Fri, Sep 06, 2019 - Page 8 News List

Is China testing how far it can go?

By Palden Sonam

China seems to be testing the reaction of the international community if it were to repeat another Tiananmen-like massacre in Hong Kong.

However, before getting there, it is important to review what has been going on in the past weeks and to identify some of changes that have taken place in the territory’s pro-democracy movement.

The ongoing political crisis in Hong Kong has been growing in multiple ways since it started with protests against a proposed extradition bill that was formally rescinded on Wednesday.

First, its scope has increased as protesters’ demands include not only the complete withdrawal of the controversial bill, but also the resignation of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥); an independent investigation into police violence; exoneration of those already arrested; and universal suffrage for all Hong Kong residents.

The current protests have resurrected the 2014 “Umbrella movement” and its leaders, such as Joshua Wong (黃之鋒).

Second, the number of people joining the protests is steadily increasing, with the highest attendance hitting a record 1.7 million people. In addition to the growing numbers, the diversity of people joining the movement has also expanded to include students, teachers, lawyers and even civil servants — the latter to the embarrassment of the authorities.

Giving the huge number of people participating in the marches without organized leadership, the rallies are by and large peaceful and orderly.

However, there have also been several cases of physical confrontations with the police. Most of the clashes with the police appear to be a defensive reaction rather than an offensive strategy. Aug. 25 turned more violent due to the actions of a small group of protesters who broke away from the main approved rally and threw Molotov cocktails at police.

In retaliation, the police used water cannons against protesters — for the first time in the past 12 weeks. Could that be an indicator that violence will escalate in the coming days?

Third, the crisis is getting internationalized as more and more governments remind Hong Kong authorities to exercise restraint in response to attacks on the police.

During a telephone conversation with Lam, the UK condemned the violence from all sides and called for a probe into the violence, while emphasizing Hong Kongers’ right to protest.

The EU and Canada also called for restraint and to respect the “fundamental freedom” of Hong Kongers to assemble.

Despite the elusive and erratic nature of US President Donald Trump’s statements, US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s statements have been direct, reminding Lam to end police violence and to grant universal suffrage to Hong Kongers.

China’s stern response to international criticism has further added to the global dimension of the Hong Kong issue.

Hong Kong support rallies and Chinese nationalist counterprotests in different cities and campuses around the world have also given more international attention to the issue.

As Hong Kong’s protests spread far and wide after the Lam administration failed to lead the territory out of the current political situation, China entered the scene on an offensive note.

Using its huge state propaganda machinery, Beijing produced a massive vilification campaign against the protesters by portraying them as violent rioters, criminals, mobsters, extremists and fanatics to the domestic Chinese audience. This has fomented Chinese nationalistic feeling while depicting the protesters as traitors in collusion with foreign powers.

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