The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office’s statement (text here if you’re bored) and press conference represent Beijing’s measured response to the 2019 opposition movement in Hong Kong. It describes a small but annoying challenge by foreign-influenced radicals. There is little or no role for any ‘hearts and minds’ stuff – just firmer law-enforcement.
The spokesmen emphasized Beijing’s strong support specifically for the police (and, tellingly, their families, though not so much for the local government in general). This gives the cops a green light to ramp up their efforts in suppressing protests and ‘punishing criminals’ by force.
It also looks like a co-opting of the police into the pro-Beijing camp/United Front sphere. In other words, when it comes to dealing with political opposition, the HK Police will now – along with New Territories triad bosses – come under Liaison Office control.
This points to more ID checks, harassment of kids, intimidation, surveillance, tolerance of thug-on-activist assaults, vindictive raids and arrests – as well as tear gas (if there’s any left), rubber bullets, water cannon and other big tough-guy stuff. The Liaison Office will also require the public prosecutions officials, and ultimately the courts, to play along in implementing a more authoritarian regime.
Will this work, or will it provoke a greater backlash from the populace?
Some of our ‘various sectors’ will kowtow. The American Chamber of Commerce has chosen this time to call for an independent inquiry into the causes of Hong Kong’s unrest. This key opposition demand is actually a challenge to China’s sovereignty (in the CCP’s worldview), as it would expose things like the Liaison Office-triads-police links. Expect AmCham to shut up about an inquiry pretty quickly.
Other parts of the community are more likely to resist. Every teenager who gets bullied by the police means another alienated family. There are signs of dissatisfaction among civil servants, transport workers and even elite athletes. If (say) air traffic controllers all call in sick, or bus drivers block tunnels, the city comes to a halt.
The question is, can the CCP – using all its subtlety and charm – fine-tune the thuggish Leninist rule-by-fear methods that work so well in the Mainland to be effective in a prosperous, free and pluralist society?