“Hong Kong’s constitutional framework has collapsed,” said Mr Cartledge. “Its already dismal governance can only deteriorate further.”
Mr Xi, however, stands to benefit. The resulting furore will distract attention from awkward questions about his handling of the early stages of the pandemic. The move will also embolden a nationalist Chinese public that has little sympathy for Hong Kong’s frontline pro-democracy protesters — and even less for a US president they perceive as a bully intent on denying China’s ascent to its rightful place on the global stage.
Yun Sun, director of the China programme at the Stimson Center think-tank in Washington, said that while Mr Xi was not seriously wounded by his administration’s mis-steps in the early stages of the pandemic, they did dent his image. “I don’t think Xi was under any real threat in terms of his position,” Ms Sun said. “But there has been more questioning of his authority and approach.”
In a single stroke on Thursday night, Mr Xi essentially asked the people of China: “Are you with me or are you with Hong Kong’s protesters and Mr Trump?”