Beijing is moving to stamp out the Hong Kong protests – but it may have already lost the city for good



Beijing has a long-term Hong Kong challenge on its hands, one that in many ways is of its own making.
Miguel Candela/EPA

Adam Ni, Macquarie University

Since the start of mass demonstrations in Hong Kong in early June, there has been a significant escalation of Beijing’s rhetoric and tactics. Instead of addressing the root causes of the public anger, Beijing has demonised the protesters and threatened to suppress them with its military.

Beijing’s shrill rhetoric, misinformation campaigns, and blatant threats have galvanised resistance in what has fast become a volatile situation. The crisis doesn’t appear to be dissipating. And things are going to come to a head very soon.

The mass protests started in response to a controversial extradition bill that was widely seen as another step in the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy. The demonstrations quickly escalated due to public anger over police violence and an unresponsive Hong Kong government.

But deeper down at the heart of this crisis is a conflict over the longer-term vision for the city – over its soul.




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The Hong Kong protesters have turned militant and more strategic – and this unnerves Beijing


Beijing’s goal is to gradually tighten its grip on Hong Kong. It aims to assimilate the city into China’s authoritarian political system, and rule over its people in the same way it does in rest of the country. Many Hong Kongers, meanwhile, are desperate to resist any further encroachment by Beijing on their freedoms and way of life. These goals are fundamentally incompatible.

In many ways, this is a problem of Beijing’s own making. It created the conditions for the current crisis by systematically undermining the “one country, two systems” framework.

A show of force: military trucks parked near the Hong Kong border.
Alex Plavevski/EPA

Beijing has effectively torn up its promises, made before the British handover, to keep Hong Kong’s political system intact until 2047. In recent years, it has undermined the “one country, two systems” framework through political interference, the changing of electoral and other laws, and the penetration of Hong Kong’s social institutions.

In doing so, it has provoked local resentment, a stronger Hong Kong identity, and a culture of resistance. According to a recent poll, the percentage of Hong Kongers identifying as Chinese is now at its lowest point since the handover in 1997.

For the ruling Chinese Communist Party, this is worrisome. And the longer the protests continue, the more it sees its authority challenged. Such resistance, in Beijing’s view, cannot be tolerated.

Beijing’s multi-pronged strategy

In the early days of the protests, Beijing adopted a low-profile approach that focused on censoring news of the demonstrations from filtering into mainland China. This approach, however, changed quickly when the Chinese government realised the protests would likely continue and it needed to mobilise public opinion.

What is Beijing’s aim now? In the short-term, it wants to end the unrest by shutting down the protests completely. It has repeatedly signalled its willingness to use force if necessary.




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Hong Kong fears losing its rule of law; the rest of the world should worry too


Beyond that, given what has transpired over the last ten weeks of demonstrations, Beijing will seek to tighten its political control over Hong Kong even further to check continued resistance.

In order to achieve its immediate and long-term goals in Hong Kong, Beijing has put in place a multi-pronged strategy. A full picture of this strategy has emerged in recent weeks:

1) First, Beijing is firmly backing the embattled Hong Kong authorities. Chinese officials have repeatedly urged the Hong Kong police to adopt tougher tactics against protesters who they see as criminals.

And in the last week, we have seen an alarming escalation in police violence, with tear gas and rubber bullets being used with increasing frequency.

2) Beijing is also ramping up its influence operations in Hong Kong to solidify support among pro-establishment elites, businesses, and other “patriotic forces”.

Last week, the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong held a consultation forum with about 500 pro-establishment figures in Shenzhen, just across the border.

The key message was that the Chinese government was fully behind them and that their fate was tied to Beijing. This has had an immediate impact on the ground in Hong Kong, with the city’s billionaires “breaking their silence” this week and calling for the protesters to stand down.

Not with a small degree of irony, Beijing and its proxies in Hong Kong have a close relationship with the city’s organised crime groups. On several occasions in the last two months, these groups have assaulted protesters on Beijing’s behalf in an attempt to instill fear in the local population.

3) Beijing has stepped up its propaganda and misinformation efforts against the protesters in an attempt to cast them as villains in the unfolding drama. Criminal elements are also working with nefarious foreign agents to foment turmoil and undermine China, the official line goes.

Within mainland China, such blatant twists of truth are widely believed. And because Beijing has successfully mobilised public opinion there, that makes it harder for the government to back down and make compromises (not that we are seeing signs of that).

In any case, Beijing’s relentless war for hearts and minds continues.

4) Beijing is using punitive measures to cut off support for the protesters. For instance, the Chinese government ordered the Hong Kong-based airline Cathay Pacific to block staffers who took part in the protests from working on flights to the mainland.

It did this to deliver an unequivocal message: support the protesters and we will hit your bottom line. Beijing will likely continue to target Hong Kong and international companies that it sees as being on the wrong side of the political crisis.

5) Beijing is trying to deter escalating protests by signalling its strong determination to intervene with force if necessary.

The Chinese government has repeatedly threatened the use of armed forces as a backstop measure if the unrest spins out of control. Indeed, it may at some point make the judgement the situation warrants military intervention, regardless of the high cost involved.

Beijing’s posturing is intended to send a deterrent message and is part of a wider psychological campaign against the protesters. But we are not at the point of imminent military intervention yet.

6) Despite the unrest, Beijing will likely accelerate its efforts to integrate Hong Kong into the mainland economically and through infrastructure projects. High-speed trains, new bridges, and economic cooperation are all part of this long-term effort. We are also likely to see a further tightening of control over the city’s political institutions, judicial system, and media.

A festering long-term problem

For Chinese leaders, the protest movement has reinforced an important lesson: insufficient government power, civil liberties, and perceived weakness leads to the loss of control, resistance, and social instability.

This will only serve to strengthen Beijing’s resolve to assert its control over Hong Kong more forcefully, which will, in turn, provoke further resentment and resistance from locals.




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Hong Kong: how a more assertive British government can uphold the ‘one country, two systems’ formula


To be sure, Beijing has a long-term Hong Kong challenge on its hands. If it wants to resolve the current impasse, hardline tactics are not sufficient. As unpalatable as it is to both sides, Beijing and the protesters must compromise. But there is little prospect of that in the current environment of escalating violence, inflamed passions, frayed nerves, and hardening attitudes on both sides.

But Beijing must recognise that its actions are sowing the seeds of future conflict, just as its past broken promises led directly to what we are witnessing today. As Hong Kong gallops towards tragedy, it is both mesmerising and heartbreaking to watch.The Conversation

Adam Ni, China researcher, Department of Security Studies and Criminology, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Hong Kong fears losing its rule of law; the rest of the world should worry too



A Hong Kong pro-democracy protester on 11 August 2019.
Miguel Candela/EPA

John Garrick, Charles Darwin University

What’s happening in Hong Kong right now has direct bearings on Australia. It goes to an issue crucial to our position in a world economic order that is likely to be shaped less by the United States, still our most important ally, and more by China, our ever more valuable trading partner.

At the heart of the Hong Kong protests is the same issue that causes concern about China’s ambitions from the South China Sea to the South Pacific. It’s about the Chinese government’s commitment to an idiosyncratic idea of the rule of law.

Hong Kong has something like a constitution or bill of rights, called the Hong Kong Basic Law. It’s a legacy of British colonial rule, which the Chinese government agreed to preserve because there was value in keeping Hong Kong the prosperous city it had become.

China has a very different approach to law. Its constitution can and has been changed at the whim of the ruling party. There is no separation of powers, and no such thing as an independent judiciary.

Removing the judicial firewall

The trigger for the Hong Kong protests was a proposed law enabling China to extradite Hong Kong residents and visitors. Protesters foresaw democrats and dissidents disappearing into China’s prison system. The judicial “firewall” giving meaning to the notion of “one country, two systems” would be fatally undermined. Hong Kong’s distinctive culture and economy would be destroyed with it.




Read more:
The Hong Kong protesters have turned militant and more strategic – and this unnerves Beijing


The idea of law as an instrument of the Chinese Communist Party shapes the Chinese government’s domestic policies, and also its approach to international law. It respects international conventions when it has to, and when it is in the national interest. But there’s a point where it is quite willing to thumb its nose at the whole idea.

This willingness has stiffened under the leadership of Xi Jinping, who has reaffirmed in word and deed that the Chinese Communist Party “is the highest force for political leadership”.

Law of the sea

An example is China’s view of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea in its dispute with the Philippines over island territory in the South China Sea.

In 2016 a UN tribunal unanimously found in favour of the Philippines. China refused to accept the verdict. It declared it “would continue to abide by international law and basic norms governing international relations”, but also added:

The Chinese government reiterates that, regarding territorial issues and maritime delimitation disputes, China does not accept any means of third party dispute settlement or any solution imposed on China.

It therefore continues to claim the South China Sea as an “inalienable” part of its territory. In direct defiance of the ruling, it has also built artificial islands within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, and built military bases on those islands.

Wider implications

China’s official narrative is that it doesn’t reject international law per se, but simply wants law that accommodates “Chinese characteristics”, including China’s preference for resolving disputes one on one.




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Given that the point of establishing the United Nations and other multilateral institutions such as the World Trade Organisation was to replace “might makes right” with something like an international rule of law, this is likely to prove cold comfort for smaller nations.

As Xi told the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party in 2017:

  • the overall goal of “comprehensively advancing law-based governance” is to “establish a system of socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics and build a country of socialist rule of law”

  • “major country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics aims to foster a new type of international relations and build a community with a shared future for mankind”

  • the defining feature of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” is “the leadership of the Communist Party of China”.




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Beijing’s view of the rule of law is thus very different to what most of the rest of the world understands. The potential consequences are not lost on the citizens of Hong Kong, and they should not be lost on China’s neighbours and trading partners.The Conversation

John Garrick, University Fellow in Law, Charles Darwin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Hong Kong protesters have turned militant and more strategic – and this unnerves Beijing



A new branch of younger protesters has taken a more militant approach, which has proved effective in rattling the government.
Ritchie B. Tongo/EPA

Amanda Tattersall, University of Sydney

The past few weeks has seen a drastic escalation in violence on the streets of Hong Kong. On Tuesday night, a police officer aimed a shotgun at protesters who had gathered outside a police station, while a car launched fireworks into the crowd.

Days earlier, the police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters trying to reach the Chinese government’s office.

And the week before, following a protest of 430,000 people, vigilante thugs, dressed in white and carrying bamboo sticks, beat up democracy protesters at a train station.

This long summer of protests began in response to a proposed extradition bill just days after the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre. But now, over eight weeks on, the protesters continue to take to the streets with a broader set of demands – and the confrontations with police are threatening to spiral out of control.

With reports of a build-up of Chinese forces on the Hong Kong border, and no end in sight to the demonstrations, many are now asking – how will this end?

Conflict arising from the Umbrella movement

Protest is a familiar tactic in Hong Kong, but this movement has adopted a series of new approaches from the lessons of other protests over the last 30 years – in particular the failures of the 2014 Umbrella Movement.

In doing so, they are building something that is – at least until now – showing resilience to Beijing’s authoritarianism.

The current protest movement isn’t a single movement. It has two dominant wings – one is passive, the other more militant. These wings accept and recognise each other’s role.




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Extremist mobs? How China’s propaganda machine tried to control the message in the Hong Kong protests


This is new. In 2014, Hong Kong democracy leaders staged a 79-day occupation to fight for universal suffrage. Called the Umbrella Movement, the occupation had two sets of leaders – older democracy leaders (known as the Occupy Trio) and younger student leaders (notably Joshua Wong and Nathan Law).

Originally, the Occupy Trio had planned a multi-year campaign to build public and political pressure for universal suffrage, but the students were more confrontational. They staged a sit-in at Civic Square on Hong Kong Island and the occupation was off and running.

During the occupation, these different views led to irreconcilable conflict, making it impossible to talk about overall strategy. When the occupation finally ended – without achieving universal suffrage – there was great acrimony between the groups that lasted for years.

A new set of principles

Realising how counter-productive this split was, the protesters were keen not to let strategic differences get in the way this time around.

As organisers made plans for the June 9 rally against the extradition bill, several new principles emerged to define how the different groups could work together and avoid falling into the deep conflict of the past.

They included such maxims as “respect the role of the different groups”, “we all lead”, “no one is left behind” and “be water” (as in, to flow from place to place, building continuous pressure). More than the power of any individual leader, these principles came to define how the movement would function and grow.




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The Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong: a second Tiananmen?


The principles reinforced one another. The decision not to have a single leader was born from the experience of the Umbrella movement. Every visible leader of that movement was jailed or threatened with jail following the occupation. (Two of the Occupy Trio received 16-month jail sentences this year).

The Extradition movement learned it was too dangerous to have figurehead leaders. If everyone led, what could Beijing do? They couldn’t jail everyone.

And when it came to respecting the role of different groups, this principle allowed those who wanted to pursue a more militant strategy to do so without fear of rebuke. Everyone was encouraged to do what they thought was needed.

On June 9, two movements launched: a peaceful protest of more than one million people, as well as a more militant movement of young people.

The confrontational wing was battle-ready. They had re-purposed everyday items like medical masks, plastic wrap, helmets, goggles, umbrellas and towels into tools of protest. The Umbrella occupation had taught them the police would likely use excessive force – so they dressed accordingly.

The younger protesters come prepared for battle.
Jerome Favre/EPA

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam was unmoved by a million-person march, but did shift her position and suspend the extradition bill when faced with a street confrontation. This sent a loud message to the protesters about what it will take to win under her authoritarian government – militancy was more potent than passive protest.

Protesters got the message. Every mass protest since then has seen these two protest wings in operation. As an elected member of Hong Kong’s government explained to me, they are “codependent” – they need each other to exist.

The two wings initially unsettled Beijing. Every time there was militancy – most dramatically when the Legislative Council Building was vandalised on July 1 – Beijing thought it could be used to their advantage.

The government aired the violence on television, hoping it would turn public opinion against the protesters and split the movement. Yet, older democracy leaders did not criticise the students, instead reiterating that “everyone in the movement has their place.”

Popular opinion is still with the protesters, and the protests are still enormous.

Flowing from protest to protest

Another form of protest also emerged to supplement the two-wing approach – the movement turned “to water”.

The protests now have a flow they didn’t have during the Umbrella occupation. Protesters don’t simply show up for weekly mass marches and then go home; they have begun organising smaller protests in their districts on a daily basis.

Lennon walls” featuring thousands of protest messages have emerged, for instance, in every one of Hong Kong’s districts. Random Airdrop notifications share details about impromptu protests, such as last week’s sit-in at the airport. With everyone leading and the action constantly flowing from one place to the next, this protest is hard to stop.

The Umbrella movement, in contrast, was physically fixed in three locations and maintained with tents and nightly sleep-outs. The rigidity of the occupation was exhausting and took a toll on the participants.

A government can wait out an occupation, but how do you capture something that is constantly moving?

Lennon protest walls have sprouted up on walls and pedestrian bridges across the city.
How Hwee Young/EPA

Where will it end?

Its hard to predict where the current protest movement goes next. At the moment, there are no negotiations between the government and protest leaders. The protest movement has five key demands that continue to sit on the table, ranging from withdrawing the extradition bill completely to an independent investigation into police brutality to Lam’s resignation.

But it is unclear whether the protests would end even if the demands are agreed to. All the while, Beijing makes infrequent statements in support of Lam, but it also has thousands of troops already stationed in Hong Kong – and a build-up of more across the border.




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Hong Kong protests: why Chinese media reports focus on Britain’s colonial past


What is certain is that a long-standing democracy movement has powerfully connected to the next generation. Young students are terrified about their future and feel they have to do everything they can to fight for their rights.

But the stakes are extremely high. Is it possible for water to move so quickly that it escapes the barrel of the gun?The Conversation

Amanda Tattersall, Postdoc in urban geography and Research Lead at Sydney Policy Lab. Host of ChangeMakers Podcast., University of Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How Hong Kong protesters have been winning the battle for public space


Peter Walters, The University of Queensland and Naomi Smith, Federation University Australia

The battle for domination of the physical and digital public realms has been crucial to the fortunes of the Hong Kong protesters. Their overwhelming numbers in the tense stand-off with the might of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) has captured our attention over the past eight weeks.

However, there are less obvious dynamics at work as protesters use public space – both physical and digital – to maintain their advantage. An understanding of these public realms is critical to understanding why freedom of expression either flourishes or dies in particular urban contexts.

Hong Kong protesters have drawn the world’s attention to the fragile state of democratic rights in this Special Administrative Region of China. As many as 2 million people, out of a population of 7.5 million, have poured into the streets, protesting the erosion of their special status.




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Hong Kong: why the ‘one country, two systems’ model is on its last legs


As many as 2 million people have joined the Hong Kong protests.

These protests have been remarkably effective in the face of a PRC-aligned Hong Kong leadership, which has for now backed down on a contentious proposal to make it easier to extradite Hong Kong residents to mainland China.

In physical terms the public realm means places to gather freely with diverse others with high visibility. This makes them a focus for expressions of democratic conviction. Many great cities of the world contain iconic public places, such as Taksim Square in Istanbul, the National Monument in Jakarta, Trafalgar Square in London and, of course, Tiananmen Square in Beijing. But with varying levels of surveillance and restriction, not all of these places qualify as functioning public realms.




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How city squares can be public places of protest or centres of state control


Taking to the streets …

Hong Kong, one of the most densely built and populated cities in the world, has few recognisable public places. None is capable of holding even a fraction of the numbers of protesters that have mobilised.

For that reason, crowds have taken to the streets. These are usually a degraded form of public space, but protesters have turned them from thoroughfares for vehicles to a vibrant public realm, allowing an impressive show of willpower.

The protests have been well organised and until last week were free from violence. The involvement of alleged China-backed triad criminals escalated the risk for ongoing demonstrations and the fragile public realm in Hong Kong is now threatened.

… and digital space

The success of the protests is not entirely dependent on the use of physical space. The speed and coordination of the protests would not have been possible without access to a public realm in the abstract. We see it in an active and independent press and media, and in the ability of protesters to communicate with each other quickly and freely through the digital public realm provided by social media and encrypted messaging apps.

The sheer volume of people on the streets implied spontaneous anarchy. However, the use of social media, even in the presence of covert and overt surveillance by security forces and China-friendly media, enabled organisers and protesters to retain a tactical advantage.

They have been using anonymous calls in encrypted chat applications like Telegram and Signal to coordinate efforts. These apps allow users to create public and anonymous channels to share information, as well as smaller, more private, group chats.




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How a cyber attack hampered Hong Kong protesters


LIHKG is often referred to as the ‘Hong Kong version of Reddit’.
LIHKG

The protest was coordinated visibly on LIHKG, an online forum that ranks posts by popularity in a similar manner to Reddit. These forums allow protests to move fluidly and quickly, responding to changing conditions on the ground.

Protesters used social media to rapidly distribute photos to counter security authorities’ attempts to deliberately and drastically underestimate crowd numbers to downplay the strength and size of the opposition.

There was also a need to avoid particular technologies. China employs sophisticated surveillance of its citizens.




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However, protesters have taken effective evasive measures. These included simple physical acts such as standing in huge queues at the Metro for paper tickets to avoid being tracked on transit smart cards. Protesters also used umbrellas, face and eye masks to prevent facial recognition and to shield themselves from teargas attacks and drone surveillance.

The digital public realm has been used successfully in other contexts as a potent intensification of physical protest. Digital spaces can amplify, broadcast and coordinate physical action.

For example, social media catalysed the Black Lives Matter protests in the US. In 2016 Philando Castile’s death was live-streamed on Facebook by his girlfriend after police shot him through the open window of his vehicle. Twitter was used extensively to publicise and coordinate the subsequent Black Lives Matter protests.




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Co-opting spaces as public

Urban protests in many cities, like Hong Kong, are defined by their limited access to sanctioned public space. The co-opting of other public commons like highways and inner-city roads becomes necessary. This has been particularly successful in the American context where public space is degraded or privatised, and roads are “neutral” space.

Public space does not always look the way we imagine it. When access to public space is untenable, protesters with sufficient will can turn privatised or commercial space into a new public realm.

The Hong Kong protests have turned the international airport terminal into a temporary public realm for this purpose. The “yellow shirt” protesters did the same in Bangkok in 2008. The continued visibility of these public sites and the desire by security forces to close down protest create an uneasy stand-off, testing authorities’ resolve to respond under international scrutiny.

There is now more to the public realm than just a place to gather. Protesters need to combine their determination with a sophisticated appreciation of the digital environment and the nature and limits of public and private space.




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Surprise! Digital space isn’t replacing public space, and might even help make it better


The Conversation


Peter Walters, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, The University of Queensland and Naomi Smith, Lecturer in Sociology, Federation University Australia

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Pressure builds with more protests in Hong Kong, but what’s the end game?



According to organisers, two million people marched Sunday in Hong Kong, with many shifting focus away from a controversial extradition bill to the resignation of the Beijing-backed chief executive, Carrie Lam.
Jerome Favre/AAP

Caitlin Byrne, Griffith University

The latest protests in Hong Kong on Sunday, which organisers said brought some 2 million people to the streets, represented yet another striking show of “people power” in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s efforts to bring calm to Hong Kong included an uncharacteristic about-face on her position over the weekend, a rare apology and the indefinite suspension of the proposed changes to the city’s extradition laws, which sparked the initial protest against the government last weekend.

But laden with qualifications and a subtle rebuke of the protesters, Lam’s repositioning of the issue has had limited impact, suggesting that she may have seriously underestimated the anger and determination of her constituency. The protesters are now calling for nothing less than her resignation, making her the “lightening rod” for public anger in the face of growing resentment towards Chinese influence in Hong Kong.

As the people of Hong Kong continue to take to the streets, one wonders whether the real struggle has only just begun.

How the fight over the extradition bill mushroomed

For many, Lam’s controversial extradition bill represented the “thin edge of the wedge” of Chinese control. If passed, the proposed law could have seen local and foreign criminal suspects sent to mainland China to stand trial in a judicial system that is opaque and vastly uncompromising.

But there’s much more at stake for the people, identity and prospects of Hong Kong. For those concerned about China’s rising influence in the city, the legislation represented a dangerous break in the firewall that has preserved civil liberties for the people of Hong Kong within the “one country, two systems” framework.




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While its proponents claim the bill has a narrow application, many fear it would enable China’s leadership to target political opponents, entrepreneurs and activists as part of its wider strategy for exercising control over the region. The implications for Hong Kong’s reputation as a vibrant global financial, business and transit hub would be significant.

Of course, the latest demonstrations cannot be viewed in isolation – they are the latest chapter in Hong Kong’s longstanding tradition of public dissent. And there have been some notable successes in the past, including the indefinite suspension of plans to implement a national security law in 2003 and the reversal of a proposed comprehensive national curriculum in 2012.

Yet, as the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests revealed, the mood in Hong Kong appears to be taking on a more sombre tone. Much of this reflects the changing mood within China.

Protesters in Hong Kong wore black on Sunday night, a striking change from the white apparel worn last week.
Roman Pilipey/EPA

Under President Xi Jinping, civil protests — even those organised in the special autonomous region of Hong Kong — are increasingly fraught. Xi himself set the tone with a particularly hard-line speech during his 2017 visit to the city for Lam’s swearing-in.

Flagging new levels of intolerance for activities that might be interpreted as encouraging Hong Kong independence from China, Xi noted:

Any attempt to endanger China’s sovereignty and security, challenge the power of the central government … or use Hong Kong to carry out infiltration and sabotage activities against the mainland is an act that crosses the red line and is absolutely impermissible.

Despite the efforts of China’s state-run Global Times newspaper to lay blame for the “uncontrolled street politics” on “Western forces” and “malice from afar”, however, Chinese political authorities have remained relatively quiet on the Hong Kong protests this week.




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This is unsurprising. Coming just a week after the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests, China was never likely to take an openly provocative stance against the protesters.

But it is clear Beijing is keeping a close eye on the situation, pushing back on criticisms from abroad and now possibly wavering in its support for Lam. Ever sensitive to external critiques that relate to questions of sovereignty, the Chinese government may decide to take a harder line should the protests continue to gather momentum.

Lack of foreign pressure

Thus far, the response to the protests has been relatively muted. The European Union has called for the rights of the Hong Kong people to be respected, noting its concern for the “potentially far-reaching consequences” of the extradition bill. UK Prime Minister Theresa May, meanwhile, has called on authorities to ensure the extradition arrangements “are in line with the rights and freedoms” set forth in the joint declaration when the British handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997.

US President Donald Trump has remained ambivalent so far, saying only last week, “I’m sure they’ll be able to work it all out.” But according to his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, Trump is now expected to raise the issue when he meets Xi at the G20 Summit at the end of the month. This is only significant insofar as it reminds us of Trump’s transactional interest in the region.




Read more:
Hong Kong in crisis over relationship with China – and there does not appear to be a good solution


As for Australia, Foreign Minister Marise Payne issued a fairly neutral statement in support of the Hong Kong people’s right to protest. It left many, including those in Sydney, Melbourne and elsewhere who protested in support of Hong Kong last week, somewhat underwhelmed.

Beyond the protests, how the current tensions unfold will have serious implications for Australia’s engagement in the region and our ongoing relationship with China. The 2017 Foreign Policy White Paper reinforces the core values underpinning our international engagement, including support for political, economic and religious freedoms, liberal democracy and the rule of law.

How and when we articulate our commitment to these values, and reinforce their place in our region, will be the key test of our diplomacy going forward.

As protesters turn their ire on Carrie Lam, the Chinese government may retreat from its support for her.
Roman Pilipey/EPA

Where do the protests go from here?

Lam’s decision to suspend consideration of the extradition bill offers a necessary moment for pause. But it hasn’t taken the heat out of the protests.

At this stage, Lam hasn’t backed away from her intent to revive the bill at a later stage. It’s also likely the Chinese government will continue to press towards that outcome, though perhaps in a different form and even under different leadership. Much hangs in the balance.

Hong Kong’s protesters appear galvanised by their cause. But whether they can sustain the necessary momentum for the long game — where crossing red lines may come at a cost — is another matter altogether.The Conversation

Caitlin Byrne, Director, Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Hong Kong in crisis over relationship with China – and there does not appear to be a good solution


Mass pro-democracy demonstrations over recent days have underscored the fact that Hong Kong residents are fearful of creeping mainland control.
AAP/EPA/Vernon Yuen

Tony Walker, La Trobe University

When Britain ceded its control of Hong Kong in 1997 – after its 100-year lease expired – concerns were raised that a 50-year “one country, two systems” formula would be insufficient to protect citizens’ rights.

Britain’s last governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, was among those warning about the risks to the territory’s autonomy under Chinese control.

However, it was argued at the time the “one country, two systems” deal was the best outcome that could be struck under the circumstances.

Twenty-two years later, not quite halfway through a 50-year transition to a notional end to a “two systems” arrangement, it is clear that the relatively benign outcome envisaged in 1997 is under unusual stress.

Mass pro-democracy demonstrations over recent days have underscored the fact that Hong Kong residents are fearful of creeping mainland control that will obliterate their relatively unfettered rights under the 1997 formula.

Their immediate concern is an extradition bill, before Hong Kong’s legislature, that would enable Beijing to extradite alleged criminals. The legislation invites understandable concerns that it could be misused to secure the extradition to the mainland of China’s critics under the pretext these individuals had engaged in criminal activity.

Hong Kong’s relatively free media are alarmed at threats to press freedom inherent in the bill.

Beijing has done little to assuage these concerns. It has accused “foreign forces” of misleading Hong Kongers as part of an attempt to destabilise China.




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In China, authorities have blocked foreign news sites to prevent the dissemination of reports and images from the streets of Hong Kong. This is no doubt out of concern that street demonstrations might become contagious on the mainland.

The fact these demonstrations coincided with the 30th anniversary of the June 6 1989 Tiananmen massacre in which hundreds, if not thousands, died in a government crackdown will have fuelled Beijing’s nervousness about developments in Hong Kong.

What distinguishes the latest mass protests against Chinese attempts to circumvent its 1997 “one country, two systems” undertakings from protracted disturbances in 2014 is that this time it reflects increasing alarm about Beijing’s stealthy attempts to extend its control.

In 2014, demonstrations against Beijing’s violation of its commitment to autonomous local elections lasted months. This was the so-called “umbrella movement”, distinguished by the symbolic carrying of umbrellas by demonstrators.

In 2019, and judging by events characterised by fairly heavy-handed use of tear gas, water cannons and other methods to break up the demonstrations, the authorities have resolved to try to nip in the bud this challenge to Beijing-dominated Hong Kong rule.

Whether this works remains to be seen.

The disturbances pose a challenge to Western governments at a particularly fraught moment in global affairs. Relations between the US and China are on a knife’s edge over trade and other issues. This includes sales of sophisticated weaponry to Taiwan, tightening sanctions on Iran’s oil exports, moves to bar the telecommunications supplier Huawei from building 5G networks of US allies, including Australia, and a confrontational approach to China in Washington more generally.

Ill will over Hong Kong will not be helpful.




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From Australia’s standpoint, the Hong Kong disturbances come at an awkward moment as a newly elected government in Canberra wrestles with China policy.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne’s initial response to events in Hong Kong was too meek. Through a spokesperson, she said:

The Australian government is taking a close interest in the proposed amendments […]

Australia’s interests in Hong Kong deserve something more forthright than this.

Not only does Hong Kong absorb A$11 billion worth of Australian merchandise exports annually, services trade at A$3 billion is significant, and total investment in Australia of A$116 billion puts the former British territory in the top 10 foreign investors.

On top of that, about 100,000 Australians are resident in Hong Kong. This is not a small number in a population of 7.5 million.

While it is true Hong Kong is less important economically than it was in 1997, when its GDP was 16% of China’s (it’s now 2%), it still remains an indispensable financial conduit and testing ground for financial reforms.

Hong Kong provided the financial platform for China’s cautious experimentation in its move towards making the yuan a global currency. Hong Kong’s stock exchange is an important vehicle for capital-raising for Chinese companies.

The events of recent days have placed Beijing’s woman in Hong Kong, Carrie Lam, who was selected by Beijing as chief executive two years ago, in an invidious position. If she yields to the protesters and withdraws the extradition law, she will run foul of her controllers in Beijing.

If she pushes ahead in the Legislative Council with the support of 43 pro-Beijing lawmakers out of 70, as she insists she will, she risks further disturbances.The Conversation

Tony Walker, Adjunct Professor, School of Communications, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Blocking Chinese gas takeover won’t damage Australia’s foreign investment pipeline



File 20181121 161621 4s3rkd.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
A single foreign company having sole ownership and control over Australia’s most significant gas transmission business, says Australia’s treasurer, is not in the national interest.
Shutterstock

Simon Segal, Macquarie University

The Morrison government’s decision to block Hong Kong’s largest infrastructure company from buying one of Australia’s key infrastructure companies seems to make a complicated relationship with China even more fraught.

Rejections of foreign takeover bids are extremely rare. This is just the sixth such decision in nearly two decades.

It might be argued the blocking of the A$13 billion bid for gas pipeline operator APA Group by Cheung Kong Infrastructure (CKI) Holdings reflects increasing politicisation of Australia’s process for reviewing foreign investment.

But this is not a political shot across the bows like China’s announced anti-dumping probe into imports of Australian barley. This takeover proposal was always doubtful. News of its knock-back potentially damaging relations with China, or foreign investment more generally, are greatly exaggerated.




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Always unlikely

APA Group owns 15,000 km of natural gas pipelines and supplies about half the gas used in Australia. It owns or has interests in gas storage facilities, gas-fired power stations, and wind and solar renewable energy generators.


APA Group’s infrastructure assets.
APA

Back in September, after APA accepted the takeover offer from a CKI-led consortium, the investment research company Morningstar judged it unlikely that Australia’s Foreign Investment Review Board would approve the bid.

The board is only an advisory body. The final decision rests with the federal treasurer. Josh Frydenberg signalled his intention to block the deal in early November, giving CKI a few weeks to change its proposal, either by selling assets or finding other investment partners, enough to change his mind.

That did not happen. Frydenberg’s final decision to block the bid was based, he said, on “a single foreign company group having sole ownership and control over Australia’s most significant gas transmission business”.

He emphasised the government remained committed to welcoming foreign investment: “foreign investment helps support jobs and rising living standards.”

It’s not all about CKI

CKI is not state-controlled. It is headed by the son of Hong Kong’s richest man, Li Ka-shing, and has a history of considerable success in investing in Australia.

Nonetheless speculation about the rejection damaging the Australia-China relationship has ensued. In the words of the South China Morning Post: “As the most China-dependent developed economy, Australia potentially has a lot to lose should relations with its biggest trading partner deteriorate further.”




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Let’s put this into perspective.

First, there is broad bipartisan agreement that foreign investment is crucial to Australia’s economic prosperity.

Second, as already mentioned, this is just the sixth major public foreign investment proposal blocked since 2000. (All but one, notably, have been by Liberal treasurers.)

Third, all six rejections have been case-specific. Each bid has been considered on its merits.

This case arguably has less to with CKI being Chinese linked than with the size and significance of APA, whose transmission system includes three-quarters of the pipes in NSW and Victoria.

In 2016 CKI’s A$11 billion bid for NSW electricity distributor Ausgrid was also blocked (by then-treasurer Scott Morrison) on national security grounds.

But in 2017 CKI won approval for its A$7.4 billion bid for West Australian-focused electricity and gas distribution giant DUET. And in 2014 CKI’s acquisition of gas distributor Envestra (now Australian Gas Networks) was also cleared.

Shifting emphasis

This is not to deny that politics played a part in Frydenberg’s decision.

The seven-person FIRB board was divided (the exact votes are not known). The Treasurer’s call could have gone either way.

Forces within the Liberal Party that opposed Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership have also been deeply hostile to APA’s sale to CKI. Among the most vociferous was NSW senator Jim Molan, who warned of “hidden dragons” in the deal.

For a minority government lagging in the polls and just months away from an election, such views have assumed inflated importance.

Nonetheless the APA decision was not a surprise. Greater scrutiny is now part and parcel of the Foreign Investment Review Board process. In particular, the emphasis has firmly shifted over the past few years to scrutinising national security and taxation areas.




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The Critical Infrastructure Centre within the Department of Home Affairs, which became fully operational this year, brings together capability from across the federal government to manage national security risks from foreign involvement in Australia’s critical infrastructure. It’s particularly focused on telecommunications, electricity, gas, water and ports.

David Irvine, who has chaired the Foreign Investment Review Board since April 2017, is a former head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.

This shifting emphasis does not equate to a bias against foreign investment per se. There is no evidence investors, including Chinese, are being discouraged or significantly deterred from investing in Australia.

CKI itself demonstrates, by returning to Australia despite previous rejections, that foreign investors will not give up so long as the next deal stacks up. There is already speculation CKI has moved on, and now has its eyes on Spark Infrastructure, an ASX-listed owner of energy asset.The Conversation

Simon Segal, PhD research candidate, Business, Macquarie University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

China: Persecution News Update


The links below are to articles reporting on persecution news from China (the most recent are at the top).

For more visit:
http://www.gospelherald.com/articles/71450/20171004/china-detains-two-christian-women-3-y-o-missionary-work.htm
http://www.scmp.com/news/hong-kong/law-crime/article/2113277/former-hong-kong-eoc-official-loses-gratuity-fee-retrial
http://www.persecution.org/2017/09/27/china-losing-freedom-in-every-aspect/
http://www.christiantimes.com/article/china-intensifies-crackdown-on-churches-with-new-plans-to-force-registration-with-government/72905.htm
https://international.la-croix.com/news/cross-accidentally-set-alight-as-chinese-officials-take-it-from-church/5963
https://www.ucanews.com/news/chinese-priest-gets-jail-time-for-theft-supporters-say-he-was-framed/80303
http://www.chinaaid.org/2017/09/christian-academy-banned-for.html