Hong Kong Protests Present a Challenge to Xi Jinping’s Rule
By EDWARD WONG and CHRIS BUCKLEY September 30, 2014
黃安偉, 儲百亮 2014年09月30日
BEIJING — China’s Communist Party has ample experience extinguishing unrest. For years it has used a deft mix of censorship, arrests, armed force and, increasingly, money, to repress or soften calls for political change.
Hong Kong is already a mature, prosperous enclave that has grown relatively immune to the blandishments of mutual prosperity that helped keep it stable during 16 years of Chinese rule. And as a former British colony with its own laws and traditions of liberty, a severe crackdown on mostly peaceful protests would almost certainty backfire here, especially under the glare of international attention.
“On the mainland, as long as you can control the streets with enough soldiers and guns, you can kill a protest, because everywhere else is already controlled: the press, the Internet, the schools, every neighborhood and every community,” said Xiao Shu, a mainland writer who is a visiting scholar at National Chengchi University in Taiwan. “In Hong Kong, the streets are not the only battlefield, like on the mainland.”
The protests, in which demonstrators defied a police crackdown on Monday and took over a vast swath of the business districts of the city, have become an epic standoff that Mr. Xi has few obvious ways of defusing.
Hong Kong has been under Beijing’s sovereignty for long enough now that even modest concessions could send signals across the border that mass protests bring results — a hint of weakness that Mr. Xi seems determined to avoid, mainland analysts say.
Yet any attempt to remove protesters by force would inevitably raise parallels with the killing of democracy protesters in Beijing in 1989, an event that split the Communist Party and poisoned China’s relations with the outside world for years.
Hong Kong’s future, therefore, may rest heavily on whether Mr. Xi has the clout, skill and vision to figure out a solution that keeps the territory stable without sparking copycat calls for change closer to home.
“This is already much bigger than anything the Beijing or Hong Kong authorities expected,” said Larry Diamond, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University who studies democratic development. “They have no strategy for peacefully defusing it, because that would require negotiations, and I don’t think President Xi Jinping will allow that. Now, if he yields, he will look weak, something he clearly detests.”
「這已經遠遠超出了北京或香港當局預想的規模，」斯坦福大學胡佛研究所(Hoover Institution at Stanford University)研究民主發展的高級研究員拉里·戴蒙德(Larry Diamond)說。「他們沒有和平化解此事的策略，因為那需要進行談判，而我認為習近平主席不會允許那麼做。現在，如果讓步，他就會給人軟弱的感覺，他顯然很不喜歡這樣。」
Mr. Xi’s record so far — unyielding opposition to political liberalization and public protests has been a hallmark of his rule — has suggested a politician who abhors making concessions. He has fashioned himself into a strongman unseen in China since the days of Deng Xiaoping and Mao Zedong, and few if any party insiders and political analysts expect him to give serious consideration to the demands for full democratic elections in Hong Kong.
But China’s rubber-stamp Legislature last month rejected any change in election rules that would open the race to candidates not vetted by a committee that is heavily pro-Beijing. And while there still may have been room for compromise, Mr. Xi met with business leaders from Hong Kong in a closed-door session in Beijing last week to reiterate that the party will not allow political change in Hong Kong, the former British colony of 7.2 million people.
“If he had negotiated from a position of strength,” Mr. Diamond said, “and pursued a strategy of delivering ‘gradual and orderly progress’ toward democracy in Hong Kong, albeit at a more incremental timetable than democrats were hoping for, he could have pre-empted this storm.”
Instead, Beijing has only hardened its position. On Monday evening, a commentary on the website of People’s Daily, the party’s main newspaper, claimed the upheavals in Hong Kong were instigated by democratic radicals who had sought support from “anti-China forces” in Britain and the United States and had sought lessons from independent activists in Taiwan. It called them a “gang of people whose hearts belong to colonial rule and who are besotted with ‘Western democracy.’ ”
But it is doubtful that that is a viable option in Hong Kong. Given the size of the crowd now in the city’s streets, perhaps only the use of force on the level of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre would suppress the protests, absent any political solution. Such bloodshed would greatly damage the party’s legitimacy and jeopardize the city’s standing as a global financial center.