Amid fears of a military crackdown in Hong Kong, what comes next? | In-Depth

Amid fears of a military crackdown in Hong Kong, what comes next? | In-Depth


[Arsenault] China’s communist government and Hong Kong’s protesters can agree on this much about the unrest now in its tenth week. The turmoil is growing. The violence is intensifying. The city is facing its most serious crisis in decades. What began in June as weekly protests focused on a bill which would allow extradition from Hong Kong to China has now escalated into daily and often violent clashes calling for greater democracy and less control by Beijing. That’s because residents in Hong Kong have enjoyed far greater freedoms than those on the mainland. Hong Kong is technically a part of China but it has operated under what’s known as one country two systems since 1997 when the former British colony was handed back to Chinese rule. The city has its own social, political, and legal system. So now many in the city of seven million are furious at police. Their behavior seen as heavy-handed. Those views aren’t universal though. Some are dismayed that a few protesters have turned to violence. Others are worried this will damage Hong Kong’s status as a financial hub. Beijing has issued barely veiled threats releasing a dramatic propaganda video showing off its Army’s capabilities in an anti riot drill. Other statements have been far more explicit. Yesterday saying it sees signs of terrorism in the protests warning demonstrators they deserve severe punishment. We are still capable of resolving this crisis. For now, Hong Kong’s leader says she still has the trust of Beijing. There are frankly few good options to end the chaos in Hong Kong. Officials are probably hoping that students going back to school in September. Maybe the exhaustion of non-stop protests will take the steam out of the movement. But a deployment of military remains possible. Chinese army vehicles have been spotted at the border with Hong Kong stoking fears of a looming violent crackdown. That last resort could very well change everything. [Arsenault] So let’s take a closer look now at Beijing’s tactics, what could happen next. Lynette Ong is a China expert at the University of Toronto. Gordon Holden is the Director of the China Institute at the University of Alberta. So let’s talk about that phrase ‘signs of terrorism.’ I presume those words do not get thrown around casually, so what are the implications of them? What’s the intent behind them, Lynnette? Well, there are two key intentions. That phrase was recently used on the region in China called Xinjiang. There’s a very serious terrorist situation in Xinjiang a couple years ago where some people were killed at the train station. And because of that China actually built an entire repressive apparatus in Xinjiang to deal with what they call terrorists. But more importantly, I think that word terrorism was meant for domestic audience which is setting the stage for something yet to come. The things that is going to come is the justification of very tough repressive actions against protesters in Hong Kong because they see that as a threat not against the regime itself but also a terrorist act against the population in Hong Kong. [Arsenault] Is that how you interpret it, Gordon? Well, I’d say that the the visualization of Chinese military vehicles moving and the terms such as terrorism helps prepare the Chinese people in the eyes of the of the Chinese authorities for an eventual action. In other words, this wouldn’t come out of the blue. This would have been something which they have carefully set the stage for, they have prepared for and then when it does occur, if it does there will be a greater acceptance unless
perhaps unease at this taking place. It will still be a major tremor. Chinese people are smart. They read the tea leaves. They will know that this is a
very big deal indee. Hong Kong is unlike Xinjiang. An absolutely critical part of the Chinese economy. [Arsenault] Presumably this is a warning to the rest of the world too, yes? Absolutely, I think that it’s the — the other international community, the Canadian government, the U.S. government recognizes that when you move troops when you do move things on the ground, not just words it opens the door to the possibility of armed action by the Armed Forces of the People’s Liberation Army and that’s a big escalation from where we have been at until very recently. [Arsenault] Can I just ask you about that shift in tactics, that military shift in tactics you mentioned that those images of a Chinese military convoy near the border, Gordon. Is that actually a real possibility? It is a possibility. I don’t think that decision has yet been taken by Beijing. I think it’s on the table and it could be implemented very quickly. And those vehicles which we have seen — Those are vehicles which are to a large measure specifically designed for urban crowd control situations. These aren’t the tanks used at Tiananmen. These are very capable vehicles that have capacity for tear gas for other gases, with their water cannon. It’s been 30 years since Tiananmen and he Chinese military have been refining their capacity to dealt with crowds in a largely non-lethal manner. Although, the dangers of casualties is always there. [Arsenault] Lynnette, what sort of shift in tactics do you see on the ground in Hong Kong? There has been an escalation of harshness of repressive actions. But this is not — I don’t see that as Beijing shifting the ground at all. This is Hong Kong government shifting the ground. It’s actually very clear to me that what Beijing strategy is which is to outsource, is to delegate this to Hong Kong government so that the Hong Kong government gets all the blame and the cost of people blaming the home government’s excessive use of police violence. And the benefits of peace, of potential peace of repressing these protester’s actions are actually being enjoyed by Hong Kong as well as Beijing. So this is very smart from the perspective of the authorities in Beijing. Okay, so Gordon while we’re talking about about tactics if we talk about sort of the propaganda here. It seems like a month ago, the approach of Beijing was to just not discuss these protests and just pretend they weren’t there. How is that shifting? Well, it shifted quite dramatically over the period of the last two months. Beijing was actively suppressing any news of the disturbances. Particularly, because when you had these particularly hundreds of thousands of people in the streets that’s a sort of what they call colour revolution that particularly makes Beijing authorities nervous because of the chance that might somehow be a contagion within China itself. They’ve now morphed into position where they’re being open about what they’ve describes as the chaos in Hong Kong and they’re being open about the means which the have at their disposal to deal with it should it be necessary in their view for Beijing to intervene. [Arsenault] Is it being open about it or is there a persuasive element here. I mean how are they how are they characterizing the protesters in Beijing, Lynette? Now, I think the dynamics have actually changed over the last two weeks. I think two weeks ago — I think the protesters have the alignment unlike in the umbrella movement which died out because they do not have widespread support. But I think the escalation of violence particularly over the last 24 hours where you see protesters beating up a civilian supposedly from Shenzhen, from PRC I think to a lot of people that kind of break the threshold. So I think it’s a bit of a turning point that they have actually pushed themselves into a corner which then a lot of people see justify of repression against violence because we need to have the rule of law restored at some stage. [Arsenault] Okay, for last question, you said something interesting. They’re being pushed into a corner? I mean, arguably Beijing has also been pushed into a corner and I don’t see how that ends well? Where do you think this is going, Gordon, start with you? Sure. Well, there are three options. One is that the — Three possibilities in my view. One is that the Hong Kong government and the police are able to get the situation in hand and that might be — The second would be that the support for the protesters begins to diminish undercutting their actions as people become fed up with the disruptions. And the third is the actual military intervention of the the PLA or the People’s Armed Police. Each one of those has a different aspect but the last one military intervention would have huge cost for Beijing as well in reputation and potentially in economic terms. [Arsenault] Do you agree? Well, I’m pretty sure that you know I think Beijing is going to resolve this in the next week or so, within the next week. Either directly or via Hong Kong government. It’s quite likely that they are going to continue with this current strategy of repressive actions by Hong Kong government where they actually minimize the cost while enjoying the benefits. Whether or not they would do it using direct military intervention I think it’s a bit of a question mark because that would actually put a lot of cost of legitimacy on Beijing government There’s no doubt that in the eyes of the international community you see violence on social media, right? And people getting blind because because a police firing teargas or bullets at people, at very, very young people. This is just going to radicalize the movement. And they might not have to power the fight back in the next week. 10-15 years later it’s going to come back and bite the government. This is gonna have long-term implication not only for Hong Kong but for China. [Arsenault] For Tibet, for Taiwan. [Ong] Precisely. For Greater China. [Arsenault] Okay, Lynette Ong, Gordon Holden… Thank you very very much. Thank you. Thank you.

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