The ongoing protests in Hong Kong have grown recently, with the tactics of the protesters shifting in response to increasingly aggressive actions by the police. They’ve begun shutting down major roadways, as well as closing the airport for two straight days now. Their leader, Carrie Lam, appears to be completely ineffective in either satisfying the protester’s needs and getting them to disperse or gaining any concessions from China to ease the tensions.
The Washington Post editorial board has a deep dive into the current state of affairs, claiming that China is the party that has “misread” the protests from the beginning. Their analysis of where things should go from here is certainly optimistic but also appears to be a bit disconnected from reality.
When protests erupted over the extradition proposal, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam should have immediately canceled it. Instead, Ms. Lam, more sensitive to the demands of her overlords in Beijing than to the values that underlie Hong Kong’s success, tried to sidestep the issue with some obfuscation. It didn’t work.
Another miscalculation was to assume that the protests would simply flare out. The protests are a political groundswell, a reflection of genuine popular anger and commitment to democracy. But authorities treated the protesters as “terrorists” and “rioters,” a law enforcement problem to be handled by the Hong Kong police, who have repeatedly overreacted, including this weekend when they fired tear gas into a subway station and were discovered using undercover officers to infiltrate the demonstrators. In response, some protesters have turned more violent, unwisely resorting to vandalism, throwing bricks and a petrol bomb, and disruption.
Yet another mistake of the Chinese authorities has been to roll out the boogeyman that the protests are inspired by foreigners.
Yes, all of the current mess started when Hong Kong proposed passing an extradition arrangement, largely at China’s bidding. People objected strongly and took to the streets. But now that the extradition bill has been shelved, the protests are growing rather than receding. It appears to be turning into more of a pro-democracy protest. So is the WaPo board correct? Has China misplayed their hand?
To a certain extent, that’s possible, but the fact is that China’s long-range goals are diametrically opposed to what the protesters are asking for. China has been slowly working to strip away any trappings of democracy from Hong Kong ever since they took back control of the province in 1997. They also aren’t famous for granting concessions when the dictates of the communist party are defied. So this may be less a matter of China “misreading” the situation and more a case of their not giving a hoot about what Hong Kong’s residents want.
The area where the Washington Post editorial really seems to go off the beam, however, is their assumption that China won’t move in some serious muscle to squelch this. They write the following on this aspect of it:
Lately, there have been dark hints of a stronger crackdown by the military. But repeating the catastrophe of Tiananmen Square would be terribly counterproductive; hopefully China’s leaders understand as much. They might be hoping to slowly strangle the protest movement without violence and without giving an inch. This would be yet another miscalculation because the pent-up demands of this summer won’t go away.
You may believe that a repeat of the “catastrophe of Tiananmen Square” would be “counterproductive,” but it seems obvious that China doesn’t feel that way. The fact is, they rolled out their military and they put down the protest. Despite a few iconic moments, such as the confrontation with “Tank Man,” a democratic revolution failed to materialize and things generally returned to the status quo.
We now know that China is already massing their troops with a lot of military hardware at the Hong Kong border. You can watch the video at the link and see that they clearly have enough firepower there to make a big splash and they appear to mean business. Do you think this is a bluff? I’m sure they would prefer that the protesters simply stand down on their own if only to save on bullets, but if they don’t get their way I’d be willing to bet that those tanks will be crossing the border.
If that happens, all bets are off. And really, who is going to stop them? Hong Kong is technically still part of “One China” (as their policy is known) and if they have to break the spirit of the protests at the end of a tank barrel, they’ll probably do it. And rather than the shaky, pseudo-democracy Hong Kong residents currently enjoy, they will likely find themselves living in an oppressive police state. That will wreck one of the most productive economies in the region, but I don’t believe China really cares all that much about it.