Hong Kong Protests: A Reaction to Beijing’s Growing Effort for Control

July 31, 2019

Protesters have expanded their demands, after China's central government has conceded to their initial demand of cancelling an extradition law. As the protests continue in Hong Kong, Adam Ni says it is unlikely they will expand to the mainland

Protesters have expanded their demands, after China's central government has conceded to their initial demand of cancelling an extradition law. As the protests continue in Hong Kong, Adam Ni says it is unlikely they will expand to the mainland


Hong Kong Protests: A Reaction to Beijing's Growing Effort for Control

Story Transcript

GREG WILPERT Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore.

Protests and clashes with the police continued in Hong Kong over the last weekend. The protests had started a month and a half ago when protesters— many of them students— objected to a law that would have enabled the extradition of detainees from Hong Kong to mainland China. The law was eventually scrapped, but the protests continued. This time, demanding investigations into police abuse in the repression of protests. And it then expanded into a demand for the resignation of Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Here’s what Derek Chan, a protester, had to say about the Chinese government’s involvement in Hong Kong.

DEREK CHAN, HONG KONG PROTESTER I think a lot of people would say that we already have the PLA in here who’ve come to Hong Kong to maintain law and order. That’s my view it because a lot of so-called officers do not have an identity number to prove if they are really police. They are also not willing to come and present their own badges so we can know they are really police.

GREG WILPERT The PLA is the People’s Liberation Army, China’s military force. Joining me now to discuss the ongoing protests in Hong Kong is Adam Ni. He’s a China Researcher at the Department of Security Studies and Criminology at Macquarie University, Sydney. Thanks for joining us again, Adam.

ADAM NI It’s good to be here, Greg.

GREG WILPERT So the extradition bill was first suspended and then Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that it is dead. And yet, the protests are continuing. So what are the protesters exactly hoping to achieve now in a broad sense?

ADAM NI Well really, at the heart of the current crisis is a key contradiction. A contradiction on the one hand between Beijing’s goal to integrate Hong Kong into the People’s Republic of China and assimilate it into its political system— on the one hand—  and on the other hand, the Hong Kongers’ desire to maintain their way of life with civil liberties that are not afforded to their brethren over the border in mainland China. So really, the anti-extradition protest was always a manifestation of some of the deeper trends that was going on, that was pushing the Hong Kongers to protest. And the key being, the sense that things were not going so well, that Beijing was encroaching on the political system of Hong Kong, judicial independence as well as their civil liberties, their way of life. So the extradition bill and the Hong Kong government’s failed response to the popular protests to it really was a spark of the fire that is currently burning in Hong Kong.

GREG WILPERT Now, the Chinese government has expressed support for the Hong Kong government, but it seems to be running out of patience and is calling it now off for the rest of some of the protesters and it has also offered to send some troops possibly to stop the demonstrations. Now, would you say that the Chinese authorities are worried that the protests could spread beyond Hong Kong? And how likely do you think that might happen?

ADAM NI Well the protest movement has really changed over the last eight weeks since it started from very limited demands of which are in the bill, to a whole raft of demands including as you mentioned the resignation of Carrie Lam, an independent investigation into police use of force, and a whole raft of other demands. So I certainly see this as being a change in the shape of the protest movement, but I don’t think the protests will actually spread from Hong Kong into mainland China because Hong Kong is a very different place with a peculiar set of circumstances that are absent in mainland China. But we do see interestingly, protests internationally in support of the protesters in Hong Kong— including in the United States, Canada, Europe, Taiwan, Australia and other places. But I think there is a real sense in Beijing that the current crisis is really getting out of hand.

So early on in the protests, Beijing adopted a quite low-profile approach really not making too much of a fuss out of the protests, but trying to wait out the protests. But I think now it is seeing the writing on the wall and that is the majority of the Hong Kong people are not happy with the current state of things and that the protests are only likely to escalate. But I don’t think Beijing actually has a clear idea what it wants to do, how it can devise an effective strategy to stop the protests. Certainly, I think Beijing mentioned the possibility of sending in the People’s Liberation Army to suppress the protesters. I think that will only backfire because at the heart of it, this is a political problem. Sending in the military is only going to antagonize Hong Kongers and inflame international opinion. So again, I think Beijing at the moment lacks a coherent strategy to deal with the current situation, which in my view is escalating, and I think policymakers in Beijing, they’re working overtime in order to come up with one.

GREG WILPERT Now I want to touch on that issue that you just mentioned about the differences between mainland China and Hong Kong. Now, how is this legacy of Hong Kong being a former colony of the British Empire that was turned over to China in 1997— how is this legacy shaping what is happening in Hong Kong today? And in other words, have the citizens of Hong Kong become too different from the rest of China to more or less accept the Chinese system of government?

ADAM NI Yeah. I think certainly Hong Kong’s colonial legacy and its history has a really big effect on what is currently happening. When the UK and China was originally negotiating the hand back of Hong Kong, the formula that was presented was what’s known as “one country, two systems.” So essentially in the agreement between the UK and China with respect to Hong Kong, Hong Kong is guaranteed a certain degree of political and judicial independence and its citizens guaranteed civil liberties that are unheard of in mainland China. However, over the last decade or so, Beijing has really made an attempt in shifting the status quo. And what I mean by that is Beijing has really conducted a campaign encroaching on the civil liberties of Hong Kongers with the explicit goal of really integrating Hong Kong into the PRC’s political system as just another part of the People’s Republic of China. And I think that is key to what is currently happening. In a way, Beijing has created a long-term problem, a long-term Hong Kong problem that I would argue predominantly is of its own making in challenging that status quo.

GREG WILPERT Okay. Well, we’re going to leave it there for now, but I’m sure we’re going to come back to you soon as the situation develops there. I was speaking to Adam Ni, China Researcher at the Department of Security Studies and Criminology at Macquarie University, Sydney. Thanks again, Adam, for having joined us today.

ADAM NI Thanks, Greg. It’s a pleasure.

GREG WILPERT And thank you for joining The Real News Network.