The South China Morning Post reports on an incident that took place a couple of days ago at Hong Kong’s international airport. The video clips show that it was, actually a bit of a sideshow in a large and otherwise largely peaceful and incident-free protest in the airport’s arrivals hall. It appears to have started when the elderly man (as can be seen, below) batted down a sign held by a protester …
… that was a harmless albeit unpleasant and unnecessary action which seemed to enrage a few of the protesters who then surrounded him and harassed him for some minutes …
… as can be seen in the seven-minute-long video in the news story.
(As a personal aside, the first video clip, from China TV, shows two young people: one embraces the old man in an apparent effort to calm his fears and to “lower the temperature of the room,” as they say, while (at about 20″ to 30″ in the clip) another young man shields them from the (few) angry protesters. That second young man, the one shielding the old man, is my stepson and I am very proud of him. He attended the protest to add his voice but when he saw a person being threatened he did what he could to try to prevent trouble. That’s the real Hong Kong)
It was, as I said, a small, insignificant “sideshow” … a few angry young people, off to one side, away from the main demonstration, did something that I wish they had not. But the (pro-democracy) South China Morning Post‘s headline says it all:
Viral video clips show extradition bill protesters swearing and jostling elderly man trying to leave Hong Kong airport
The video is already “viral” and I guarantee that the experts ~ and they are experts ~ in the Chinese propaganda agencies will carefully and cleverly enhance and edit this video and send it around the world as “proof” that the “Free Hong Kong” movement (#FreeHongKong), which is what the anti-extradition protests (#NoChinaExtradition) has become, is really just a bunch of thugs looking to make trouble.
A few young people handed the Chinese a victory. That’s how wars in the grey zone are fought … not with bullets but by persuading people that one isolated and unfortunate incident is, in fact, the real story. That’s what the Chinese are going to do. While the incidents at e.g. Yuen Long, where “white-shirt” thugs assaulted protesters will never be seen in mainland China and will be rarely seen elsewhere, this video will be shown, again and again, in Abidjan, Bogatá, Cape Town and Dhaka, and in Karachi, Lagos and Mombassa, and so on. This video will be “planted” in news agencies around the world, especially in Africa, Asia and Latin America where Chinese influence is stronger.
On the larger issues, I admit to being perplexed. I think China has dropped the ball.
Even if one accepts, as I do, former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s expert analysis of China’s strategic priorities …
… it is still hard to understand why a narrow focus on the top priority, “Maintaining the centrality of the Communist Party in China’s governance,” is being allowed to actually threaten the nearly equal goal of “Maintaining national unity.” One of the central themes of Chinese policy for the past 70 years has been reunification ~ bringing Taiwan back into the united Chinese state. “One country, two systems,” which some Chinese senior officials do not like at all, is a key to doing that peacefully, which is also, I believe, an overarching Chinese strategic goal.
“One country, two systems” was Deng Xiaoping’s idea, he offered the notion in the 1980s, in the run-up to negotiations with the United Kingdom re ending the lease on the New Territories* of Hong Kong. He did so, also, as an inducement to Taiwan. The British had, in their negotiators’ back pockets, a so-called nuclear option: independence for Hong Kong. It would have been wildly problematic, given Hong Kong’s dependence on China for things as basic as e.g. water, but China was not, yet, circa 1995, a superpower and independence, à la Singapore, had ~ and still has ~ massive appeal in Hong Kong. But “One country, two systems” had a HUGE advantage: if Taiwan could see that China would and could keep its word with Hong Kong then a peaceful reunification became more and more possible. “One country, two systems” makes excellent strategic sense, when one considers the importance of national unity to the Chinese government and people. But it is, right now, on the back burner as Xi Jinping and his close advisors try to bend Hong Kong to his imperial will. Many people hoped that in fifty years, after the reunification of Hong Kong, China would become more like Hong Kong, and converge, more and more, with the law-abiding West as represented by Singapore. But, as Nikki Haley (a future US President in 2024?) said in a recent article in Foreign Affairs, “Xi has killed the notion of convergence.”
The Beijing regime seems, to me, to be focusing on the near to midterm problems and opportunities that the Trump administration’s actions provide rather than retaining it’s mid to longterm strategic vision. I suppose that’s understandable, whether Harold Macmillan actually said it or not, “events, dear boy, events” do drive government policy, and the river of events is in full flood in 2019 and there is an opportunity, right now, to weaken Hong Kong’s annoying, to some Chinese officials, independence. The Chinese are making the most of that opportunity, and they are taking actions, in the “grey zone” to win the “war” that they imagine they have with the global, liberal, world order.
Pretty clearly, I believe Beijing is fighting the wrong war. Hong Kong is not the enemy. It, like Singapore, is the model that sensible Chinese leaders should want to follow. Hong Kong and Singapore show that strong civic institutions, which many experts believe are the key to long term internal peace and prosperity, can thrive in a conservative, Confucian, one-party state. The Chinese leadership, the men behind the walls of the Zhongnanhai (the garden complex beside the Forbidden City) in Bejing, are pursuing a minor short term goal and, in the process, they are, I assert, doing serious harm to China’s long term strategic, vital interests.
A few kids in the Hong Kong airport …
… unwittingly gave the Chinese another weapon to use against them in this phase of the “war in grey zone,” it may not be decisive but it should bot have happened, but, I think, the young people who are spearheading the #FreeHongKong movement don’t really understand the nature of this “war.”
Canada and Canadians, and liberals and democrats everywhere need to stand with the people of Hong Kong. I suspect our current government will fail in this, too.
* The importance of the New Territories can be seen on this map. They are in green, Hong Kong, proper, consisting of the island and ‘Kowloon side’ are in light grey, China is in dark grey: