China blinks: what Beijing’s Hong Kong retreat says about Taiwan’s future


Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers aren’t satisfied with leader Carrie Lam’s public apology for how the government handled a highly unpopular extradition bill. Legislator Claudia Mo said Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s apology was “completely unacceptable because she refused to address the demands of the entire Hong Kong community,” AP reports.

For many mainland Chinese, Hong Kong has long been a refuge that affords a relatively high degree of safety while also serving as a way to stay connected to the mainland. If passed, the extradition bill could change all that, The Times reports:

Hong Kong has a long tradition of welcoming mainland Chinese seeking refuge. In the late 1800s, the territory was a sanctuary for Sun Yat-sen, the medical doctor who brought down China’s last imperial dynasty. Millions of mainland Chinese fled for Hong Kong in the late 1950s through 1970s in a tumultuous period that spawned mass famine and political upheaval. After the bloody 1989 Tiananmen crackdown on student-led pro-democracy protesters, an underground pipeline called Operation Yellowbird smuggled dissidents to Hong Kong.

“Hong Kong has always been a settlement place for political refugees from the mainland,” said Bao Pu. “This is the tradition of what Hong Kong is,” said Mr. Bao, whose father, Bao Tong, was the highest-ranking Communist Party official to be imprisoned after the Tiananmen protests..

The extradition law is part of China’s campaign to silence its perceived enemies around the world and conscript foreign nations in this endeavor, notes analyst John Pomfret. But the inability of the Hong Kong government to pass it will set back China’s efforts to convince Western democracies to reach similar agreements. Only three Western democracies — France, Spain and Portugal — have extradition agreements with China. Australia refused in 2017, and few others are expected now to sign up, he writes for The Post:

Around Taiwan, China’s apparent violation of the terms of its agreement with Hong Kong has sparked widespread criticism. On June 9, as people marched in Hong Kong, Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, vowed on her Twitter account that “as long as I’m President, ‘one country, two systems’ will never be an option.” The protests in Hong Kong already seem to be strengthening Tsai’s hand. In January, the opposition Nationalist Party, which has generally been closer to China, did well in a midterm election. 

What does the backtracking mean for Hong Kong and Beijing? PBS Newshour’s Nick Schifrin talks to Lee Cheuk Yan (above), a co-founder of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party [and a participant in a recent National Endowment for Democracy forum], and Doug Paal of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

The movement has been buoyed by the release from prison of a leading democracy advocate.

In 2014, Joshua Wong was among the clear leaders of the sit-in known as the Umbrella Movement, in which thousands of students and other demonstrators blocked major roadways for 79 days as they called for freer elections, The Times adds. While the movement failed to meet its short-term objectives, it was a formative experience for many young activists and its influence has been apparent in the anti-extradition protests.

He predicted “more and more rallies, actions or protests will happen soon” in Hong Kong, even though the current movement is leaderless and “more organic and more decentralized” than 2014’s protests.

Epoch Times

Hu Jia, a prominent dissident in Beijing, said he had learned about what was happening in Hong Kong only on Thursday, four days after the first protest, which organizers said drew more than one million people, The Times adds:

Like many other activists, Mr. Hu said he had been under increased scrutiny by the authorities recently because of the 30th anniversary of the June 4, 1989, crackdown in Tiananmen Square. With China now blocking many virtual private networks, or VPNs, which some Chinese surreptitiously use to connect to the outside world, he struggled for days to find information.

When he was finally able to connect and see the events in Hong Kong, he said, he was “moved to tears.” “After the Umbrella Movement was suppressed in 2014, I thought there would be no way that Hong Kong could have this kind of democratic expression again,” Mr. Hu said in a telephone interview.

“But what happened in the last week was like magic,” he told The Times. “I suddenly felt as if Hong Kong’s flower of freedom had opened again, and it was very bright.”

The retreat in Hong Kong is Chinese ruler Xi Jinping’s worst nightmare come true: It has demonstrated to all that the regime will back down in the face of massive, peaceful civil protests, according to Jianli Yang, founder and president of Citizen Power Initiatives for China, a Tiananmen Massacre survivor, and a former political prisoner, and Aaron Rhodes, president of the Forum for Religious Freedom-Europe and author of The Debasement of Human Rights (Encounter Books, 2018). The protests, if they maintain sufficient scale and momentum and last long enough, have the potential to be a game changer in the politics in Beijing, they write for The American Interest:

Now, at this turning point in Chinese and Hong Kong politics, the United States can help those seeking democracy and freedom. The U.S. Congress and parliaments of other democracies can deny entry visas and impose other sanctions on Hong Kong legislators who do not oppose police violence, and on those who refuse to permanently withdraw the offending legislation. RTWT

The leaderless nature of the movement raises the possibility of more bloodshed, analysts say. If demonstrations descend into violence, the authorities would have an easy excuse to prosecute young protesters, discredit them as radicals or attack them with a vengeance, The Times adds.

“If I were them, I would be cautious not to press the advantage too far,” said Andrew Junker, a sociologist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong who has studied the Umbrella Movement.


Print Friendly, PDF & Email