The ongoing back and forth between the people of Hong Kong and Beijing is the literal embodiment of David and Goliath. Only this time David is equipped with a mask and umbrella, dodging teargas and baton, and Goliath is sitting safely in one of the China Peoples Armored Police Forces’ (PAPF) armoured personnel carriers. Goliath can also count on the support of Chinese Triad members in Hong Kong and the Hong Kong police force. However, Goliath may be in more trouble with David than originally anticipated.
By David Mendelsohn
The continuing civil unrest in Hong Kong is leading to more difficulties for Beijing, especially on the eve of the People’s Republic 70th anniversary on October 1st. After all, Beijing claims the matter of Hong Kong to be an internal affair which means it therefore can’t distance itself from the matter until the festivities are over. In this sense, Hong Kong’s disobedience throws shade on the upcoming celebration of ‘unity.’ So what does one do when disciplining is necessary, yet the disciplining itself becomes the problem? Crack down even more forcefully on the protesters? The Mainland has already done so through the Hong Kong Police force and the pro-Beijing Triad in Hong Kong.
Beijing has also amassed a sizeable force that can restore order at any moment on the other size of the Hong Kong border in Shenzhen. It would take just 10 minutes for the tanks on the other side of the bay to reach Hong Kong. Crushing what the Chinese state frames as ‘a handful of extreme radicals’ would cause major backlash by the international community. Not to mention that rolling tanks through the streets of one of the world’s main financial centers would result in a guaranteed economic catastrophe. Beijing is less concerned about the former than the latter. Unless a miracle happens, the crushing of the democratic movement will happen sooner or later. History rhymes or repeats itself.
The dragon reaches for the Bay
The mainland government has chosen violence over dialogue on more than one occasion. This happened during the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and more recently during the 2014 Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong. The reason why the central government has missed it’s opportunity to resolve the matter quietly or loudly can be partly attributed to a misreading of the situation by the CCP. “Those who play with fire, will perish by it. Don’t mistake our restraint for weakness,” was said by Yang Guang, spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office in Beijing. A dilemma for the central government, no doubt. But not for the people of Hong Kong who choose to march on.
I had the pleasure to live in Hong Kong for a few months. A number of things that I experienced was that the youth of Hong Kong, mostly students, vehemently oppose the central government, president Xi and the entire CCP. When I asked them why they would always respond along the same line. ‘Hong Kong is not China. We are different.’
Although ethnically similar, Hong Kong and the rest of China do not share many more similarities. A peculiar series of events throughout history have led Hong Kong and China to have separate judiciaries, currencies and types of government. Not to mention that Hong Kongers speak Cantonese and Mainlanders overall speak Mandarin. ‘We also have democracy,’ another student told me. But democracy has never been Hong Kong’s strongpoint. The Chief Executive, Hong Kong’s highest authority, is appointed by Beijing, not elected by the people of the city he/she is supposed to represent.
The current Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, has the impossible task of representing both the interests of the seven million people of Hong Kong as well as the interests of the CCP. At this point, Lam has lost all chances of regaining any legitimacy from the citizens of Hong Kong after a recording of her surfaced during a private lunch, in which she can be heard saying ‘If I could step down, I would.’ During my stay I have experienced the invisible hands of Beijing becoming increasingly visible. The physical connectivity between Hong Kong and Mainland China increased due to a newly built high-speed railway line and a 55 km bridge, binding the two closer together. The government banned the Hong Kong National Party, (HKNP) a pro-independence pro-democracy political party. During all this, the majority remained silent, while I thought by myself: how can these people accept the unacceptable? How can one remain this calm amid blatant and visible injustice?
Hope amidst chaos
To me, the introduction of the recent extradition bill was another déja-vu. The bill was only the latest instalment of Beijing trying to bring Hong Kong closer into its sphere of influence.. But this time the fuse of the people of Hong Kong had run out. I saw the images of armed police officers beating protesters with batons and shooting them with water cannons and thousands of rounds of teargas. This was accompanied by pro-Beijing Triad members beating up protesters with bamboo canes, widely covered in Western media. A month ago I realised that the protesters of Hong Kong didn’t stand a chance.’ In the meantime, the extradition bill is dead, and so is Carrie Lam’s legitimacyl.
The images of the (actual) people’s revolt went around the world, one newspaper being more supportive than the other. In one of the halls of Western power, the US Congress, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Bill is gaining traction and support from both parties. The people of Hong Kong that aspire real democracy and freedom have lost all fate in the authority of the government, the social contract is broken.
When the contract is broken, bad things tend to happen. The central government is labeling the protests of more than 2.000.000 protesters as ‘a handful radical rioters’ that show ‘terrorist signals’. The central government couldn’t be further from the truth. They are up against people from all walks of life: lawyers, mothers, financiers, the elderly and the students. They are fighting a war of conquest, while the people of Hong Kong are fighting a war of survival. These tend to be won by the latter over the former. The government in Beijing is wilfully lying, because they know they are not facing rioters. They are facing a revolution.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not to Jason Magazine and Jason Institute in general.