In the interests of fairness and balance…

Equal time for the pro-Beijing video-makers out there. These were all forwarded from someone in the government-friendly, anti-protest camp. One thing about these people is that they do not seem too fussy about the provenance of the materials they send each other. I did not sit through every minute of each one, so my summaries might miss better or worse aspects of the entertainment.

In ascending order of weirdness…

Video 1 – as seen on several Twitter threads and other channels: Xinhua interviewing one Ian Stansbury, some sort of think-tank type, on why Western media are (cue melancholy violin) unfair to China.

Video 2 – a quick documentary stressing how just a few hundred violent ultra-radical organized criminals (trained on rooftops, onsite commanders guiding the action and caught with high explosives) are wrecking the beautiful city we call home. Narrator seems to have a Canadian accent. Hosted on Google Drive (owner ‘BBs and Baba Tao’). Looks aimed to please the CCP as much as influence the public, but made by ‘A group of HK residents’.

Video 3 – features an activist called Sara Flounders of the far-left US Workers World Party: authentic ‘tankies’ who supported the Soviet invasion of Hungry in 1956, backed Mao after the Sino-Soviet split and adore North Korea. If you resist Beijing you must be CIA.

Video 4 – by one Jaron Lines, apparently an American in Hong Kong. He says the extradition bill has been exploited by the CIA to infiltrate the city. A quick Google search shows he peddles some sort of self-help/forex-trading thing called Life Ignitor, plus Bible quotes (more here, with thoughts on ‘evil elites backed by the Zionists’ and don’t-ask-why tasteful pic of his wife’s boobs).

Meanwhile, back on Planet Earth, here’s some big tough pro-Beijing guys having a go at Dame Conscience herself, Anson Chan – who mercifully spares them a dose of The Handbag.

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Carrie to be ousted by corruption frame-up? Place your bets

This Bloomberg chart shows how Carrie Lam’s approval ratings have plunged. But it’s out of date – she has now hit 17%. My MS Paint rejig is about right.

In the absence of a functioning Hong Kong government, the Chinese Communist Party is determined to see how well Mainland-style intimidation and thuggery will work in a free society. Two Hong Kong protest organizers, Jimmy Sham and Max Chung, were attacked on the street in separate incidents yesterday. Andy Chan (formerly of the now-banned HK National Party) was arrested at the airport last night. And police bundled Joshua Wong into an unmarked vehicle this morning. (Update: now Agnes Chow, too.)

For the ‘good cop’ side of the routine, they are putting more pressure on Cathay Pacific and other companies and schools to spread fear among their staff; they are also engineering vague (and, to most rational people, scarcely credible) threats that military units are prepared to move in, and the authorities might use emergency powers to censor the Internet.

It all looks calculated to provoke a bigger turnout at tomorrow’s (non-authorized, Chater Garden 3pm) assembly in Central, and further strengthen broad anti-government sentiment. To people in free societies, the most logical explanation is that Beijing is deliberately creating a scenario that warrants military force. But to the control-obsessed CCP mindset, this multi-pronged crackdown is the only conceivable alternative to sending troops in. It is not so much sinister as farcical, and increasingly tragic.

The Washington Post struggles to make sense of a ‘Hong Kong government’ that mysteriously stands silent and motionless while the city (figuratively) burns. Some quotes in the article hint at the possibility (or fact) that Beijing has essentially suspended the administration, while pro-government figure Regina Ip says that concessions would encourage protests. A (venerable) rhyme from my childhood comes to mind…

As I was walking down the stair

I met a government that wasn’t there.

It wasn’t there again today.

I wish that government would go away!

Maybe, in its indecision, Beijing is just going to sweat it out until after the October 1 National Day. Either way, poor Carrie is being horribly set up. At some point Beijing will have to lose face – and it will deflect that onto the hapless Chief Scapegoat. A trumped-up corruption allegation, perhaps? The CCP are not original or subtle when it comes to these things.

I declare the weekend open with some worthwhile links.

Atlantic looks at how the CCP’s bullying forces Hong Kong companies ‘to do the dirty work to ensure that their staff don’t take part in the demonstrations’ and shows that Beijing ‘places political control over economic reason’.

New Yorker sees Hong Kong from Xi Jinping’s standpoint: ‘…a massacre reminiscent of Tiananmen would be almost incalculably costly’.

New Statesman adds to the buzz about 2019’s big urban geography story – the role of shopping malls in Hong Kong’s fight for democracy.

A quick Twitter thread on why the CIA isn’t behind Hong Kong protests. (Could this be the same CIA that manages agents in China so well that 20 of them were caught and executed eight years ago? Yes it could!)

A Comparativist academic analysis of Hong Kong’s protests

From [the June 16 mega-march] forward, the movement was no longer about the bill itself but the structural contexts that got us in the situation in the first place: an unelected, unresponsive, illegitimate, and reviled HKSAR government that now responded with excessive force whenever activists showed signs of doing anything more than march along designated routes or gathering in parks.

Chinafile explains that not all Mainlanders believe Beijing’s line on Hong Kong.

For anyone hadn’t guessed, Inkstone says Hong Kong’s example is pushing Taiwan even further away from taking a One Country Two Systems arrangement seriously.

Al Jazeera asks if China can accept Hong Kong’s unique identity. To give us a clue, the Globe and Mail looks at the CCP’s thing about forced confessions, which reflects…

…the inability of the Communist Party to tolerate any independent voices … They can’t live with a plurality of opinions, so they are obsessed with censoring everything – and with putting words into people’s mouths.

For fans of rail, logistics and murk, Panda Paw, Dragon Claw reports all you want to know about the empty trains on Belt-and-Road trans-Eurasian routes, down to financing arrangements involving the likes of HNA and CEFC.

A history professor’s YouTube series asks How much of China is really China? If you’re in a hurry, fast-forward to 14.08 (oh, go on) for the essential two-sentence summary. If you have time, check the guy’s other talks on Mongols, Greeks, the lot.

And more Hong Kong protest artwork – from ‘hellowong’. Maybe just me, but this could be one of the best yet.

And lastly, whatever happens in Hong Kong, at least we won’t have to suffer the delights of American cuisine. For gastronomes out there, this video takes 2 mins 20 secs, but seems more like a very hellish, nightmarish hour (I was looking away by the end): ‘It kept getting worse’.

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Police encourage you to come out on Saturday

Hong Kong has held countless anti-government marches and rallies since the Lychee Revolution started in June. (Can we call it that? Please? It needs a name.) Every time observers think protest fatigue might be setting in, the turnout is massive.

But could this Saturday’s gathering be different? It marks the fifth anniversary of the political non-reform package – not the most zappy reason for a demonstration. It will probably be raining. And there’s lots more coming, like university class boycotts in the days and weeks ahead.

The Hong Kong Police come to the rescue by banning the planned assembly in any form. Another bout of illegal-gathering violence is born.

(By definition, the government must be the cause of anti-government demonstrations. But Sussex University’s Dept of Protest Mayhem Studies research shows that in Hong Kong the authorities are virtually designing the lawlessness and chaos. It notes ‘the role of government and police in setting up the scenario where protests take place’, and how (in 2014) ‘the use of tear gas against protesters was one of the main reasons for people to join the ongoing demonstrations’.)

Which brings us to the PLA’s annual troop rotation, which just took place. They did it tastefully – that is, at night – as always. Some people are saying it’s a few months earlier than usual. Others are claiming that troops came in, but none left. Overseas observers are freaking out. The local mood is a barely noticeable shrug.

Tanks on Queens Road are about as likely as those Emergency Powers from 1922, under which Carrie Lam would take a thick pencil to all offensive telegraph signals coming through the colony, ‘seize property’ (just try it), and lock up anyone she wants for life. But as a precaution, the HK Internet Service Providers Association issue a statement warning that just messing with one or two apps and websites will likely lead to erection of a full Mainland-style firewall, so kiss bye-bye to your international financial hub.

And former Chief Executive ultra-patriot CY Leung is offering a Free!!! massage chair plus HK$500 in Park N Shop coupons to anyone who produces the severed head of a protester who has damaged the national flag.

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HK govt not incompetent – just vacant

Here’s a nice video clip – Carrie Lam before the quasi-election saying she would quit as Chief Executive if the people wanted her to go. It hasn’t aged well. (Nor, in all truth, has she in that short time.) Her opinion poll approval ratings were last seen disappearing down a dark vortex.

Carrie’s administration has, for all practical purposes, been relieved of its serious decision-making governance duties (it is still allowed to manage sewerage-clearing and other municipal stuff). But, for reasons we can only guess at, Beijing is as yet unable or unwilling to hand down any further instructions.

In the absence of leadership, local government is reduced to two visible current functions, plus one remaining future one.

The first is the police, who are trying to beat and tear-gas an angry population into peaceful contentment. They are by all accounts following procedures set out in manuals written years ago, and doubling down on them when they don’t work. There is no-one to tell them to try something different. (Seriously – if they replaced riot cops with old ladies handing out ice-creams, the street violence would end instantly.)

The second is the administration’s press conferences and other activities designed to give us the impression they are in charge when they, we, everyone knows they are not. It is painful and hideous to watch. Even Carrie herself seems uncertain what she is really saying when she  ‘clarifies’ that it’s not about ‘not responding to questions’ but about ‘not accepting popular demands’. Walking obliviously into the old ‘refusal to rule out’ trap, she manages to accidentally announce imminent Sweeping Emergency Powers, from curfews to mass-arrests to an Internet shutdown.

The future function the administration has yet to perform is to be ritually decapitated by Beijing to take the blame for everything.

The point is that the ‘Hong Kong government’ has long passed the stage where it is under amazingly incompetent control – it is now on autopilot, repeating the same inanity over and over while the Chinese Communist Party puzzles or argues over what to do. From Xi Jinping’s point of view, there is no ‘win-win’. There’s not even a ‘win’.

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Enter the Jasper

‘Jasper’ Tsang Yok-sing, elder statesman of Hong Kong’s CCP-front DAB, writes (in Chinese) in AM730 that foreign forces are not mounting a classic ‘color revolution’ in the city – their anti-China aims are more nuanced, owing to business interests here, etc. To the extent they are leveraging local influence, he says, it is only possible because Beijing has failed to win the people’s hearts and minds. The people have lost confidence in One Country Two Systems because of Beijing’s closer control, and are dissatisfied with local governance. He quotes Mao to support the principle that internal problems enable external interference.

Tsang has a habit of blithely side-stepping the official line and coming up with a sort of ‘common sense with CCP characteristics’. That’s to say, he totally supports the absorption of Hong Kong into the one-party state – he just gets annoyed that the Mainlanders are getting it all wrong and (from a loyalist’s viewpoint) making things worse.

While Beijing wonders what to do, the painful charade of the ‘Hong Kong government’ continues. Chief Executive Carrie Lam missed an opportunity to restore love and harmony following the recent period of calm. (That was the weekend before last – if you had a nap at the time, you’d have missed it.) Instead, she just sailed impassively along on auto-pilot, oblivious to the events around her.

It is indisputably eerie, and has prompted even the mildest-spoken among us to use such descriptions as ‘lobotomized’ and ‘zombie-like’. It is also enormously frustrating to many pro-establishment moderates (and more candid die-hards, like Tsang). Even if you accept (as you should) that Beijing’s officials have in effect relieved her and the administration of their posts, you still wonder how she can look so inert and lifeless. One theory is that it is a silent protest or cry for help.

The SCMP asks its style correspondent to find out whether Carrie’s fashion choice says more than she does. (Yes, silly question – a used Kleenex is more enlightening.)

On a darker note, an academic who knows all about non-violence and overthrowing oppressive regimes expresses concern about where Hong Kong is going. At this rate, someone’s going to get killed, and then we have martyrs, and a slide into long-term conflict. He warns of Northern Ireland 2.0.

Perhaps not a perfect parallel in terms of politics, culture and history (pro-democrats = Catholics/Republicans, pro-Beijing camp = Protestants/Unionists, and the PRC/PLA = UK/British forces). But in terms of intractability, it sounds all too believable.

The thread includes comments bemoaning the lack of figures who can connect the two camps (such a lack that Christine Loh gets a mention as a ‘Trojan horse reformer’).

This is a deliberate outcome of the CCP’s Leninist United Front philosophy: anyone who does not kowtow and obey is an enemy. Think how things could have turned out if moderates like Martin Lee had been allowed a role in government after 1997. Instead, the CCP has squeezed out everyone except a bunch of shoe-shiners and buffoons from having any input into local governance.

Would Tsang Yok-sing go for co-opting moderates? Actually, he prefers giving the Liaison Office a formal role in running Hong Kong directly – squeezing the shoe-shiners and buffoons out of the equation as well. This looks the least improbable long-term outcome.

For fantasy-fiction fans: Asia Sentinel concocts a possibly drug-induced, semi-genius scenario in which Tsang teams up with Carrie and boldly saves the day.  

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Dazzling way out for Beijing proposed

And so our visionary leaders try the latest ‘Tsuen Wan model’ mayhem-based solution to a citywide uprising provoked by 20 years’ atrocious governance and the creeping imposition of a one-party authoritarian regime: shutting down MTR stations, deploying the much hyped-up water cannon, having cops wave their .38 revolvers around – and of course yet more upon more tear gas. (Plus the platform for dialogue, maybe?)

One school of thought is that the Hong Kong authorities are trying to prove to their masters in Beijing how big and tough they are in order to dissuade the CCP from sending the troops in. Another theory is that Beijing and its local zombie-puppet administration are upping the mayhem as a pretext to deploy paramilitary forces.

A third hypothesis would be that Beijing is clueless about what to do and is wetting itself. Its threats are hollow, and its insistence that it won’t back down is bluster. If that’s the case, the Chinese leadership needs to deflect the blame and humiliation away from its infallible and exalted self with a nifty narrative about what was really happening.

For example, Beijing could arrest Carrie Lam and her cohorts for treason and put them on a show trial at which they admit full responsibility for sabotaging national sovereignty. Xi Jinping is supposedly a great fan of Joseph Stalin. And ultimately it is the Da Da derriere on the line here.

Meanwhile, how’s that October 1 deadline coming on? One SCMP column maintains that it is getting tighter, so the government really must make those oh-so-obvious-and-easy little concessions to get this mess wrapped up for the National Day festivities. Another suggests that Beijing is turning cool, calm and suave, and sneering about how We don’t need no stinking deadlines. Again, there is a third hypothesis – a petrified Panda pee-pee panic going on behind the scenes.

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Eats, shoots itself in foot and leaves

While Beijing supposedly wants Hong Kong to calm down in time for the National Day holiday, it seems determined to provoke residents into holding the mother of all mega-marches to mark October 1. In a particularly desperate stunt, the CCP is resorting to the hackneyed ‘visiting prostitutes’ smear against the UK Consulate staffer they disappeared.

One theory is that Beijing does not expect the world to believe trumped-up charges, show trials and forced televised confessions – the aim is to intimidate others by saying ‘we can do this to you’. This doesn’t exactly make it a better PR move.

Which brings us to the most amazing thing about China’s response to Hong Kong’s anti-government movement: its absurdly disproportionate nature.

National or local authorities could have nipped the extradition-bill disaster in the bud on several occasions, but didn’t. Even now, Hong Kong is hardly descending into anarchy (try Baltimore). Yet Beijing has (among many other things): used triad thugs and trashed the reputation of the local police; encouraged its nationals overseas to attack Hong Kong supporters; started messing with cross-border travellers; shrieked about foreign forces; and – most shockingly – bludgeoned a major airline into firing staff for political reasons.

Yes, they are paranoid about popular dissent crossing onto the Mainland. But these measures permanently damage China’s international image and lose it much of whatever goodwill and respect it previously had – just because of some demonstrations in one city (it’s not as if Taiwan declared independence). It is irrational to pay such a cost for something so small. It suggests a leadership that cannot analyze what is happening and does not think through its responses.

As Antony Dapiran says, Beijing is shooting itself in the foot, and inviting more decoupling from the Western world.

I declare the weekend open with a looooong selection of worthwhile links…

A Polish guy runs with Hong Kong protesters, and notices what residents don’t: how much activists utilize the city’s urban geography, especially malls and the MTR.

Ilaria Maria Sala on Hong Kong’s protest movement as a revolt against unrepresentative government, including its roots in heritage and environmental fights. Timothy McLaughlin on another of Beijing’s achievements: nurturing a distinct Hong Kong identity. Doom-laden commentary from Bloomberg suggesting that Beijing could resolve things if it can stomach some representative government – otherwise “military intervention … is how one of the world’s greatest new economy success stories will end”. Rich S on how the ‘if we burn, you burn with us’ slogan is a taunt to the CCP, ‘calling out on the bullshit’. And an interview with David Webb on the situation (podcast).

You’ve seen amazing Hong Kong protest graphic design – how about Mainland anti-protest artwork? Here’s a nice example. Since it’s Friday, we’ll give it a ‘5’ for draftsmanship. But it is conceptually annoying. First: note that the HK ‘baby’ does not age while in the care of the British foster parent, but starts growing after being returned to its mother (who has become younger, but is presumably rejuvenated post-1949). Second/Third: the objectionable ideas that China gave Hong Kong ‘gifts’/lavishing your child with tatty luxuries is a good thing. (Also lots of gender and patriarchy uncoolness, discussed here.)

From HK Free Press, how Asia’s finest became a branch of China’s security services, and why the government can shut up about protests damaging the economy.

The SCMP has done a series of in-depth features on the background to Hong Kong’s protest movement. A bit tepid, but not bad. The failure of government public-opinion monitoring since 1997, focusing on district bodies, but also mentioning the weakening of other advisory and consultation mechanisms. Why does Beijing get Hong Kong wrong? – a litany of intel-gathering bureaucracy screw-ups, though not much on the systemic problems of self-censorship of upward feedback in a dictatorship. And the CCP’s inability to convince Hong Kong young people to be patriotic. Answer the following question: What does the CCP have to offer young Hong Kong people? I’ll wait.

If you want serious doom-laden, try this. Some factual errors and iffy analysis (downplaying Beijing’s role in appointing the Hong Kong government and exaggerating tycoons’ clout) – so probably no need to take it literally. But that doesn’t mean the conclusions must be wrong…

A Chinese student in Australia explains the pro-CCP activists on campus.

Now look what you’ve done – naughty protesters scare Alibaba’s listing away. Time for another analysis of the company’s latest financials from deep-throat-ipo.

And if you have the time or inclination, the agonies of being Xi Jinping.

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Carrie’s conscientious pre-committee committee

Pro-Beijing businessman Michael Tien holds forth on Bloomberg TV, explaining that the Chinese leadership want Hong Kong restored to warm-and-cuddly peace and harmony well before National Day on October 1. He says Beijing might be cool with one or two thousand people marching on the big day, but a turnout of 100,000, however peaceful, would be unacceptable. (A million people look at their calendars and smirk.)

As just one member of Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing camp, Tien is not especially clued-in to the thinking in Zhongnanhai. Indeed, being relatively presentable and human-sounding, he is probably less trusted than many other loyalists.

Still, this suggests three options…

If the CCP really must have absolute calm in Hong Kong by mid-September, it needs to make a few concessions (like officially withdrawing the extradition bill) pretty soon. To save face, Beijing would dump the humiliation on the local administration.

Alternatively, as we are constantly reminded, China could send the troops in – but this would wreck the National Day ceremonies (and much else) far more than any number of Hongkongers on a protest.

Thirdly, they just muddle through and go back and look at it all later. This seems the obvious choice – assuming they are not totally obsessive-compulsive about the headcount at Victoria Park on October 1.

If Beijing favoured the first option – hurry up and do a climb-down – it would now be pushing Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to stop being such an embarrassing klutz.

So, what is she up to right now?

Oh no…

She wouldn’t really set up a committee to set up the committee that will do some dialogue to resolve Hong Kong’s unrest? Would she? But of course – Carrie Lam invites ‘dozens of [old, stale, credibility-voiding] prominent figures’ to discuss how to establish her previously announced platform.

Among the worthies will be billionaire scion Henry Tang whose qualifications for the task include: nice-but-dim, into wine, former owner of an illegal luxury basement, and lost a rigged Chief Executive ‘election’. Other notables are academics, clerics, former pro-government political types, and there’s a microbiology professor. They are all ‘conscientious’ – though not objectors.

This is the Hong Kong establishment unwittingly up to its neck in self-parody – asking elite insiders to find a way to listen to the public. The solution to the problem is the problem.

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Forming committees while Rome burns

It seemed too trite to predict that Chief Executive Carrie Lam would resort to this as her Big Idea to end Hong Kong’s anti-government uprising, but she’s gone and done it – yes, she’s putting together a committee.

Presumably, the ‘platform for dialogue’ (without waiting for everyone to sit down and shut up) is intended as a conciliatory gesture that will assuage the moderately mad mainstream malcontents. After the last 10 weeks, this sounds unlikely.

(One oddity here is the plan to bolster the police complaints body with overseas members. This is not something Beijing officials would particularly like. Perhaps a small glimmer of good governance accidentally fell through the net.)

To further dampen Carrie’s pathetic platform plan, yesterday’s other news featured: a nasty knife attack on protesters by a pro-Beijing hoodlum; the emergence of a video showing cops assaulting an elderly man on a hospital gurney; and the disappearance of a local staffer at the British consulate. The latter story neatly encapsulates two hot issues – the rottenness of China’s legal system that provoked the reaction against the extradition bill, and the Mainland security officials’ zone beneath Kowloon High-Speed Rail Station, where the guy seems to have been detained.

Pro-establishment-but-awkward businessman Michael Tien suggests that Beijing is indeed desperate to pacify Hong Kong in time for the 70th National Day celebration on October 1. That means naughty Hong Kong people must stop ‘overshadowing’ the CCP’s self-glorifying pageantry by… mid-September. At the latest. Hard to say who he thinks he is helping by spelling this out. But if you want confirmation that the protest movement is in a position of strength, here it is.

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It’ll all be over by Christmas

Beijing’s global ‘soft power’ campaign isn’t going to well right now. Not that they’re exactly prioritizing it.

In an uncharacteristic fit of good taste, Facebook and Twitter are banning Chinese state-funded fake news and propaganda aimed at ‘undermining the legitimacy and political positions’ of Hong Kong’s anti-government protest movement.

The movement itself is buying more ads in international newspapers. If they seem dramatic and emotional, that’s the point – to grab the attention of the Spanish, Korean, Swedish and other people concerned. These audiences might also have read about the nastiness of Mainland students at pro-Hong Kong gatherings on campuses around the world. CCTV will need to ramp up the cuddly-panda videos.

In Hong Kong, the weekend’s outbreak of large-scale non-mayhem is making things harder for what passes for the local government, which finds itself with no evil wicked naughty violence to condemn.

Anthony Neoh, head of the Independent Police Complaints Council, goes rather off-message, calling for official withdrawal of the extradition bill and sounding vaguely OK with a commission of inquiry. He is telling Chief Executive Carrie Lam that the police cannot fix what is a political problem (she is ‘working on it’). He does not sound impressed by the official line that the government cannot and will not take any action until and unless protests totally cease and everyone sits down, shuts up and behaves.

The insistence that ‘the protests must end first’ is a current pro-establishment mantra. There is no reason why the anti-government movement should take it seriously (remember that promises of reform following protests in 2003 and 2014 came to nothing). The demand is also illogical if only because – by definition – the onus is totally on the government to resolve a problem that’s bringing millions of people onto the streets. The semi-official explanation is that the Chinese Communist Party will not submit to pressure, although we know from experience that it does, sometimes. At the moment, with October 1 coming and a trade-turning-Cold war to deal with, it is under a lot of pressure.

There are rumours that Beijing is getting so sick of Carrie Lam’s constant requests to resign that they might actually let her go. This could break a logjam in the short-term (she could be replaced by one of the under-puppets, who could make some symbolic concessions). But this doesn’t solve Beijing’s Hong Kong problem.

Some local establishment voices are hinting at big changes on the way – notably to housing and land policy, and to political consultative mechanisms. As well as being too little too late (they had 20 years to do that), it sidesteps the basic contradiction of how a Communist one-party dictatorship absorbs a free pluralist society. It sounds like wishful thinking by elites desperately trying to stay relevant.

Here are three ‘big-picture theories’ from deep in the heart of rebel territory about how things will work out. The US Cavalry will definitely not come riding to the rescue. And expulsion from the PRC for being too annoying (like Singapore from Malaysia) is too gloriously wonderful to be true. The third – outliving the CCP – sounds do-able.  

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