September 5, 2019
Is Hong Kong About to Quiet Down or Explode?
By Buck Sexton, Executive Editor
The biggest, most important protest movement in the world right now stands on the edge…
Nobody knows what lies on the other side.
The standoff between Hong Kongers and the Beijing-backed security apparatus will either descend into a Tiananmen-style crackdown or drift back into a tense-but-stable stalemate.
And for the first time in a while, there are reasons for optimism…
Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s embattled chief executive, has offered to formally withdraw the “extradition bill” that ignited the firestorm of protests in the first place. This is a victory for the protestors – but their fight is far from over.
Xi Jinping, China’s premier, said earlier this week in a public speech that “on matters of principle, not an inch will be yielded, but on matters of tactics there can be flexibility.”
Was this the Chinese strongman letting the protestors know that there is some wiggle room to negotiate?
Or was Xi saying, in effect, they can do it the easy way or the hard way… But no matter what, it will be China’s way?
We’ve been following these protests for weeks, and the whole world has been inspired by the dedication and bravery of pro-freedom Hong Kongers. Thousands of them have taken truncheons to the face, choked on tear gas, and been sprayed with blue-dyed water (to mark them for later arrest).
Despite the Hong Kong security forces’ rough tactics and the presence of thousands of Chinese paramilitary police just across the border in Shenzhen, the protestors aren’t backing down. In fact, they want more. They now have a list of demands, including the resignation of Lam, fuller democratic freedom, and police accountability.
While everyone can see that the outcome in Hong Kong is important for the future of China and has clear economic and political implications for the whole world, the U.S. has been largely left as a bystander in this struggle.
Words of support to the protestors from the White House would be helpful, but Trump thus far has been more focused on trade deal negotiations.
There’s also a new reality in U.S. foreign policy that the establishment has to face: China is a near-peer competitor. We can’t bend it to our will.
For the first time since the fall of the Soviet Union, the U.S. has to deal with a sovereign power that has plenty of “soft power” ways to hit back.
The growing trade war and North Korean nuclear negotiations alone give the Chinese plenty of ways to throw a brushback pitch at the Trump administration if it comes down too hard on the side of the protestors. Trump needs to be strategic and measured here, which isn’t exactly his style.
The calculations on all sides in Hong Kong are in constant flux. This has also added volatility to the markets. Lam’s concession on the extradition law is credited with the biggest one-day boost in Hong Kong’s Hang Seng Index in almost a year.
Cathay Pacific Airways, the Hong Kong-based airline that has come under pressure for many of its employees taking part in the protests, saw its stock jump 7% on news that its chairman was stepping down.
And remember, about 60% of all foreign investment in China goes through Hong Kong. The stakes are high across the board.
There are a lot of ways this showdown in Hong Kong could end…
Whether freedom or tyranny wins out remains to be seen.
Now here are some of the stories we’re reading…
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And let us know what you’re reading at [email protected].
Executive Editor, American Consequences
With P.J. O’Rourke and the Editorial Staff
September 5, 2019