Beijing’s likely response to the Hong Kong protests (it doesn’t involve troops)

Domestic News

Will China send in the troops?

Anna Fifield of the Washington Post says China is threatening to use force in Hong Kong but hoping threats will suffice. Scholar Minxin Pei says a Tiananmen-style crackdown would be catastrophic for China.

Scholar and respected commentator on elite Chinese politics Willy Wo-Lap Lam (林和立 Lín Hélì) argues on the Jamestown Foundation China Brief that “it is unlikely” that Xí Jìnpíng 习近平 “will give the go-ahead for the Hong Kong Garrison to quash the ‘turmoil’” in Hong Kong. Lam provides two key reasons:

  • Loss of face: Chinese troops in Hong Kong “would demonstrate that, after 22 years of rule, the CCP has failed to win hearts and minds among Hong Kong’s 7.5 million residents.”
  • “Even more devastating would be the economic fallout in both Hong Kong and the mainland. Despite the rise of Shanghai as a regional financial center, the Chinese economy is still dependent on Hong Kong to raise money for its ambitious modernization programs.”

So what will Beijing do? Lam says “Beijing has a better option: much of the same impact as deploying the PLA’s Hong Kong Garrison can be achieved through surreptitiously stationing in the Special Administrative Region (SAR) Chinese police officers from neighboring Guangdong Province, who have started working seamlessly with indigenous police in Hong Kong.”

Mainland police officers are already working in Hong Kong and there will likely be more of them in the coming months. Beijing intends “to wait for public opinion to turn,” hoping that violence from protesters alienates “large swathes of Hong Kong’s silent majority,” and that declining economic numbers “will pit members of the Hong Kong business community—many of whom are diehard opponents of the Extradition Bill — against the protestors.”

“More power will be given to the Central Liaison Office (CLO), Beijing’s representative in Hong Kong “which is grooming a cadre of Cantonese-speaking loyalists — including underground Communist Party members — for senior slots in the SAR administration.” Lam says “the wily and ambitious head of the CLO, Wáng Zhìmín 王志民, who is a member of the CCP’s ruling Central Committee, could become the de facto principal policymaker of the SAR.”

In the long term, Beijing will encourage migration. “Since the change of sovereignty in 1997, some 1.5 million mainlanders have been given permanent residence and voting rights in the SAR. Opinion polls on the political inclinations of these new immigrants have shown they are more sympathetic toward Beijing’s harsh line of taming Hong Kong’s democratic aspirations.”

Lap does not discuss other methods at Beijing’s disposal such as sanctioning companies and their employees for political participation and plausibly deniable harassment of activists by thugs working with Chinese security agents and police. Nor does he mention the possible role of agents provocateurs — the Global Times “journalist” carrying an “I ♥︎ police” T-shirt who got abused by protesters yesterday may well have been one.

In other news from Hong Kong:

Beijing continues to promote the absurd conspiracy theory that American government “black hands” are behind the protests. See for example this Xinhua News Agency editorial (in EnglishChinese).

“Hong Kong protesters have apologised to the public for the chaos caused at the city’s airport, one of the world’s busiest transport hubs, after demonstrations brought flights to a halt for two consecutive days and stranded thousands of visitors,” reports the Guardian.

Cathay Pacific Airways has fired two pilots it had previously suspended, the company announced on Wednesday,” reports the South China Morning Post. “Hong Kong’s flag carrier said it had sacked a pilot who was arrested and charged over clashes between police and anti-government protesters in Sheung Wan on July 28.”

“The attacks on two mainland Chinese men at Hong Kong airport on Tuesday evening by anti-government protesters have set off a firestorm of criticism on the mainland,” reports the South China Morning Post. Also see:

Hong Kong: The propaganda is working

‘What a shame to Hong Kong’: Chinese users flood Instagram

“The vast majority of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protesters are university-educated, almost half are in their twenties and nearly everyone loathes the police, according to an academic survey that sheds new light on the movement,” reports Agence France-Presse.