Hong Kong’s Inevitable Showdown

This reckoning with Beijing’s authority was baked into the cake 22 years ago when the Union Jack came down over Government House.

By Patrick Lawrence and cross-posted from Consortium News

It is impossible not to admire the bravery and commitment pro-democracy demonstrators display daily as they clog Hong Kong streets, shut down its airport, and disrupt the territory’s beating heart in Central, the commercial and financial district. But neither can one deny the tragic fate that appears near as Beijing stiffens its resolve and signals the threat of military intervention.

The futility of all action, the necessity of any: Maybe those protestors building barricades and hurling Molotov cocktails at tear-gassing riot police are reading Camus in their off- hours.

There is no question of Chinese President Xi Jinping compromising Beijing’s authority to mollify those now in their third month of protests across Hong Kong. He is too firm a believer in the primacy of the Chinese Communist Party to entertain any such risk. But there is too much at stake for the Chinese president to order mainland troops or police units into the territory short of a decisive challenge to the local administration’s ability to govern. This accounts for Beijing’s restraint over the past 10 weeks.

The best outcome in prospect now — and the chances of this appear slim at the moment — is that Xi will authorize influential political allies in Hong Kong to frame a set of reforms sufficient to isolate demonstrators by eliminating the broad public support they have to date enjoyed. In any other resolution of this crisis, the democracy advocates in the streets stand to lose everything. Even as they number in the hundreds of thousands, they are simply no match against a government intent on centralized control over a nation of 1.4 billion.

The escalating protests across Hong Kong were a long time coming. So was Beijing’s refusal thus far to give way to any of the demonstrators’ substantive demands, apart from suspending an extradition bill. The protesters are right: They were promised autonomy, civil liberties and democratic government by way of the “one country, two systems” principle China committed to once it reassumed sovereignty from Britain in 1997. Beijing is right, too: Sovereignty is to be defended as a precept beyond negotiation. Once the Union Jack came down over Government House, no foreign power could credibly purport to tell China how to govern its own real estate. The foreign ministry in Beijing made this clear in a bluntly worded statement two years ago

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