Beijing escalating to defeat?

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.

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38 Responses to Beijing escalating to defeat?

  1. Aard says:

    can we entertain the possibility that more force and earlier on would have saved lives and prevented escalation. all this is happening precisely because not enough force was applied in the beginning….feel free to disprove this.

  2. Joe Blow says:

    The popo fascists will conquer PolyU while at the same time lose the rest of Hong Kong. Brilliant move. Grand Bauhinia for Security Something John Lee, who these days looks like he eats his own shit for breakfast.

  3. reductio says:


    You mean like shooting a few protestors more force?

  4. AHW says:

    Aard — I think we would have got to where we are now a couple of months ago.

  5. Stephen says:

    What is needed now is a District Council electoral kicking for the DAB / United Front. Hopefully, being fearful that this is repeated in the Legislative elections next year, they will start to agitate Beijing for the restart of the constitutional process and the removal Carrie Lam and cohorts. It’s gone too far to expect memories to fade in a year from now or that some lame property promises will satisfy the masses.
    Handled right Hong Kong may come back from this. Get it wrong and you may as well put a fork in it.

  6. Cassowary says:

    @reductio: Even then, it probably wouldn’t have worked. At least 4 protesters were killed by security forces in Chile. Hundreds blinded. Still protesting.

  7. Chef Wonton says:

    In fairness to Plod, someone in the Hong Kong government has to own a functioning transport network.

    That’s why the police have drifted onto campus: if Chinese U was NOT right next to Tolo highway; or Poly U was NOT near the Central tunnel tollbooths, the police may well have left the kids to march around in circles with placards, in between sessions with their therapists. Which the kids well know, and is why they drifted off campus to target Tolo highway and the tollbooths.

    Like it or not, our transport system will be a target from now on.

  8. Chris says:

    @Aard – I think by now we can say with confidence that the HK government is unlikely to have missed any opportunity to maximize chaos and entrench the resistance.

  9. Hong Kong Hibernian says:

    Well, if HK fails to achieve its dream of becoming “Asia’s dispute-resolution hub”, then it has a very good chance of becoming “Asia’s Chemical Weapons Testing Hub”, with countless subjects from every walk of life ready to be used in a wide variety of settings.

    Quelle surprise! The local non-government already has a website up and running:

  10. Aard says:

    the lack of real deterrence is the catalyst that is fuelling the feedback loop…and this feedback loop will continue on inflicting more damage and harm; again this is just focusing on stopping violence and harm given the known reaction of the government

  11. Reactor #4 says:

    Is Reactor #4 masquerading as Aard? Her/his missive is the sort of inflammatory crap I would spout. Alternatively, perhaps my worldview is gaining a bit of traction.

  12. @Aard – impossible to prove or disprove, but I believe more violent tactics earlier would have provoked a more violent reaction earlier. In other words, the harder you’re kicked, the more you fight back. The government needs to stop kicking and start listening.

  13. Din Dan Che says:

    Oddly enough, this past Friday I’ve had three otherwise liberal business owners murmuring to me how “lead” needs to be fired at the kids and bodies need to be on the street before recovery begins apace. There area also those that highlight similar on social media but mask their identity, least they be viewed as, uh, anti-social.
    Basically, they haven’t learned from history about how a lack of negotiation creates a legacy of violence and mistrust; Northern Ireland being one recent example. It’s history that proves this theory wrong, and the bloodletting types rarely visit history to learn from mistakes.

  14. Cassowary says:

    It’s Xi Jinping’s style to bludgeon things to pieces and declare victory. Can you name any instance in his career where he didn’t go for maximum force?

    According to Jasper Tsang the pro-government camp is lousy with people desperate to make a deal, but they’re all too chickenshit to say so. (If this is a mere ploy to rehabilitate the DAB’s image before the election, it’s a strange way of going about it. Admitting to sitting there with their thumbs up their arses doesn’t make them look better.)

  15. Smiley says:

    If the HK Government had any sense they should call an amnesty for CityU students on the provision that all violence stops. A first step may get back some moral high ground and stop the circle of violence. However sense is in short support at Admiralty Towers

  16. Stanley Milgram says:

    Your hypothetical can be easily tested: next time you’re introduced to someone for the first time, slap them across their face as hard as you possibly can twice, and then sit back and watch how much calmer and more compliant they become towards you.

    Personally, I think you’re in for a short, sharp shock, but as a wise old man once said: “the primacy of experience is the centrepiece of being”.

  17. Dyslexic Cnut says:

    @Aard. If I come over to your place now and smack you in the head for expressing your opinion will you shut the fcuk up? Don’t feel free to disagree.

    Hemmers, you’ve said it yourself many times. They don’t do compromise. They’re done with Hong Kong. They want to drive civilized people out and they will.

  18. Reactor #4 says:

    It’s now 3.30 pm on 18 Nov 2019. As I write, there are some angst ridden parents who have gathered close to PolyU. From what I can make out, they are hoping to collect their little Johnnys and their little Janes. It’s reminiscent of mums/dads/helpers picking up their toddlers from an afternoon session in one of those depressingly colourful child-taming factories on Caine Road.

    If you were a rioter, how embarrassing would that be if you’d spent the last six months chanting “Revolution of our Times” and all sorts of other hyperbolic guff?

    Amusingly, the cops are having none of it.

  19. @Aard – what kind of deterrence do you propose? Very little short of a Tiananmen-style bloodbath (increasingly looking alarmingly possible) is likely to deter the protesters after all this time. Alternatively, since the situation is, as you point out, a feedback loop, how about if the police stood down for a while? With nothing to hit back against, maybe the protesters would calm down for a bit. But this would not solve the underlying political problems, so it would onlyhelp if the government took it as an opportunity to open some genuine dialogue – not just Carrie Lam’s idea of dialogue, which as we’ve seen amounts to “I will sit down once and let a handpicked audience talk to me reprovingly for an hour or two then go away and continue doing nothing”.

  20. Henry says:

    nice try. Maybe you are George Adams on a trolling mission. If you can find me an example anywhere that your approach has worked, I won’t come over and attempt to kick your head in.
    If, in the first instance, police had handed out candy to protestors, We’d be no-where near where we are today.

  21. PaperCuts says:

    When hundreds and hundreds…and hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets months and months ago, day after day maybe it was time for the government to listen and act instead of sticking their fingers in their ears, babbling incessantly about the “silent majority” and then pepper spraying, shooting and tear gassing everything that moved.

    Maybe the cowboy who gave the green light for the police force to “stand down” at Yuen Long MTR, should have been singled out, taken to the largest street intersection in Hong Kong and had his head publicly rolled onto the pavement.

    Too late now. It seems the most important bullshit to get back on track at this point is kids back to schools and for the eeeeecccconomy to be rescued.

  22. Aard says:

    @ Stanley @ Dyslexic

    Thats the whole point, if both of you get slapped by someone who has a gun pointed at you (also willing to shoot), neither of you will do anything.

  23. Henry says:

    “Thats the whole point, if both of you get slapped by someone who has a gun pointed at you (also willing to shoot), neither of you will do anything.”

    I think that has been categorically disproved.

  24. donkeynuts says:

    good luck with your theory. now that they are postponing, or is it withdrawing, or suspending district elections, they are driving hong kong further into chaos. I think they seriously have no clue what on earth they are doing. they have lived and worked a lifetime in a bubble. they will ruin us all. by the way, wish you were a journalist and not some accounting, finance minister hack. you should replace yonden at the helm of scmp’s news team.

  25. PaperCuts says:

    Have any of you ever worked for the Chinese? Have you seen how they run and make decisions at workplace meetings??

    I’ve seen them discuss what type of font they should use on staff memos for hours and hours.

  26. Donny Almond says:

    Aard = (obviously) Reactor #4 = HillnotPeak = Penny = Mr. Simon Hill from Sai Kung. Please do me, and everybody else in this world a favor, and ignore the troll.

  27. Penny says:

    You are right Donny Almond – to respond to, or in any way acknowledge the presence of, the troll only encourages him. Doubt that ignoring him will make much difference but let’s give it a try.

  28. Stanley Milgram says:

    Until you’re asleep or not looking. Then your victim will try to kill you.

    Your basic lack of respect towards another human being has now caused a chain of problems, and made you an enemy for life.
    As you escalate, more and more of your time and resources will be spent on fighting your enemies.
    Given that your opening gambit is threatening everyone you meet with a gun, you will meet no friendly people, only enemies.
    Eventually they will work together, and you will be swinging — quite rightly — from a lamppost.

    TL;DR “Hi there, what would it take to get you to help me out?” is — in the long term — always a better, cheaper more sustainable strategy to getting things done than “I have a gun, do exactly what I tell you.”

  29. Seems a lot of people are quite alright with the pyrotechnics display at Poly last night. Just another fond campus memory, like the food fight in Animal House. Yet these same people get all worked up about the police besieging the unarmed students peaceful sit-in. “Unarmed” in this context means “armed to the teeth with firebombs, bricks, catapults and arrows, not to mention all the miscellaneous toxins sacked from the chem lab.” Bet they got into the morphine in the infirmary too. I would. Oh, and “besieging” means “stopping them from disrupting critical urban infrastructure,” “students” means “opportunistic hooligans,” “peaceful” means “not peaceful” and “sit-in” means “riot.”

    It all makes a guy wonder if people have some kind of not-so-hidden political agenda.

    Tell you what, what I saw last night was insane. Absolutely nuts. I stopped counting firebombs at 238. And I only watched for about 10 minutes. Those little idiots were completely out of their minds. If you think the behavior of those radicals is an acceptable form of political expression, then the human race is doomed.

    Tell you something else, I have the particular burden of spending my days with the worthies and tai pans who keep the machine turning over. A few are a bit freaked out, but most have managed to stay calm and composed and they all agree with Reactor IV.

    And I’ll tell you one final thing, hem obviously knows exactly what’s going on here and he’s in on the con.

    Notwithstanding the lunacy of the past two days, my favorite moment from last week was still the banker in Central who tried to make a break for it. That was an expensive mistake. Check the link, an oldie but oh such a goody. The best of HFS and PFW are still on the airwaves somewhere in the universe near you.

  30. steve says:

    @PaperCuts–You misspelled “British.”

    That is, race-based generalizations are unhelpful. Or racist, if you prefer.

  31. Reactor #4 says:

    @ Donny Almond.

    I am flattered and amazed that you can keep track of all my personalities. Actually, I’d lost track of quite a few of them. Well done for reminding me. I shall check out my address book and invite all to my annual Second Saturday of December (14th) Xmas junk party where much merriment will be had by all. Pier #9, step-set 3, 10.00 am kick-off – it’s an open invite. See you there. Look for the late 30s plumpy-dumpy ginger bloke, with left-arm tats, moderate balding and a wispy moustache.

  32. Guest says:

    @Hong Kong Hibernian: seems that the government should have discussed banning the teaching of chemistry instead of liberal studies.

  33. Chris says:

    @father you missed the plot through the fireworks. This mob of rioters has not had a single nod of acknowledgement from their government since before they were born. This whole situation is an extreme experiment in human psychological physics substituting a dictator with an army for an absent bureaucrat puppet with a police force constrained by a pesky rule of law. I would love to see how the kind people of France or Britain or any other self respecting place would react under the same circumstances. I believe the Americans understand it well – I have argued against their solution many times but this situation makes me realise why they have so many school shootings.

  34. MoeFoeux says:

    @In the Name of the Father

    “Tell you something else, I have the particular burden of spending my days with the worthies and tai pans who keep the machine turning over. A few are a bit freaked out, but most have managed to stay calm and composed and they all agree with Reactor IV.”

    I’m privy to the personal correspondence between some of Hong Kong’s most influential “tai pans” — not random hedge fund managers or CEOs of RandomChineseCompanyName Co. Ltd. PTE XYZ, but the owners of major regional and global companies without whom daily life in HK would be difficult indeed.

    While most are calm, a surprisingly large amount agree with Hemlock, even those whose businesses have been particularly hurt either directly or indirectly by the protests. Specifically, they have been astounded by the stupidity of Carrie Lam and her administration, and especially with her inflexibility in meeting at least some of the protester’s demands.

    Unfortunately, I have also seen some of the more elderly “tai pans” (of the octo- and nona-genarian variety) who actually believe the CCP rhetoric that the Hong Kong protests are being orchestrated by foreign powers, and will spread articles by the Global Times or speeches made by Chinese ambassadors amongst their peers. Of course, there is never any evidence presented, but they are shared nonetheless.

  35. PaperCuts says:


    No, sorry Steve, I won’t be told what vocabulary I can use by you. But you’re welcome to find a safe space.

  36. PaperCuts says:

    @ In the name of the father

    You’re right. Acceptable political expression takes hundreds of thousands…billions of dollars, blackmail, bribery, thuggery, deception, the means for mass social engineering through media…what were those kids with sling shots thinking??!!

    Do go on about the political agenda though…

  37. Henry says:

    @name of the father
    Did you count the tear gas and rubber bullets, or can’t you keep both in you head at once?
    It does seem like joined up thinking isn’t your strong point, ever think about how we got to this place? Or did normally mild mannered Hong Kongers just go nuts one day and start throwing molotov cocktails at “Asia’s finest”
    And good for you that you have the “burden” of spending your days with “worthies” – those that have pillaged Hong Kong for the past 30 years? In your cognitive dissonant world they’re not part of the problem. In most Hong Kongers world, not just the rioters, they are definitely not part of the solution.
    Anyway, I’m sure Hemmers thanks you for your contribution and for crediting him with “being in on the con…..” FFS

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