent.
Drawing firm conclusions from the near 7 percentage point drop was difficult due to uncertainty over the impact of the changed wording, Mr Robert Chung, head of HKPORI, said.
The change was made because the extradition Bill has faded as an issue as it has been withdrawn.
For the poll, 1,007 respondents were randomly surveyed by telephone. The results, which had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points as in previous polls, were weighted according to the latest population figures.
While protests have been smaller and less frequent, the poll showed backing for the pro-democracy movement’s key aspirations has risen. Support for the request for an independent commission of inquiry to look into how police handled the demonstrations saw a rise of roughly 4 percentage points to 70 per cent.
The police did not respond to a request to comment on the level of public support for an independent inquiry.
Support for universal suffrage, another key demand, remains strong with the backing of 63 per cent of Hong Kong citizens, about the same as in the June poll.
Support for amnesty for the arrested protesters rose to almost 50 per cent, up five percentage points from June.
Mrs Lam remains unpopular, with 58 per cent of respondents saying she should resign, little changed from the June poll. Nevertheless, that is an improvement over perceptions in March, when 63 per cent of respondents said she should resign.
Opposition to the pro-democracy movement’s demands inched down to 19 per cent from 21.5 per cent.
The survey also showed that support for the idea of Hong Kong independence, which is anathema to Beijing and a focal point of the new legislation, remained at about 20 per cent while opposition to independence hovered slightly below 60 per cent.