Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has withdrawn the controversial extradition bill that first sparked mass protests in the city in June. But it’s too little, too late, according to activists who have expanded their protests based on the government’s poor responses over the past three months.
If the bill had been withdrawn in June, chances are high the protests would have dissipated and Hong Kong would have been back to business as usual almost immediately. But violent clashes with police and other government officials combined with a seeming disinterest in the will of the people despite millions hitting the streets in protest have escalated the situation to the point that only radical change can end it.
Over 1,100 protesters have been arrested amidst a multitude of reported police brutality incidents, pushing protesters to go far beyond opposing the controversial bill. These protests are now about corruption, authoritarian rule, and a government that is increasingly giving up its autonomy through puppets installed by mainland China. The “one country, two systems” mantra that has kept Hong Kong free from Beijing’s iron fist since rejoining the nation in 1997 has been threatened by these puppets, including Lam, and the people of Hong Kong aren’t willing to let that happen.
Lam’s announcement is not going to stop the protests. The only thing that will at this point is a complete revamp of the government through Democratic elections or Beijing sending in troops. Otherwise, these protests are likely to go on indefinitely.
Hong Kong’s election system keeps many government positions, including Chief Executive, voted on in closed elections by the business elite in the city. But many of them are given their orders from Beijing, which is why in a city that is so adamantly opposed to the authoritarian rule of the mainland, pro-Beijing politicians are still able to acquire and retain power.
Protesters want open elections across the board. They’re also calling for the immediate release of protesters who have been detained and an independent investigation into police brutality. The chances of any of this happening are essentially zero. Beijing won’t allow it, which is why the most likely scenario is the protests will continue until mainland China takes control of the situation militarily.
In fact, it’s very likely if China’s economy had been in great shape the last three months, they would have sent in troops already. The size and scope of the protests are justification in Beijing’s eyes to exert more control over the autonomous city. This is what they’ve always wanted, and historically China has never been one to pass on an opportunity.
But as one of the economic powerhouses of the world, military intervention would send financial shockwaves across the world and most heavily on China itself. With President Trump’s trade war slowing their economy and their own actions devaluing the yuan, China can ill-afford any more damage to their fiscal situation. They desperately need stability in Hong Kong. Sending in the military might work for stabilizing the streets, but the economic repercussions would be immediate and dramatic.
If the protests had turned violent at a time of economic strength with no trade war being waged, chances are high Beijing would have taken the short-term financial hit if it meant exerting more control over Hong Kong. Nevertheless, it’s still very likely Beijing will be forced to act, rolling the dice and hoping for the best. If the protests continue much longer, China will send in troops.
This trade war has nothing to with Hong Kong and the protests have nothing to do with the trade war. But the two are linked because China can’t tackle one without exacerbating the other. It’s a perfect storm that helps both the U.S. and Hong Kong citizens.
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