Home » Headlines » China waiting out Hong Kong protests

China waiting out Hong Kong protests

In this Aug. 5 file photo, a protester runs with a United States flag as tear gas are released on protesters in Hong Kong. China’s central government has dismissed Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters as clowns and criminals while bemoaning growing violence surrounding the monthslong demonstrations. (AP)

IN this Aug. 5 file photo, a protester runs with a United States flag as tear gas are released on protesters in Hong Kong. China’s central government has dismissed Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters as clowns and criminals while bemoaning growing violence surrounding the months-long demonstrations. (AP)

BEIJING (AP) – China’s central government has dismissed Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters as clowns and criminals while bemoaning growing violence surrounding the months-long demonstrations.

That’s partly out of concern that protesters’ demands for expanded democracy could inspire like-minded officials and intellectuals on the mainland.

Yet, Beijing shows no signs of preparing for a major crackdown, content instead to ignore the protests in the hopes that frustration will lead to further violence that will eventually turn the territory’s silent majority against the movement, according to experts.

“Hong Kong poses a serious problem for the Chinese government. It can’t allow the protesters to challenge its authority or deface symbols of its authority unpunished but it also does not want to attempt a military crackdown,” said Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at London’s School of Oriental and African Studies.

Under those circumstances, Beijing would prefer to “isolate and undermine the protesters so the movement in Hong Kong fizzles out,” Tsang said.

The protests also come at a sensitive time for President Xi Jinping, who after removing presidential term limits last year effectively made himself leader for life. That has intensified criticism over his concentration of power, even as his propaganda machine relentlessly promotes his image and achievements ahead of the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic on Oct. 1.

Meanwhile, China is grappling with a slowing economy and the ongoing impacts of the US-China trade war, as well as pushback against its ambitious multi-billion dollar “Belt and Road” infrastructure program that is seen as miring poorer nations in debt.

China’s international image has suffered as well from its mass incarceration of members of its Uighur Muslim minority and aggressive moves in the foreign policy sphere, including what Prof. Anne-Marie Brady of New Zealand’s University of Canterbury described in a recent article as “uncharacteristically undiplomatic activity” by Chinese diplomats in Canada, Sweden, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand.

China’s activities have included encouraging mainland Chinese students overseas in their attacks on supporters of the Hong Kong protests and Chinese human rights more generally, sparking calls from politicians in those countries for foreign policy adjustments to reduce Beijing’s influence.

Despite massive Chinese censorship, details of the events in Hong Kong have spread through southern China and among officials and intellectuals in major cities, raising concerns about potential calls for political freedoms like those enjoyed by Hong Kong.

“Beijing fears there might be a copy-cat effect in other cities in China,” said Willy Lam, a longtime observer of Chinese politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

comments