Crackdown in Hong Kong as three leading democracy activists arrested

Beijing keeps signaling that it has no appetite for compromise with the people of Hong Kong, let alone adhere to the agreement made for its transfer to China in 1997. As protests enter the fourth month, touched off by an extradition bill that the government refuses to fully withdraw, police have seized pro-democracy leaders in an attempt to silence the dissent. Two leaders of the 2014 Umbrella Movement were charged with illegal protests:

Authorities widened a crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong with the arrests of prominent activists, underscoring Beijing’s growing intolerance of sustained protests that have convulsed the Chinese territory and revived calls for universal suffrage.

Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow, who rose to eminence as the student leaders of pro-democracy demonstrations in 2014, were detained Friday, ahead of what is expected to be a tense weekend in the city. Authorities banned a march planned for Saturday, and warned they would use force and possibly arrest those who defy the order.

Police said Wong and Chow face charges of participating in an unauthorized assembly and inciting others to participate in an unapproved assembly, while Wong faces an additional charge of organizing an unapproved assembly, in relation to a June 21 protest at police headquarters. Both were released on bail Friday. …

The sweep came ahead of a sensitive political anniversary in the semiautonomous Chinese territory. This Saturday marks five years since Beijing announced an electoral-reform plan that denied Hong Kong free elections — a decision that triggered 79 days of pro-democracy protests.

The police department’s PR flack later claimed that the arrests of the two were “not correlated” to the anniversary. That seems doubtful, needless to say. Hong Kong likely got orders from Beijing not to allow protesters to highlight the success of the Umbrella Movement five years ago by prominently featuring Wong and Chow in demonstrations, or perhaps just to warn the pair what would happen if they try.

Just how far China will go to shut down these demonstrations is not yet known. However, Reuters reports that Beijing rejected any negotiation with protesters early on when the demonstrations might have been contained. Chief executive Carrie Lam told her bosses that withdrawing the extradition bill along with four other reforms demanded by the protesters would resolve the situation, but Beijing refused to bend on any of them:

The Chinese central government rejected Lam’s proposal to withdraw the extradition bill and ordered her not to yield to any of the protesters’ other demands at that time, three individuals with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters. …

In addition to the withdrawal of the extradition bill, the other demands analyzed in the report were: an independent inquiry into the protests; fully democratic elections; dropping of the term “riot” in describing protests; and dropping charges against those arrested so far.

The withdrawal of the bill and an independent inquiry were seen to be the most feasible politically, according to a senior government official in the Hong Kong administration, who spoke on condition of anonymity. He said the move was envisioned as helping pacify some of the more moderate protesters who have been angered by Lam’s silence. …

Another of the three individuals, who has close ties with senior officials in Hong Kong and also declined to be identified, confirmed the Hong Kong government had submitted the report.

“They said no” to all five demands, said the source. “The situation is far more complicated than most people realize.”

Reuters calls this “concrete evidence” of Beijing’s control of Lam, as well as their intent to violate the terms of the 1997 transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong. Those have both been obvious for some time anyway, but this does show just how little room Beijing allows for meaningful compromise. Withdrawing the extradition bill and allowing an inquiry into police action would have cost Beijing nothing. They could have reintroduced the bill later, perhaps in a quieter form, and Beijing would have been able to control the inquiry themselves anyway, or at least its reporting capabilities. Instead, Beijing chose a showdown, and now they appear to be going out of their way to make it a violent showdown.

It’s not all that complicated. Xi Jinping sees Hong Kong’s success and autonomy as threats to his cult of personality, and he’s going to make an example out of those who stand up to him. He’s a tyrannical thug with a highly developed bureaucratic base and a whooooole lotta guns. History is replete with such examples, especially in communist/fascist countries with leaders who have delusions of godhood. It never ends well for them, even if the end takes a long time to arrive.