WASHINGTON (Project Syndicate) — The disaster in Hong Kong seems to be careening towards a devastating climax. With China’s authorities now utilizing rhetoric harking back to that which preceded the Tiananmen Square bloodbath in June 1989, Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters — and, certainly, its democracy — might properly be in grave hazard.
For greater than two months, Hong Kong has been beset by protests. Triggered by a proposed regulation to permit the extradition of felony suspects to mainland China, the demonstrations have since developed into broader calls to safeguard — or, maybe extra precisely, restore — the semi-autonomous territory’s democracy, together with by strengthening state (particularly police) accountability.
As the unrest drags on, the Chinese authorities’s endurance is sporting skinny — and its warnings are rising extra ominous.
The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) garrison in Hong Kong is, in the words of its commander Chen Daoxiang, “determined to protect national sovereignty, security, stability, and the prosperity of Hong Kong.” To drive the purpose residence, a promotional video displaying Chinese army officers in motion was launched together with the assertion.
Yang Guang, a spokesperson for the Chinese authorities’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, has echoed this sentiment, warning the protesters — whom he calls “criminals” — not to “take restraint for weakness.” He then reiterated the federal government’s “firm resolve” to “safeguard the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong.”
Zhang Xiaoming, the director of the workplace, then took matters a step further, declaring that China’s authorities “has sufficient methods and enough powerful means to quell all sorts of likely unrest [dongluan].”
This got here simply two months after China’s protection minister argued that China’s stability because the Tiananmen crackdown proved that the government had made the “correct” choice.
Increasingly harsh warnings towards Hong Kong’s protesters level not simply to a hardening of positions, but in addition to the ascendance of figures in the Chinese authorities who favor asserting complete management over the territory.
And they’ve been mirrored in the response from the police, which has been deploying rubber bullets and tear fuel with rising frequency. Hundreds have been arrested, and 44 have been charged with “rioting.”
Protesters not deterred
Yet, removed from being deterred, the protesters are difficult the Chinese authorities with growing resolve.
In July, they vandalized the outside of the Chinese government’s liaison office in the town middle. Last week, they mounted a common strike that nearly paralyzed the city, one in every of Asia’s most necessary business hubs.
Perhaps counter-intuitively, this radicalization has come alongside broadening help for the motion, with members of the center class — reminiscent of legal professionals and civil servants — brazenly becoming a member of the trigger.
With their stark warnings having no impact, China’s leaders might be sensing that one of the best — and even the one — approach to restore their authority in Hong Kong is by drive, although President Xi Jinping might wait till after the celebrations for the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic on Oct. 1 to behave.
Crackdown shouldn’t be the reply
But, whether or not now or in two months, a Tiananmen-style crackdown is just not the reply.
For starters, Hong Kong’s 31,000-strong police pressure is less than the duty of finishing up such a crackdown. Not solely does it lack the manpower; its officers might refuse to make use of lethal pressure. After all, there’s a massive distinction between firing rubber bullets at a crowd and murdering civilians.
This signifies that China would need to deploy the native PLA garrison or switch tens of hundreds of paramilitary troopers (the People’s Armed Police) from the mainland.
Hong Kong’s residents would virtually definitely deal with Chinese authorities forces as invaders, and mount the fiercest attainable resistance.
The ensuing clashes — which would possible produce excessive numbers of civilian casualties — would mark the official finish of the “one country, two systems” association, with China’s authorities pressured to say direct and full management over Hong Kong’s administration.
With the Hong Kong authorities’s legitimacy destroyed, the town would immediately turn into ungovernable. Civil servants would give up their jobs in droves, and the general public would proceed to withstand. Hong Kong’s complicated transit, communications, and logistics methods would show straightforward targets for defiant locals decided to trigger main disruptions.
After the Tiananmen crackdown, the Communist Party of China’s potential to reinstitute management rested not solely on the presence of tens of hundreds of PLA troops, but in addition on the mobilization of the Party’s members. In Hong Kong, the place the CPC has solely a restricted organizational presence (formally, it claims to have none in any respect), this would be unimaginable.
And as a result of the overwhelming majority of Hong Kong’s residents are employed by personal companies, China can’t management them as simply as mainlanders who rely upon the state for his or her livelihoods.
Hong Kong economy would collapse
The financial penalties of such an strategy would be dire. Some CPC leaders might imagine that Hong Kong, which now accounts for less than three% of Chinese gross home product, is economically expendable.
But the town’s world-class authorized and logistical providers and complicated monetary markets, which channel overseas capital into China, imply that its worth vastly exceeds its output.
If Chinese troopers storm the town, an instantaneous exodus of ex-pats and elites with overseas passports and inexperienced playing cards will comply with, and Western companies will relocate en masse to different Asian business hubs. Hong Kong’s economy
— a crucial bridge between China and the remainder of the world — would virtually immediately collapse.
When there are not any good choices, leaders should select the least dangerous one.
China’s authorities might detest the thought of creating concessions to the Hong Kong protesters, however contemplating the catastrophic penalties of a army crackdown, that’s what it should do.