A column of smoke rises over Asia’s dispute-resolution hub this morning as Poly U burns. There are some intriguing theories as to why the Hong Kong Police are so obsessed with besieging and capturing university campuses – from the presence of a major Internet exchange at Chinese U to the oh-so strategic location of Poly U next to the Cross-Harbour Tunnel. More likely, the cops are simply driven by a need to vanquish something as a way to ease their frustration and prove a point.
Other developments over the weekend: an NYT scoop about Xinjiang adds to Beijing’s woes, pro-CCP figure Tsang Yok-sing gives an illuminating (pinch of salt required) interview on the worthlessness of the Hong Kong administration, and the PLA battle bricks in the road at Kowloon Tong.
Question: What do all the hundreds of observers now using the word ‘de-escalate’ have in common? Answer: none of them are in the Hong Kong or Chinese governments. Like many, Ben Bland ponders why the authorities are so determined to solve the unrest through force when it is so obviously not working. As he says, the idea that Beijing is deliberately choosing chaos as a tactic seems improbable – it is a high-risk approach and doesn’t square with the CCP’s paranoia about anti-government sentiment spreading across the border. A misinformed or deluded national leadership is more believable. Most likely, more than anything else, Xi and comrades have no idea what to do.
They can continue the cycle of repression-resistance-repression until Hong Kong is a cowed, censored, curfewed police state emptied of talent and capital. This would harm Mainland economic interests and be a national humiliation. Or they can back down and allow Hong Kong its promised autonomy and its own identity. This contradicts the Xi-Leninist impulse not to give in to the popular will and to tighten rather than relax control.
Both sound hard to believe – yet there is no conceivable third course that leads to a sustainable equilibrium.
The communique following the CCP’s Fourth Plenum (greater emphasis in Hong Kong on national security, direction of local officials and propaganda) clearly indicated the ‘full Mainlandization’ route. But if Hong Kong people (and maybe the international community) can make that more trouble than it is worth, that leaves only the ‘common sense’ course.
What counts as ‘more trouble than it is worth’? Absurd sieges of campuses? Office workers in Central occupying the streets at lunchtime? Hotels that are half empty for months on end? If these are not signs that Hong Kong people are winning, they are certainly not signs that they are losing.
Keith Richburg of the Washington Post makes the case for Beijing ultimately having to tremble and obey.