Sun, Sep 08, 2019 - Page 6 News List

China must act prudently in HK

By Thomas Ho 何振盛

As the conflict between the Hong Kong Police Force and protesters continues to escalate, China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA) rotated troops stationed at its garrison in the territory. Meanwhile, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) has not ruled out dusting off colonial-era emergency laws as a means to quash the protest. The situation is worsening by the day.

On Aug. 30, police conducted a dragnet operation, arresting eight prominent protest leaders, including three sitting legislators and a district councilor. It is becoming increasingly clear that Beijing intends to use whatever means it has at its disposal to comprehensively crush Hong Kong’s resistance movement.

In reality, due to the large numbers of Hong Kongers participating in the democracy movement, new individuals constantly pop up to fill the ranks. This is because the movement is no freak accident and was never just about China’s proposed extradition bill: It is a broad-based social movement concerned about protecting Hong Kong’s liberal values, basic rights and unique lifestyle.

It is also a strong questioning of and pushback against Beijing’s handling of the “one country, two systems” model of governance, in effect since the former colony’s handover from Britain to China in 1997.

Hong Kong’s Basic Law explicitly states that Beijing will uphold Hong Kong’s capitalist system — thus “one country, two systems” — for a period of 50 years following the handover in 1997.

However, images of tanks rolling on to Tiananmen Square in 1989 to bloodily suppress the democracy movement lingers on in the memories of Hong Kongers: It has become a recurring nightmare and psychological trauma for many of the territory’s residents.

Over the 22 years since the handover, a seemingly endless number of marches, protests, demonstrations and political meetings has snowballed into a fully-fledged social movement. The majority of Hong Kongers no longer believe that the “one country, two systems” formula will bring a better tomorrow.

During protests in years gone by, the erosion of judicial independence, individual liberties and political rights, all guaranteed in the Basic Law, were the main reasons behind Hong Kong’s political and social unrest.

China’s leaders, of course, are used to rule by autocracy. As such, when considering how to deal with the chaos in Hong Kong, they might believe that they can ignore public opinion and employ similar methods to those used when dealing with the 1989 democracy movement, dispatching the PLA and the People’s Armed Police to put it down.

However, the consequences of such a decision would be disastrous for China.

First of all, a crackdown would attract international sanctions, which, similar to the aftermath of the Tiananmen Massacre, would further harm the US-China trade relationship and scupper trade talks.

Second, using force to quell the protests would simply be applying a temporary sticker plaster without solving the root of the problem. It would also eviscerate any remaining trust Hong Kongers have in Beijing and possibly precipitate a withdrawal of foreign investment from China.

Furthermore, it would force the protest movement underground and provide irrefutable proof of the complete failure of the “one country, two systems” model. Hong Kong’s previously prosperous and stable society would be thrown into perpetual turmoil.

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