Chinese President Xi Jinping has a warning for Hong Kong protesters: your push for democracy will be your undoing.
“Anyone attempting to split China in any part of the country will end in crushed bodies and shattered bones,” Xi said during a meeting with Nepali Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli, according to South China Morning Post which quoted state media. “And any external forces backing such attempts at dividing China will be deemed by the Chinese people as pipe-dreaming.”
The latter quote was a shot towards the United States which China has accused of fomenting discord in Hong Kong over the now scuttled extradition law from earlier this year. This, of course, glossed over the actual problems in the relationship between Hong Kong and China where the notion of the “one nation, two systems” appears to have gone by the wayside. China’s desire is a Hong Kong completely subservient to Beijing with the communist system in place of whatever quasi-democracy it had before.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam decided to invoke emergency powers over a week ago which included a ban on masks. The move backfired as protesters are still covering their faces. The violence on the streets is far from over and becoming more and more chaotic. A protester slit the neck of a police officer this afternoon. The officer should live. Two undercover officers were also beaten. A police vehicle was destroyed and its contents were stolen. Businesses with ties to the Chinese government were damaged. Police barricades were burned by Molotov cocktails.
Hong Kong Police are as much responsible for today’s violence as are the protesters. Tear gas was used on demonstrators inside several malls. Journalists and bystanders were gassed. One officer decided to pull a gun on demonstrators while other officers set up barricades. A doctor was arrested for reasons yet to be revealed but it’s believed he took part in the protests. HKPD had previously been accused of brutality against peaceful demonstrators and journalists including the wanton use of pepper spray and rubber bullets.
Both sides share responsibility for the destruction although it’s easier to sympathize with protesters. They want their freedom and the chance for Hong Kong to determine its own path without Chinese interference. HKPD has been liberal in its use of batons, tear gas, surveillance, and arrests of people connected and not connected with the pro-democracy movement.
“Alerted to the authoritarian possibilities of unfettered powers, the people who never liked democracy in the first place are itching to use them,” Stephen Vines wrote at Hong Kong Free Press today while looking at Lam’s decision to invoke emergency powers. “This is how it works, once an unelected and unaccountable government trips down the path of authoritarian rule it can only go one way: further down the slope.”
There may be a point to this theory of a cause and effect with the violence. The Hong Kong government authorized police to use extreme tactics like water cannons and bans on public assembly. The official newspaper of China’s Communist Party criticized the mass transit system for not shutting down when it became obvious protesters used trains to elude riot officers. The transit system now shuts down at the whim of the government. Lam’s ban on masks caused a “mask party” over the weekend with pro-democracy forces gathering in protest of the decision.
“Her message is abundantly clear: you the people, have nothing useful to tell me so the time has come for you to tremble and obey,” theorized Vines while noting Lam’s tendency to ignore Hongkongers. “If you do not, rest assured I will put in you jail, allow the police to gas you, beat you and do whatever they want to do, your civil liberties will be curtailed, the economy can go to hell and your lives can made to be an utter misery. In other words – to save Hong Kong it must be destroyed.”
Lam will talk on Wednesday in her third annual address. She might be able to quell tensions by promising to listen – really listen – to what protesters have to say. Lam could yank the chain on HKPD by telling them to no longer use water cannons or tear gas. She could order them to not arrest anyone and everyone suspected of involvement in pushing for freedom. Lam could rebuff China’s show of force and stern warnings on “shattered bones.”
Her deference to China will most likely be the outcome and Xi will probably use this to burn Hong Kong beyond recognition.