The year ahead

When they are not suffering from delusions that Hong Kong will at some time go ‘back to normal’, some frustrated establishment figures lash out with a sour note: Beijing, they mutter, is ‘happy to let Hong Kong tear itself apart’.

It does seem like it. After seven months of protests, Hong Kong is stuck. The local government is forbidden by Beijing to take any initiatives so occupies its time issuing plaintive statements condemning violence. The only action Beijing has allowed is tough police tactics that, if anything, bolster support for the protests (good rant here) and assorted, clumsy administrative measures intended to weaken the movement.

On the other hand, the CCP has a phobia of civil unrest, and is especially paranoid about the possibility of an anti-government movement crossing the border. Its dilemma is that it can’t envisage or countenance anything other than physical and other coercion. Some relatively simple concessions could win over moderates and isolate radicals. But the idea of bowing to public will is abhorrent to China’s leaders in principle, and they have a particular fear of relaxing control or accommodating political reform.

So Beijing can only subjugate the movement through repression. This is why, after six months, counterproductive police tactics continue. It is why the local administration has snubbed opportunities to change tack – for example, through the October policy address, through its ‘dialog forum’, or in the wake of the November district council elections.

Examples of clamping-down so far include: tentative use of emergency laws; airlines firing staff, and government threatening schools, teachers and civil servants for their opinions; authorities targeting protest-related fund-raising, and maybe indirectly donors; stepped-up police action such as mass-arrests and deployment of provocateurs. Perhaps wary of public opinion or the courts, officials seem nervous about such measures – which clearly have ‘Liaison Office pressure’ stamped on them.

The sudden appointment of Luo Huining at the Liaison Office raises the possibility of a change in direction. Maybe he will ‘reach out’ and try to absorb moderate opposition into a more representative political structure to win hearts and minds. But that’s not how he tamed Tibetans in Qinghai and corrupt officials and cronies in Shanxi. (By all accounts, he relied heavily on economic-development ‘carrots’ as well as disciplinary ‘sticks’. This does not look good for our local parasitical tycoon caste.)

While it’s hard to believe China’s leaders are ‘happy’ to see Hong Kong in chaos, they may convince themselves there’s a bright side to the situation. The fixation on curbing protests can be seen as justification for ignoring Hong Kong’s need for structural change, rather than the other way round. (This is reflected in Hong Kong officials’ insistence that ‘the violence must stop first’ before they can consider any measures to fix underlying problems.)

The crisis is also a pretext for curbing rights and freedoms for the longer term.

That points to more decisive Mainlandization to come in 2020. Expect greater pressure on corporations and institutions to regulate employees’ views, cooperate with police anti-protest tactics, and to openly support the government line. Similar pressure on civil society. Loyalty tests for teachers and civil servants. Intimidation of opposition figures, perhaps by extra-legal means (triads, in plain language). Propaganda in schools (loyalists are already fussing about textbooks). Ditto RTHK. More surveillance (facial-recognition cameras, etc). Infiltration of opposition groups.

Since this will provoke greater resistance, we can see a cycle further ahead that is bound to extend to Internet censorship, criminalization of opinions, and politicized courts. The ultimate result will have to be a far more repressive society – say around halfway on the scale between Singapore and the Mainland.

There are two linked problems for Beijing. Externally, this process will undermine Hong Kong’s appeal as a place to live and do business, and thus damage China’s international image. Internally, it will create a far more embittered and resentful population, and nurture development of a deeper underground resistance culture and movement. This is where it gets interesting, because it is likely the CCP has no idea what it is up against. That underground society is already starting. More on which later…

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16 Responses to The year ahead

  1. Mark Bradley says:

    “The ultimate result will have to be a far more repressive society – say around halfway on the scale between Singapore and the Mainland.”

    It’s hard to imagine Hong Kong being more repressed than Singapore because unlike Singaporeans or Mainlanders, Hong Kongers will fight back very hard and give the new Party Secretary of Hong Kong the finger.

  2. Stephen says:

    One would have hoped that more moderate heads, in the upper echelons of the CCP, would now be opposing Xi’s “policies” which has, lost the Taiwan election, caused huge civil unrest in Hong Kong, shown to be running concentration camps in the west, throwing adolescent tantrums when overseas sports bodies/ players call them out and, most damagingly of all, engaged in a trade spat with the U.S.

    So what will it take for wiser heads to prevail, or is there no going back, armed conflict, economic meltdown ? I agree the prognosis for the Big Lychee is very bleak indeed.

  3. PaperCuts says:

    Fight for those extortionist shoe boxes in the sky kids!

  4. elephantisias says:

    Having just handed in my visa extension application and being on the path to have permanent residency, I really hope that this repression doesn’t trickle down to rubber stamp immigration lackeys who simply see a Western name and tick yes on the visa machine.

    On the other hand, I can’t see Beijing as a group of politicians who do not care about Hong Kong’s future. Try as they might to win through coercion, they all know, and we all know, their real estate and money is all tied up here.

    I’m rather tired of hearing my boss tell me every week or so that Westerners really don’t understand that China doesn’t care about Hong Kong at all and is happy to see it rubbed off the face of the earth. What a moronic thing to say.

  5. YTSL says:

    A genuine question: How much do the authorities care about China’s international image? Sometimes, it seems like they’re primarily playing to the home crowd — which they may be having more trouble controlling than is often realized.

    If Beijing does indeed care about its international image, then I see greater hope for Hong Kong’s protestors. At the same time, the thought that the authorities do have to spend a not insignificant amount of time trying to control people in the Mainland also does help chip away at the idea that many people have of a super powerful, impossible to beat/oust government.

  6. Reactor #4 says:

    HK people are pretty smart. Most will just work with the system and bail when the time is appropriate. I’ve been advocating this since the start of the protests. They’ll not beat the CCP (and it’s wrong for the local old-fart democracy advocates and the foreign leaches to be egging them on – you can better your bottom dollar that they won’t be put their futures in the line).

    My approach is the real “Be water”. Getting arrested and acquiring a criminal record all for some grand cause is bullshit. Most of the kids who are ideologically driven are now banged up/on bail and they will find that they have effectively tossed away their lives. The best option if you really have a problem with the CCP’s influence on the city is to slip out on your own terms – a bit like the East Germans/eastern Europeans did prior to the erection of the Berlin Wall/Iron Curtain.

    I know it is sad, but in life it is best to be pragmatic.

  7. Mark Bradley says:

    “ I’m rather tired of hearing my boss tell me every week or so that Westerners really don’t understand that China doesn’t care about Hong Kong at all and is happy to see it rubbed off the face of the earth. What a moronic thing to say.”

    It really is when these communist fucktards need HK for listing their IPO, issuing bonds, and washing their dirty money. Plus hk listed more IPOs than New York and London

  8. Casira says:

    @Mark: By numbers 90% of these IPO would not be allowed to list in Europe.

  9. Chinese Netizen says:

    “Try as they might to win through coercion, they all know, and we all know, their real estate and money is all tied up here.”

    Not really. They also have oodles of property and cash tied up in London, Paris, HongCouver, NYC, LA, Auckland, TAIPEI and (insert other western style, property rights respecting jurisdiction here) as well.

  10. Cassowary says:

    @Stephen: That is what would happen if the CCP were any kind of sensible decision-making body but Xi has spent the last several years transforming it from an oligarchy into an autocracy, and autocracies are far too paranoid to be sensible. Nobody who wants to keep their job/money/life is going to tell Xi that he’s wrong, and Xi himself can’t admit fault without lending his enemies rope to hang him with, so everyone’s going to try to white-knuckle this stupidity to the end of the line. When it stops, it will be sudden.

  11. pie-chucker says:

    @ Reactor

    You seem to have zero understanding of Hong Kong.

    Not least ‘foreign leaches’ (presumably meaning ‘leeches’). I have lived in, and contributed to, Hong Kong for 42 years and have no intention of slipping away. You may not see this place as home. I do. Bugger off if you want to. I won’t be.

  12. The lecturer doth protest too little, methinks says:

    @Reactionary 4

    If all the protestors you teach follow your grand plan to move somewhere else, then “getting arrested and acquiring a criminal record all for some grand cause” won’t “have effectively tossed away their lives” at all. At best it’ll help with a political asylum claim, and/or security clearances; at worst it’ll make no difference. So you might as well just decide if you’re an umbrellaman or a thug for Xi Jinping and go out and make a difference: it’s the actual pragmatic thing to do.

  13. Mark Bradley says:

    “ By numbers 90% of these IPO would not be allowed to list in Europe.”

    No disagreement with you there. Plus I hope that mainland companies are eventually completely shut out of London and New York so that they are forced to list in hk only.

  14. PaperCuts says:

    Political asylum for these indentured servant coddled, pampered, politically one-dimensional, historically & factually ignorant milksops?

    I’d like to see that!

    😉

  15. Cassowary says:

    You can see that. Germany’s already accepted at least two.

  16. PaperCuts says:

    I wouldn’t place much value in anything Germany does. Their raging cultural Marxism and staggeringly strict thought crime/ freedom of speech “laws” are right out of 1984.

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