HORIST: Hong Kong district elections (and renewed protests) limit Xi’s options
Though democracy courses through the blood of the vast majority of Hong Kong residents, their recent victory for the democracy movement and the protestors is impressive but not conclusive. That is because Hong Kong is a limited democracy – which means not really a democracy.
What is impressive, however, is the return to the streets of hundreds of thousands of demonstrators – and it is not just numbers. Images from Hong Kong show a sea of large American flags being waved by freedom-addicted Hong Kongers as they sang the American National Anthem. There were “thank you” signs address to President Trump – and even posters of Trump’s head superimposed on the body of Kung Foo icon Bruce Lee. Chinese President Xi must have been infuriated and frustrated.
(Incidentally, the Hong Kong story and all those pro-American, pro-Trump images were not to be found on CNN and MSNBC. Do we need to ask why not?)
The 18 District Council elections that preceded this outburst of American friendship had symbolic meaning – and a degree of real power implications. The people of Hong Kong cannot select their top legislative and executive leadership. That is in the hands of Beijing. But they clearly showed their sentiments.
Even as largely symbolic events, the elections have great significance. For one reason, the size of the turnout and the size of the victory. In the 2015 District Elections, 1.5 million voters went to the polls and gave their support to pro-Beijing candidates.
In this past election, more than 2.9 million voters cast ballots – and they flipped 17 or the 18 districts to a pro-democracy majority. The pro-democracy forces were expected to do well – but not this well. The only District in which pro-Beijing representatives retained a majority was the Island District where a number of council members are appointed. But pro-democracy candidates won most of the elected seats. In fact, they won 90 percent of ALL the electable seats.
Street protests were called off during the balloting – proving that the action in the streets was not organic rioting but strategically planned and executed protests. In fact, one of the “five demands” of the pro-democracy movement is to have the government stop suggesting the demonstrations were illegal by calling them riots.
The protestors had achieved a partial victory early on when another of their five demands was achieved – the elimination of the proposed extradition law that would have had alleged dissidents sent to mainland China. The other three demands include investigation of police brutality, amnesty for arrested protestors and the right to vote for the Hong Kong Executive and the legislative body.
The District elections clearly establish overwhelming support for the demands of the protestors even by those who did not take to the streets. The alleged power of a silent pro-Beijing faction has been debunked.
With four of the five demands unmet – and the protests gaining a mandate from the people – the people of Hong Kong have again taken to the streets to finish the job they started. The pro-democracy movement has gotten a shot of adrenalin with the results of the District Elections.
So … what is Chinese President Xi Jinping to do now?
He could send in his powerful military. But instead of quashing the protests, that might set off a bloody civil war. With such overwhelming sympathy for the protest as reflected in the election, Xi could not count on the loyalty of even government workers – especially the police and security forces.
Xi would probably win any conflict unless other nations were to intercede – in which case Xi could ignite that Third World War Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger warned is possible – although not likely. Xi is a dictator, but he is not a Hitler, Stalin or even a Mao.
Xi also has a Mainland China problem. Over the course of the past 50 years, the Chinese people have enjoyed increasing personal freedom — not up to our standards, but much better than the Mao era. In fact, there are two generations of Chinese who have no personal recollection of oppressive Communism. They buy designer clothes, have cell phones and use the Internet to explore the world. Among the younger Chinese, there is a lot of sympathy for Hong Kong. It is an aspirational admiration.
Brutal suppression would also inflame the largely dormant independence movement in Taiwan. Like Hong Kong — and even as the official property of the Peoples’ Republic of China – they do not plan to surrender the freedom and autonomy they have enjoyed for generations.
As the situation is now, Xi would be foolish to use his military to crack down on the people of Hong Kong. He is going to have to let up on the reigns and accept less control over Hong Kong. He may have to meet the demands and hope that peace will be restored. If he fumbles, Xi may next be facing a full-fledged independence movement.
So, there ‘tis.