Contemporary Chinese Political Economy and Strategic Relations: An International Journal (May 2019)

Policing Transnational Protests in an Asian Context: The WTO Sixth Ministerial Conference in Hong Kong

  • Lawrence Ka-ki Ho

Journal volume & issue
Vol. 5, no. 1
pp. 211 – 249


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This study utilizes the analytical framework developed by della Porta and Reiter on transnational protest management to study the policing of the Sixth WTO Ministerial Conference (MC6) held in Hong Kong, 2005. Findings show that the Hong Kong Police acted in line with the contemporary emphasis on negotiated management in dealing with its first-ever encounter with transnational protestors, partly due to institutional motivations and severe public scrutiny. Persuasive counter-insurgencies were used to ensure the smooth operation of the conference but at the same time allow the anti-globalization activists to voice out their appeals, in a tug-of-war of antagonistic local demands for freedom of expression and a low tolerance for public disorder. Three major features could be identified, including (1) urban fortification of the conference venue despite its downtown locale; (2) protest zoning with proactive mediation and intelligence gathering; and (3) avoidance of coercive force in both action and appearance. The policing of WTO MC6 demonstrates the viability of conciliatory strategies in protest management despite hazardous terrains: shortfalls in both broad democratic accountability and internal chains of command may have inadvertently reined in a police force that sought independent claims to legitimacy in the limelight of local and international observers. Societal intolerance to “law-breaking” behaviour, the absence of strong civic movements and traditions and prudent actions by officers all assisted the Hong Kong Police in containing unrest from transnational protestors who have connected with an otherwise sympathetic local population.