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Canadian police took down a Hong Kong protester. Here's what happened

Ian Young in Vancouver

In a Canadian scene played more than 630,000 times on Chinese social media platform Weibo, a masked supporter of the Hong Kong protest movement strides towards two people in a Vancouver area shopping centre, is seized by police, pinned to the ground, then marched out in handcuffs.

But the takedown last Saturday in Richmond, British Columbia " celebrated by the video uploader, who decried the "poison" of the Hong Kong protesters " was part of a complicated mini-drama with many moving parts, other footage shows: mutual taunting with pro-China opponents, supporters of both camps closing in on the scene, and plain-clothes and uniformed police trying to keep both sides apart. Police would later describe people "aggressively trying to incite" their rivals.

In the middle was Yang Kuang: a Chinese-flag-burning political refugee who was once arrested in Beijing for trying to visit the wife of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo. Yang was granted asylum in Canada in 2015.

And unseen in any of the multiple videos showing his Richmond "arrest", Yang was released by police about 20 minutes after, and left the scene pushing his young daughter home in her stroller.

His only regret was that he did not get to "do some exercise" " a euphemism for getting physical with his opponents " he later said on Facebook in Chinese, illustrating his post with smiley faces.

The quiet resolution to the noisy incident underscores Canadian police efforts not to inflame the tensions between the two sides, as supporters of the Hong Kong protest movement mount weekly events that are frequently met with Chinese-flag-waving counterprotests.

Tensions over the Hong Kong protests are high across the Vancouver region " home to 500,000 people of Chinese origin, including 72,000 Hong Kong immigrants and 189,000 from mainland China.

Yang Kuang, a Chinese political refugee and supporter of the Hong Kong protest movement, is seized by Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the Aberdeen Square mall in Richmond, British Columbia, on October 5. Photo: @inamitchellfilm alt=Yang Kuang, a Chinese political refugee and supporter of the Hong Kong protest movement, is seized by Royal Canadian Mounted Police in the Aberdeen Square mall in Richmond, British Columbia, on October 5. Photo: @inamitchellfilm

"Videos circulating from the event would not make for exciting viewing if they showed what truly occurred from start to finish," said Corporal Dennis Hwang of Richmond's Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment. Hwang attended the three-hour protest in its entirety, describing it as "quite peaceful".

The main event on Saturday outside the Aberdeen Centre mall was a demonstration in support of the Hong Kong protests, including the construction of a "Lennon Wall", after a previous wall at the scene was torn apart on October 1 by youths, some dressed in designer clothes, who threw money at their opponents.

That infuriated protest supporters, who regarded the destruction as the bullying of schoolchildren who had helped build the original wall. Hundreds turned out in response last Saturday.

Police speak to opponents of the Hong Kong protests in the mall before escorting them from the scene. Photo: @inamitchellfilm alt=Police speak to opponents of the Hong Kong protests in the mall before escorting them from the scene. Photo: @inamitchellfilm

But looking down on the crowd, through the second-floor glass windows of the annex to the main mall, were opponents who exchanged taunts and gestures with the growing crowd below.

Yang, the protest supporter, said the annex group quickly became the focus of the crowd.

"About 100 of us pointed up and shouted 'Come down'. The people inside were mouthing 'You come up'," he said in an interview.

So Yang did. He and a handful of other protesters rushed into the annex and up the escalators, with police in hot pursuit. The Weibo video shows him thrust his hand towards the face of a protest opponent (who had been giving the finger to the crowd), who grabs his hand before police seize Yang and pull him away.

Two opponents of the Hong Kong protest movement gesture to rally-goers. Photo: Kevin Huang alt=Two opponents of the Hong Kong protest movement gesture to rally-goers. Photo: Kevin Huang

Different videos filmed by local documentarian Ina Mitchell show Yang hitting the ground hard.

As Yang moans and two officers restrain him, an opponent dressed in a C$400 (US$300) hoodie by Italian streetwear brand GCDS goads him on the ground in English and Mandarin: "Great, great! Well arrested. So sad, yo! Poor you! Look at you!"

"Maybe because he was wearing a mask when he ran in there. I don't know what their thinking was."

As Yang is led out in handcuffs by five officers, the man in the designer hoodie is then confronted by a supporter of Yang in a grey hiking jacket, and a shouting match ensues.

Police extinguish the new conflagration by separating the pair and another man filming with a cellphone.

A Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer in a yellow vest stops a group of pro-China counterprotesters from advancing on the scene where a Hong Kong protester is being handcuffed. Photo: Weibo alt=A Royal Canadian Mounted Police officer in a yellow vest stops a group of pro-China counterprotesters from advancing on the scene where a Hong Kong protester is being handcuffed. Photo: Weibo

But flare-ups crackle into life elsewhere. An RCMP officer stationed at the top of the nearby escalators stops a group of about 10 pro-China protesters from advancing on the scene, pressing his palm in the chest of one when he tries to go around the officer.

The group includes a tiny woman with dyed blonde hair " a prominent attendee of almost all pro-China counterprotests around Vancouver, who had been seen in discussions with police before Saturday's events " and a tall man with a tattooed left arm, wearing a Canada Goose vest.

The blonde woman later declined to speak to the South China Morning Post, as did other counterprotesters.

Downstairs, with Yang off the scene, the disputes continue, with screaming matches threatening to get physical. Another video by Mitchell shows Yang's supporter in grey advancing to press his chest against rivals, including the man in the vest. "Give me a hug," says the man in grey throwing his arms around counterprotesters, who recoil. "Why not?"

Yang Kuang, a Chinese political refugee and supporter of the Hong Kong protest movement (centre, on stairs) is led away in handcuffs by five officers in the Aberdeen Centre mall in Richmond, British Columbia, on October 5. Photo: @inamitchellfilm alt=Yang Kuang, a Chinese political refugee and supporter of the Hong Kong protest movement (centre, on stairs) is led away in handcuffs by five officers in the Aberdeen Centre mall in Richmond, British Columbia, on October 5. Photo: @inamitchellfilm

Again, police wade in. "I didn't do anything ... he pushed me," says the man in the vest, but police escort him and six or seven others away down a corridor. Calls of "****ing gangsters", "Learn democracy" and "Go back to the mainland" follow them.

"The Richmond RCMP had set up distinct areas for the two groups to occupy. This was done primarily for safety reasons," Hwang said.

"Some protesters did not adhere to these boundaries while others were aggressively trying to incite a reaction from the opposing group.

"This included one protester that fled into Aberdeen Centre. They were quickly identified and located by our officers. They were escorted away from the event."

Yang Kuang, a Chinese political refugee and supporter of the Hong Kong protest movement, is pinned to the ground and handcuffed by two Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers. Photo: @inamitchellfilm alt=Yang Kuang, a Chinese political refugee and supporter of the Hong Kong protest movement, is pinned to the ground and handcuffed by two Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers. Photo: @inamitchellfilm

In addition to Yang, others ordered off the scene included a young man wearing a Tsinghua University bomber jacket who sang the Chinese national anthem and was then manhandled by a protester.

The singer was swiftly surrounded by at least eight police officers before being led away, exchanging insults and middle-finger salutes with jeering protesters on the way.

The RCMP's Hwang confirmed that no one was arrested and no one was charged.

Yang said that after some brief questions from police, he was allowed to retrieve his four-year-old daughter from a friend and was told to leave the protest and not return.

"Although I was unable to participate in the [later] protest, at least I did something. Hopefully, from this point on, the 'little pinks' will tone down their behaviour," he said, using a nickname for young communists.

A supporter and opponent of the Hong Kong protest movement stand chest to chest in the mall. Photo: @inamitchellfilm alt=A supporter and opponent of the Hong Kong protest movement stand chest to chest in the mall. Photo: @inamitchellfilm

Yang has a history of activities that have at times been literally inflammatory.

In March, he set fire to a Chinese flag outside the British Columbia Supreme Court, where Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou was attending a hearing as part of her battle to avoid extradition to the United States to face trial for fraud.

Yang, a former Hong Kong resident, was granted refugee status in Canada after being jailed for eight months in Shenzhen in 2014 for illegally crossing into mainland China, a sentence his family said was politically motivated.

A year before, he had been arrested in Beijing for "provoking quarrels" and expelled from the mainland after trying to visit Liu Xia, the wife of the then-jailed Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo.

A counterprotester gestures to a rival as police escort him from a rally in support of the Hong Kong protest movement in Richmond, British Columbia, on October 5. Photo: Ian Young alt=A counterprotester gestures to a rival as police escort him from a rally in support of the Hong Kong protest movement in Richmond, British Columbia, on October 5. Photo: Ian Young

Hwang suggested that Richmond's RCMP " who were repeatedly thanked by protest organisers on Saturday " expected more trouble as a result of the unfolding Hong Kong unrest.

"Although it is unusual that events in other parts of the globe can have an impact here, this is the new 'normal' for us," he said.

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP's Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2019 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2019. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.