Hong Kong protests: how Beijing lost sight of the reality

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An interesting article published in the South China Morning Post this morning talks about the reaction in China to the Hong Kong Protests. What emerges from the account is a tale of how Beijing lost sight of the reality on the ground in Hong Kong.

Deficient “intelligence gathering”

It seems that the intelligence apparatus of Beijing in Hong Kong is rather geared to telling Beijing what they want to hear, rather than the reality. And this is how China was totally blindsided by the angry reaction of a large part of the population against the Extradition Bill.

The huge crowds marching on 16 June 2019
As evening advances, a long queue of protesters extends on Henessy Road in Hong Kong on 16 June 2019

As the new generation of protesters have been organizing quite fluidly and via encrypted messaging applications, this obviously misled Chinese intelligence.

Another part might have been too strong a reliance on the security and political apparatus of the city, which had every interest in downplaying the intensity of the mobilization.

Refusal to concede under pressure

Beijing, true to its colonial tradition, allegedly is not considering giving any concession as long as the protests continue. Here again, you can see a failure to comprehend the functioning of a free and democratic society. To withdraw support from protests, you need to make concessions, not try to wait them out.

Understandably, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) is concerned that any appearance of “weakness” may lead to trouble developing in other regions. This is particularly true as China is facing head-on a harsh economic slowdown related to the trade war with the USA.

The Hong Kong protesters have been wagering part of their hopes on this hope of contagion, to destabilize and trouble China by targeting mainland tourists with several of their protests.

Kowloon station seen by drone
The Kowloon station seen by drone, during the protest targeting mainlanders..

Nevertheless, given the grip of the CCP on the Chinese society and the heavy censorship, it seems difficult to see how contagion could extend to other regions. Most of mainland China does not have a tradition for individual freedom or critical mind, and repression generally englobes the whole family. These are powerful deterrents for dissent.

The elusive “foreign agents”

As usual, the CCP has a narrative for its mainland population, involving “foreign agents” who would be inciting the masses to protest. Thus, seeking for that elusive “foreign agent”, a pro-Beijing member of the LegCo singled out… a well-known activist known under the twitter handle @honkonghermit. That guy was actually just live-streaming the Shatin protests.

The fact that there is a “Grandma Wong” showing up at every protest on the frontlines with a British flag must probably irk more than ever Beijing.

Grandma Wong and her British flag
Grandma Wong and her British flag during the Sheung Shui protests.

But with such a self-delusional quest, China’s leadership are further alienating themselves from the population. In fact, some of the protesters even singled out the British commanding officers responsible for maintaining order in the Police force.

Divisions in pro-China camp

There have been reports of Carrie Lam being ready to resign, stating that her resignation was rejected by Beijing as ” no one else wants the job “. Another probably more relevant reason is the huge divisions and infighting in the pro-Beijing camp as stated by the SCMP. In fact, LegCo members of the pro-Beijing parties are painfully aware that they risk a defeat in the upcoming LegCo elections slated to take place in 2020.

In earlier elections, which took place after the Oathgate, the pro-democracy movement had lost any blocking majority it had at the Legco. This had been an expression of dissatisfaction at the immaturity of young LegCo members who managed to squander their election away by making a show of their oath-taking.

Today, the population at large is convinced that China must be rolled back in any manner. Indeed, the brazen attempt to rush through the extradition bill awoke once again the fears from seeing Beijing asserting a similar degree thought control on Hong Kong as is carried out on the mainland. As such, no matter what the outcome of these protests, it is highly likely that Beijing’s allies will have a bad time come next year’s elections.

A discredited police force

While excluding the use of the Chinese army to quell the disturbances in Hong Kong, the Beijing representatives who talked to the SCMP considered the HK police as their main guarantee for stability. This was another sign showing that Beijing lost sight of the reality.

While they may have intended that statement as “reassuring”, it will do little for the popularity of a discredited police force which the population now views as violent. This identification is made of their role as mainstays of the rule of Beijing in the city is likely to cause more anger among protesters, this time with an increased legitimacy. The clear lack of training in crowd control has also been the reason for some major faults in policing tactics.

This is not good news at a time where the city appears increasingly polarized in a rejection of Beijing and every symbol of its authority. As such, next protests may increasingly see police being deliberately targeted by protesters, especially after the violent scenes seen in Shatin.

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