Protesters in Hong Kong have delivered the most stunning rebuke to Chinese tyranny since the Tiananmen Square uprising of 1989. The question now, after eight weeks of demonstrations, is whether China’s dictator, President Xi Jinping, will respond with the same brute military force used to crush that democracy movement 30 years ago. Serious observers worry the backlash is coming.
For Mr. Xi, who took power in 2013, the situation in Hong Kong presents an immediate threat to his domestic political legitimacy. State repression, bolstered by staggering levels of high-tech surveillance, has increased under his rule. In China’s western province of Xinjiang, despite international protest, the regime has for two years been dishing out torture and forced political indoctrination to an estimated one million Uighur Muslims held in internment camps. Dealing harshly with Hong Kong’s protest movement would remind the city’s residents—and the rest of China—who’s boss.
uyhb nnnnnMr. Xi’s main concern is preventing the protest movement from spreading to the mainland. Faced with legislation that would allow extradition to China, Hong Kong’s protesters reject the horrors of Beijing’s one-party rule. That sentiment also simmers among the 1.4 billion people of the mainland, where Beijing deploys legions of censors and security agents to keep the population under control. Mainland Chinese may not agree with the protesters’ methods or even their goals, but they visit Hong Kong by the millions every month. Many are aware that Hong Kong’s people are defying Beijing and getting away with it.
It’s possible Mr. Xi has lost patience with the idea of “one country, two systems.” Under the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration—a treaty deposited with the United Nations—China promised that Hong Kong would enjoy “a high degree of autonomy” for 50 years after the handover in 1997. That declaration protecting Hong Kongers’ rights and freedoms officially has 28 years left to run, but the two systems are obviously incompatible: One is free, the other isn’t. If Mr. Xi deploys the People’s Liberation Army to quell the protests, it would spell the end of “one country, two systems” in all but name.
Since the handover, a series of Chinese-appointed chief executives in Hong Kong have tried to impose laws designed to shut people up and force them to toe the party line. Hong Kong’s people have no way to stop this via the ballot box; Beijing has cheated them of genuine democracy.
What would prevent Mr. Xi from ordering a crackdown? Hong Kong is one of China’s most valuable financial assets. British colonial rule bequeathed Hong Kong a tradition of free trade and a dependable legal system, making it the most attractive business hub in Asia. The city of 7.5 million has one of the world’s densest concentration of banks, which are the main interface between China’s controlled currency and the U.S. dollar. Anything that scares away business, or prompts the U.S. to remove Hong Kong’s special trading status, would hit China square in the wallet and could spark domestic political upheaval.
Then there’s the reputational damage from a potentially monstrous spectacle played out on a world stage. Hong Kong is a global crossroads crammed with foreign nationals, including 80,000 Americans; the world would raise a fuss if the People’s Liberation Army opened fire in the city center.
Mr. Xi’s strategic calculations may be influenced by the embarrassing fact that the protests have grown even as China tries to tighten its grip. A young generation of savvy Hong Kongers is crowdsourcing tactics over the internet, gleaning lessons from recent uprisings in Ukraine and elsewhere. Unfortunately, Beijing’s precedent for dealing with a protest on this scale is Tiananmen. The most defiant demonstrators for democracy were shot, jailed or exiled. The millions who marched or sympathized were terrorized into submission. While the slaughter of June 4, 1989, horrified much of the world, for China’s Communist Party it was a success. The challenge to its power was swept away. After a brief scolding from the international community and the imposition of some short-lived U.S. sanctions, the world soon moved on.
Beijing has kept thousands of troops garrisoned in Hong Kong since the 1997 handover and is now laying the propaganda groundwork for a military crackdown. Last Wednesday China’s Defense Ministry told the press it would be legitimate for Hong Kong’s government to invite the People’s Liberation Army to maintain public order. On Friday China’s foreign ministry praised the army as “a pillar” of Hong Kong’s “long-term prosperity and stability.” Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam has largely dropped out of sight, but on Sunday she visited the Chinese army garrison in Hong Kong to attend a graduation ceremony at a military summer camp for youths.
If the U.S., Europe or any of the world’s democracies have a plan to keep China’s jackboot off Hong Kong’s throat, now would be the time to try it out. Abandoning the freedom-loving people of Hong Kong in their hour of need would send Mr. Xi a dangerous message. He would view it as an invitation to send the People’s Liberation Army on its next adventure.
Ms. Rosett is a foreign policy fellow with the Independent Women’s Forum who covered the Tiananmen demonstrations for the Journal.
Will China send in the troops to stamp out protests in Hong Kong?
HONG KONG — It is a prospect dreaded by many in Hong Kong, but debate is growing in mainland China about whether the central government should end weeks of upheaval in the city by sending in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA).
The PLA has had a presence in Hong Kong since the city’s return to Chinese sovereignty but — unlike in mainland China — memories of the military’s bloody suppression of pro-democracy students and activists in Beijing in 1989 are still strong in the city three decades on.
Still, images of protesters vandalising Beijing’s liaison office in downtown Hong Kong on Sunday have fanned nationalist anger across the mainland, prompting calls for PLA intervention.
Concerns only deepened on Wednesday when defence ministry spokesman Wu Qian commented on the recent clashes and protests in Hong Kong. Without suggesting any action or plans by the PLA, Mr Wu made clear that the Garrison Law, which governs the operations of PLA troops in Hong Kong, already stipulates that the PLA is legally allowed to help the city maintain law and order at the request of Hong Kong’s government.
“We are closely following the developments in Hong Kong, especially the violent attack against the central government’s liaison office by radicals on July 21,” Mr Wu said.
“Some behaviour of the radical protesters is challenging the authority of the central government and the bottom line of ‘one country, two systems’,” he warned, referring to the formula that grants Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy for 50 years. “This is intolerable.”
Both Article 14 and Article 18 of the Basic Law – the city’s mini-constitution – spell out how and under what circumstances the PLA troops in Hong Kong can be used.
While the legality is clear, analysts still believe that given the exorbitant political cost and complexities involved, using the military would remain an unlikely last resort.
Even Mr Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of China’s nationalist tabloid Global Times, has spoken out against the idea, citing its “huge political cost” and the “severe uncertainty” it might bring to the situation.
“Once the PLA has taken charge of the situation in Hong Kong and quelled the riots, what’s next?” Mr Hu said in a social media post on Monday.
Mr Hu said there were no governance procedures in place that would allow the PLA to operate in Hong Kong and return things to normal. He also warned that any such action would be followed by international condemnation and a severe backlash among the Hong Kong public.
“The [PLA’s] Hong Kong garrison is the symbol of national sovereignty. It is not a fire brigade for law and order in Hong Kong,” he said.
The South China Morning Post reported last week that military force was not an option for mainland leaders working on a strategy to resolve the city’s biggest political crisis in decades.
The official media have been careful not to touch the subject but they too have stepped up rhetoric against the protests in Hong Kong.
In a rare move, state-run China Central Television has run commentaries and reports about protests in Hong Kong during its main evening news for five days in a row.
Only the most politically important issues receive such unusual treatment. SOUTH CHINA MORNING POST
23 July 2019
While China doesn’t want to intervene in the summer-long protests that have shaken Hong Kong, that doesn’t mean it won’t.
The movement, now in its seventh week, has veered into more dangerous territory on two fronts.
Protesters, who had previously besieged the city’s legislature and police headquarters, directed their ire at China itself on Sunday, defacing the central government’s official emblem and pelting its building in Hong Kong with eggs. Needless to say, their actions were not well-received in Beijing.
In an escalation on the other side, a group armed with metal rods and wooden poles beat up anti-government protesters and others inside a subway station late Sunday night. The attack injured 45 people, including a man who remained in critical condition. Beijing supporters had tussled with protesters previously, but not on this scale.
Neither side wants China’s People’s Liberation Army to step in, but the growing chaos and what China will see as a direct challenge to its authority raise the risks. The thuggish attack on the protesters brought accusations of connivance between police and criminal gangs, though Hong Kong’s police commissioner flatly denied it and it remained unclear who was behind it.
Any intervention by China would likely bring international condemnation and could endanger Hong Kong’s status as a financial centre governed by rule of law. It would also draw comparisons to China’s deadly military crackdown on Beijing’s pro-democracy Tiananmen Square protests in 1989, an event the government wants the world to forget.
For China, it’s not just an economic question but also a political one. Hong Kong, a former British colony, was returned to China in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” concept that gives the city a fair degree of autonomy over its affairs. Hong Kong residents have much broader rights and freedoms than mainland Chinese.
The success of the formula is important to China, which wants to use it to bring the self-governing island of Taiwan back under its control. Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen is already using the unrest in Hong Kong to argue that “one country, two systems” doesn’t work, and a Chinese military intervention would confirm the fears of many Taiwanese.
The best outcome for China would be a deescalation of the protests and a return to relative normalcy, as happened after the last major pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong, the student-driven “Umbrella Movement” that occupied streets for more than two months in 2014.
China denies interfering in Hong Kong and has warned that the violent protests over the proposed legislation allowing extraditions to mainland China were an “undisguised challenge” to the formula under which it is ruled.
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China tells U.S. to remove ‘black hands’ from Hong Kong
“We can see that U.S. officials are even behind such incidents,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying at a regular press briefing on Tuesday.
She was referring to violence related to weeks of protests spearheaded by pro-democracy activists against a bill that would allow people to be extradited from the city to stand trial in courts in mainland China.
“So can the officials tell the world what role did they play and what are their aims?” Hua asked.
On Sunday, groups of men in white T-shirts, who opposition politicians suspect were linked to Hong Kong criminal gangs, assaulted some pro-democracy protesters, after some protesters had vandalized Beijing’s main office in the city.
Hua, asked about criticism of violence by the United States and Hong Kong’s former colonial ruler, Britain, said China would not tolerate any interference.
“The U.S. should know one thing, that Hong Kong is China’s Hong Kong, and we do not allow any foreign interference,” she said.
“We advise the U.S. to withdraw their black hands.”
BACK IN 1989
I was with friends at a stock broker’s office the day before Tienanmen Square. The KLSE was jittery. Everyone, all Chinamen types, argued vehemently that CVhina would never hurt its own people. I mentioned that China’s history was littered with merciless massacres of Chinese by Chinese. That was not a popular view.
The next day, the Tienamen massacre occurred.
In what became known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre, troops with assault rifles and tanks fired at the demonstrators and those trying to block the military’s advance into Tiananmen Square. Estimates of the death toll vary from several hundreds to several thousands, with thousands more wounded.