As Hong Kong’s anti-government unrest rumbles on, the four months of protests have stretched not only the police’s manpower but also depleted the force’s stock of crowd-control weapons.
Increasingly, riot contingents resort to a tear gas shoot-out when a marauding mob of protesters rampages through the city’s streets hurling bricks and petrol bombs.
But the Hong Kong police are running out of tear gas due to the pitched battles especially on weekends, and the de-facto embargo on crowd-control tools and equipment slapped by the United Kingdom and the United States means that the force now has fewer suppliers to replenish its inventory.
The British government stopped issuing export licenses in June for crowd-control equipment to Hong Kong unless concerns on human rights and fundamental freedoms were thoroughly addressed. And last week the US House of Representatives also unanimously passed a similar ban on American suppliers as part of the Protect Hong Kong Act.
The Hong Kong Police have fired more than 5,000 rounds of tear gas during clashes with protesters since mid-June, when the Hong Kong government’s bid to ram through a China extradition law ignited a groundswell of opposition that led to mass rallies and long-running turmoil.
Previously, it was revealed that the Pennsylvania-based Nonlethal Technologies had been a longstanding supplier of tear-gas and pepper spray to the Hong Kong police. The family-run company also sold products to law enforcement agencies in Turkey, Egypt and Bahrain.
A chief superintendent with the Hong Kong police’s operations wing told a press conference in early October that they had already started buying tear-gas in bulk from mainland Chinese manufacturers who supply anti-riot equipment and materiel. The force said it conducted a market survey plus evaluation and testing to ensure that police and members of the public would be safe with the new supplies.
The first batch of the tear-gas made in China, believed to be sourced from a Guangzhou-based security equipment firm that also supplies goods to the Chinese Ministry of Public Security and the People’s Liberation Army’s anti-terrorism squads, was reportedly fired on Sunday to quell protesters when a rally descended into chaos in Kowloon and radicals began to trash shops and barricade roads.
Footage circulating online shows a tear gas canister emitting heavy fumes after hitting the ground during a police clearance operation in Kowloon on Sunday.
The South China Morning Post also reported that the new suppliers of tear-gas for the Hong Kong police could be Jing Shi Security Technology & Defence Product Development Ltd, based in Guangzhou in the neighboring province of Guangdong, and Jin’an Equipment Ltd. in Chengdu in the western Sichuan province, because of the geographical proximity, deep discounts on offer and their ability to churn out and ship large quantities of goods once an order is placed.
It is not clear if supplier on the mainland are still required to bid for orders when procurements are made, given the extraordinary situation that has developed with overseas supplies drying up while “flash mob” clashes and continuing violence have ramped up the need for more tear-gas to keep protesters at bay.
Tear-gas from the mainland is said to be more powerful, as canisters can explode on the fly and send out a substance that irritates the eyes a second once fired, with pungent acid fumes that can allegedly repel troublemakers within a 300-meter radius.
Hong Kong papers also noted that some canisters that hit the road were so hot they actually caused paint signs marked on the pavement to melt. Some fear the higher temperatures may release phosgene, potassium cyanide, a highly toxic crystalline salt, as well as other carcinogens.
Some medical professionals and their associations in Hong Kong have called on the police to exercise restraint when using tear-gas in the city’s narrow roads and alleys that are usually flanked by high-rises. They say tear-gas clouds may need more time to dissipate and could cause potential long-term harm to pedestrians and residents living nearby, so canisters should not be fired in confined spaces, like inside a train station concourse.