After helmets and balaclavas, face masks with air filters have been flying off the shelves at stores in Hong Kong as the smell of tear gas fired by police drifts through the restive city, but stocks are running low.
In Kwai Fong, for example, a largely residential town in the New Territories, many streets and the train station still reek of tear gas after a police riot squad clashed with protesters inside the station concourse during a fierce skirmish on Sunday evening.
Now more Hongkongers, incensed by alleged police brutality, are turning to Taiwan to buy masks and filters. They say even if they do not join future demonstrations, they will need the items to protect themselves and their children as the police have shown no qualms about firing the irritating chemical substance at crowds.
Dealers from the 3M outlet in Taiwan told local newspapers they were doing a brisk trade thanks to orders for high-grade air filters from Hong Kong, and since July they had seen a surge in demand for high-end cartridge filters which help neutralize the effects of tear gas.
Almost all stocks of the masks and filters have been depleted at 3M’s distributors in Hong Kong.
The Liberty Times reported that many customers visiting 3M shops in Taiwan were from Hong Kong and bought in bulk, with some snapping up NT$200,000 (US$6,400) worth of filters and stowing the items in their suitcases before heading for the airport, while others placed mail orders through Taiwanese intermediaries.
Some models featuring extra filter cartridges from the Minnesota-based protective gear manufacturer have been out of stock on the island, including models 60921, 60923, 60925 and 60928. Normally there are used by people dealing with erosive or toxic chemicals.
Apart from shielding the protesters from tear gas, those on the frontlines in the tense stand-offs with police also need masks to hide their identities as they are wary of cameras. Meanwhile, many Taiwanese political groups sympathetic with the demonstrators in Hong Kong have been couriering supplies, including helmets, masks and goggles, to Hong Kong.
The show of support has drawn the ire of Hong Kong authorities, with the city’s former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa putting the blame squarely on Taiwan for instigating and supporting the spate of violence and clashes.
HK officials in Taiwan threatened
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government has reportedly requested the municipal government of Taipei to ramp up security for the city’s representative office and its staff there after the office received threats from a local activist earlier this month.
The Hong Kong Economic, Trade and Cultural Office (Taiwan) said on August 6 it received a parcel containing a letter, a “bloodstained shirt” dyed with red paint as well as some joss paper used for worshipping.
The letter threatened “the most radical, violent and irrational measures” against Hong Kong officials in Taiwan if the confrontations in Hong Kong could not be resolved quickly, adding that hackers had obtained the personal particulars of all staff members at the office.
The office is in a tower next door to the headquarters and compound of Taipei’s municipal government, in the capital city’s bustling Xinyi central business district.
The office filed a report to Taiwan police, but denied initiating any legal proceedings against the sender of the parcel. A spokesman said the office would continue to convey the views of Taiwanese to Hong Kong authorities.
Since June, the office has been the target of successive protests against the Hong Kong government’s bid to enact a China extradition bill as well as the excesses of the city’s police.