China may be planning some sort of military surge into Hong Kong if the White House is to be believed. Someone within the Trump Administration made that suggestion to reporters yesterday, according to Bloomberg, without being identified. Whoever commented also suggested they didn’t know why the build-up was happening but vowed the U.S. was paying attention to the protests.
The problem with this suggestion is it appears someone within the administration is either trying to destabilize the situation between China and Hong Kong – which would be awful – or just shooting off their mouth without confirming anything. Reporters from both DPA and Hong Kong Free Press already dismiss the claim on Twitter. The privately-owned Hong Kong news outlets haven’t uttered a peep on this rumor, nor have the Chinese propaganda outlets of ECNS or Xinhua. It’s far from surprising the government-owned outlets are staying quiet since their line of thinking is to make sure the appearance of law and order is maintained. The fact the local, independent groups aren’t reporting it either makes it likely it’s an error from the White House.
There are several concerns.
The first is obvious: Hong Kong is currently in a state of tumult and disorder. The police aren’t helping with video circulating on social media of an officer grabbing a woman who was walking down the street and throwing her to the ground. Someone fired off fireworks at a group demonstrating outside a police station this morning. Officers have also been accused of either working with or ignoring the Triads after protesters were attacked by masked men. South China Morning Post reported the Independent Commission Against Corruption is investigating. That caused a bit of consternation within the department with one officer telling SCMP they’re feeling “dejected and discouraged.” Understandable, given the fact no one wants to be accused of corruption – especially those who are corrupt.
Yet, there doesn’t appear to be an end to the Hong Kong powder keg. People have long been angry due to Beijing’s handling of their takeover of the region from the British just over 20 years ago. One pacifist protest leader observed from his jail cell that the violence would only get worse because people believe the government is ignoring them. The Economist reported aggressive protesters are using the “Reclaim Hong Kong! Revolution of our time,” slogan of Sixtus Leung, a former Legislative Council member who was given six years behind bars last year for hitting a policeman. There’s no reason for the U.S. to poke the dragon even further because Hong Kong citizens are already causing enough of a headache.
The second problem with the White House claim about China is the fact it could backfire. China could (and is) using this suggestion of a military incursion to push harder the theory that the protests aren’t meant to promote actual reform but are being orchestrated by Taiwan and America for further destabilization. Former Hong Kong Executive Tung Chee-hwa claims this and more might follow his lead. Someone sympathetic to the protesters could decide to change his/her mind if the theory they’re just tools of the United States takes root. It might also harden any police or Hong Kong government worker into sticking to their guns (literally and figuratively) instead of throwing them down and joining the protests. Especially since a group of Hong Kong civil servants want to hold their own rally on Friday in hopes of getting the government to respond to the demands of the protesters. There is real opportunity for peace of some sorts in Hong Kong and an end to violence. The U.S. comment might cause it to go sideways.
Let’s also not forget it’s just bad optics for an administration official to get a wild hare and mouth off to the press. It’s irresponsible and akin to the president’s propensity to go off script with odd assertions of dubious quality. The only reason it could possibly make a lick of sense is if the administration thinks a comment or claim might give them negotiating power in this trade summit. It’s certainly not 20D chess, one way or the other.
The protests in Hong Kong are absolutely extraordinary because they are an uprising of independence. A revolt which is self-sustaining, at the moment, and encouraging for anyone who believes in liberalism – the kind which results in truly free markets, not the phony liberalism espoused in American politics. Meddling in Hong Kong would not help since it could turn the protesters who legitimately want their freedom into pawns. The Trump Administration should stay quiet on the issue unless there is something substantive to add.