TOKYO MUST URGE BEIJING TO RESOLVE HONG KONG CRISIS PEACEFULLY
A week ago, on August 18, an estimated 1.7 million Hong Kong citizens took to the streets, protesting a revision of a bill aimed at extraditing suspects to mainland China.
The huge turnout delivered the message to the international community in no uncertain terms that the people of the semi-autonomous Chinese region are united in rejecting Beijing’s undemocratic policies.
With a population of 7.5 million, the former British colony that reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 clearly is no match against China with its 1.4 billion population and must get the justice of the international community on its side. In order to garner broader international support for their campaign for greater political freedom, Hong Kongers this time decided to quickly stand back from the police seconds before violence would break out, making sure to not give Beijing any excuse to take advantage of any untoward incidents.
A week later, on August 25, Hong Kong police opened fire on protesters for the first time since June 9 when the ongoing demonstrations started. Powerful water cannon trucks were introduced, also for the first time, to quell the demonstrators.
Speaking in a pre-dawn news conference on August 26, a police spokeswoman explained that “six police officers drew their service weapons because their lives were under threat” and that “one officer shot a round into the air…(he) acted heroically and with restraint” in an attempt to justify his action on the grounds that “the force used under the circumstances was necessary and reasonable.” One cannot take this explanation at its face value, however.
The Beijing government is considering resorting to direct force to deprive Hong Kong of its autonomy and freedom and regards an ultimate military intervention as unavoidable in order to put an end to the protests. This decision was allegedly made during the annual “Summer Summit” at the famed Beidaihe resort in Hebei Province August 1-11, attended by current leaders and elders from earlier generations. Explained Akio Yaita, an expert on China who serves as Deputy Foreign Editor of the conservative Sankei Shimbun:
“The first part of this year’s ‘Summer Summit’ is said to have been unusually stormy, with the elders criticizing Xi Jinping for his failure to efficiently manage China’s ongoing problems, including the trade war with America and the Hong Kong problem. Unable to propose any workable solution to these crises, the Chinese leadership saw the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, slated for October 1, approaching fast. The consensus was that the Hong Kong problem must be cleared by that date at all costs. That is why they concluded that a military intervention is unavoidable.”
Only former premier Zhu Rongji (1998-2003) is said to have opposed the decision. There is another reason why the elders wanted an early settlement of the Hong Kong problem, according to Yaita.
Painting Hong Kongers in Lurid Colors
Chinese elders and their families are generally considered beneficiaries of vested-interest businesses in Hong Kong. For instance, the New York Times in its October 26, 2012 issue ran a special feature portraying the son of Wen Jiabao (prime minister at the time) as being cozy with vested-interest money traceable to the former British colony. The elders want nothing to hinder them from enjoying the sweet taste of this stashed-away wealth and want the crisis in Hong Kong resolved at once, explained Yaita.
China made two distinct moves after Beidaihe. On August 12, the Beijing government congregated some 100,000 armed police troops in Shenzhen which borders Hong Kong, ordering China’s national media to publicize the deployment. On the same day, the Beijing government criticized the protests in Hong Kong as “showing signs of potential terrorism,” instructing a Hong Kong court to issue a decree commanding the protesters to disperse immediately. Beijing has thus secured the legal requirements needed to arrest students or citizens who ignore the court order.
The second move was a visit to Washington by state councilor Yang Jiechi on August 13 to meet with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Yang allegedly informed Washington that Beijing was contemplating extreme measures to resolve the Hong Kong crisis.
In the meantime, students and citizens started occupying Hong Hong’s international airport on August 9. Four days later, a young woman demonstrator was hit in her right eye by a bean bag round fired at close range by the police. She reportedly had her eye ruptured. Images of the incident went viral via social media. Reacting sharply against this incident, demonstrators occupied the airport again, forcing cancellation of all flights into and out of Hong Kong. It was also revealed that some plainclothes policemen disguised as citizens had slipped into the demonstrations to incite violence.
With the people of Hong Kong having enjoyed a century and a half of relatively liberal British rule (1841-1997), it will be extremely difficult for Xi to succeed in wiping out the democratic values so deeply felt in their bones. Commented Yaita:
“In short, Xi Jinping failed in his attempt to properly manage the crisis in Hong Kong. Wary about Beijing’s sinister intentions, Hong Kong students and citizens had made up their minds to pull back and avoid violent confrontations effective August 13. The following day, Donald Trump, who until then had looked to be little interested in Hong Kong, said abruptly: ‘Of course China wants to make a deal. Let them work humanely with Hong Kong first.’ He further stated four days later: ‘I think it’d be hard to deal if they do violence, I mean, if it’s another Tiananmen Square. I think it’s a very hard thing to do if there’s violence.’ Xi realized he had stirred up a hornet’s nest.”
Beijing has been eagerly trying to invent a situation in which they can claim Hong Kongers used violence first—a ploy aimed at painting them in lurid colors and applying “Article 18” of the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. The article reads: … the Chinese government is entitled to apply relevant national laws in Hong Kong “in the event that (Beijing) decides to declare… a state of emergency” in the region.
At this juncture, order in Hong Kong is precariously maintained under China’s “one country, two systems” scheme—a promise Beijing made when Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule in 1997. The article would enable Beijing to wipe the slate clean of Hong Kong’s law and order, placing the region directly under the same national laws as China.
Japan’s Responsibility to Speak up
Yaita explained the current situation in Hong Kong further:
“At present, about 700 citizens are detained in Hong Kong for petty offenses, such as throwing bricks at the police. From Beijing’s standpoint, these detentions are counterproductive, as the detainees are expected to be released anytime soon to a hero’s welcome. If Beijing should apply Chinese national laws to control the demonstrators, several tens of thousands of them would readily be arrested and extradited to the mainland, where they would serve 15- to 20-year terms in prison, get life imprisonment, be subjected to torture, or even executed. The Chinese Communist Party believes it can put an end to the growing protest movements in Hong Kong by resorting to tough measures.”
Against such a backdrop, nearly a quarter of Hong Kong’s population took part in the August 18 demonstrations. Well-versed in the modus operandi of the Chinese Communist Party, the demonstrators withheld any type of violence on this day, having earlier agreed among themselves to refrain from even throwing eggs and tomatoes at the police or government buildings. They staged their rallies cleverly, making sure not to give China any excuse for retaliation.
And yet the Hong Kong authorities claimed the demonstrators resorted to violence during the protest rally staged a week later on August 26, in which the lives of several police officers were allegedly “under threat.” This explanation is not credible.
As it turned out, several cases were revealed in which Chinese men from the mainland who had mingled with the demonstrators attacked the police. Some of these images have gone viral via social media. Yaita recalled witnessing similar incidents during the Tiananmen incident three decades ago, observing:
“At the time, plainclothes policemen sneaked into groups of students and led attacks on military vehicles and buses at Tiananmen Square, setting them ablaze. All of them fled after burning the vehicles. The students were left behind, many subsequently arrested or butchered. That is how the Communist Party operates.”
Wary that the democratization movements at Tiananmen Square would quickly spread across China, Deng Xiaoping launched a whole-sale suppression of liberal elements in China. Today, thirty years later, the more the voices of Hong Kongers craving democracy resonate in the hearts of Chinese across the mainland, the more inclined Xi is to implement coercive control over Hong Kong through a military intervention.
What should Japan do at this stage? The first among advanced nations to lift Tiananmen-related sanctions on Beijing, Japan cannot afford to assume the same naïve posture again today. The Japanese government has the responsibility to speak out the loudest to China, warning against any move to settle the Hong Kong crisis by force.
Hong Kong is looking forward eagerly to Japan’s backing while Taiwan is closely watching how Japan will act now. Without committing itself to standing firm by the students and citizens of Hong Kong and sternly demanding that Beijing resolve the Hong Kong crisis peacefully, the Japanese government can hardly claim to be upholding “a foreign policy of democratic values.”
(Translated from Renaissance Japan column no. 866 in the September 5, 2019 issue of The Weekly Shincho)