The standoff between the citizens of Hong Kong and the Chinese government is reaching critical mass. Why the way forward cannot include violence.
Rich Eyes and Poor Hands
The situation today in Hong Kong is untenable, at best.
Hong Kong is a power keg, with any act of violence or vandalism on the part of the demonstrators likely to give the Chinese authorities exactly the excuse they need to brutally suppress the protests.
Nonetheless, knowing the risk, the protestors are still gathered, having nearly made it through another weekend without being overwhelmed by the Chinese military. There are perhaps more people than ever before in the streets of Hong Kong, demanding the right to self-governance and self-determination.
The citizens of Hong Kong are determined not to become another Tiananmen Square. They are instead counting on the watching world, on the power of the internet, and perhaps a God who is rumored to bless children, idiots, and the United States of America with a rare sort of luck. Maybe its democracy that is so lucky.
Because the Hong Kong protests probably won’t work; they shouldn’t work. But the American Revolution really shouldn’t have come off either, all told.
What is a sympathetic West to do? Mainland Chinese citizens are equally flummoxed. Where East and West meet the clash is even more confusing, as evidenced recently by Chinese media and film stars publicly condemning the protests followed by a backlash from Western audiences who support the Hong Kong protests.
Hong Kong is an island, where millions of Chinese people have had a taste of democracy. It has perhaps ruined them to the lures of a state-controlled press that doesn’t brook criticism of dear leader. Now, the people in Hong Kong have developed, according to a Chinese proverb “Rich Eyes and Poor Hands”: They have seen the promised land of citizens sharing power in a democratic government, working together to keep the lights on in a free market economy.
They can’t unsee it and return happily to communism.
Hong Kong is a democratic free market boom town, newly reshaped by the global marketplace to be a cash-generating machine in the modern, interconnected Information Age.
But Hong Kong also has a death sentenced imposed upon it, an expiration date that has been approaching since the day the British handed Hong Kong back to the Chinese in 1997. The “one country, two systems” policy whereby the people of Hong Kong would be allowed to retain vestiges of democratic rule was never going to last forever.
Hong Kong is scheduled to lose its democratic privileges in 2047.
This fact was brought to the forefront after a 2019 Beijing extradition bill threatened journalists in Hong Kong with retribution from the Chinese government over dissidence and criticism.
Will China cave? It seems increasingly unlikely, as military posturing and staging near Hong Kong have made perfectly clear. It is hopefully only posturing- Chinese officials may be hoping to scare protestors into silence. The fact that the whole world is watching must surely stay their hand. As least for awhile.
But not forever. Chinese President Xi Jinping simply cannot give the people of Hong Kong what they want: Hong Kong cannot become a separate country from China. Can it?
Stateside, it’s “Donald Trump should support Hong Kong!” as Trump’s critics are ever eager to condemn this president whatever he does. Of course Donald Trump should support the Hong Kong protestors. As a private citizen, he is perfectly free to do that from the comfort of his own television set, just like the rest of us. As an avowed fan of both democracy and the free market, he likely has the deepest sympathies for Hong Kong. He probably wants to support them.
But the President of the United States Donald Trump, commander-in-chief of its not-inconsiderable military forces, absolute cannot. Support from that source means air support. It means ground support.
It means military action against the Chinese government. It means opening hostilities with no idea how things might end up: No plan survives contact with the enemy.
A war in our modern age between the U.S. and China would kill more people than the population of Hong Kong in a single day. What destruction could be wrought with the weapons of war available to the world leaders of the two largest and most well-armed military forces the world has ever seen; chemical weapons, bio-weapons and energy weapons, sonic weapons and weather weapons and weapons we don’t even know we don’t know about.
And we never, ever want to find out. Do we?
As sympathetic as we may be in the West to the democratic aspirations of Hong Kong, as sympathetic as our leaders may be, as a nation we cannot afford to enter into any military conflict with the probably of mutually assured destruction.
Make no mistake, democracy and the free market economy are coming to China. There is nothing Xi Jinping can do to stop it. But the revolution is an economic one, and therefore much slower.
Already China is a communist country that harnesses its cheap plentiful labor force and low-regulatory environment to mass produce goods to sell to capitalist countries. Is communism really communism if it needs capitalism to work?
China’s attempts to censor the internet, while impressive, aren’t working. Maintaining a stranglehold on information in the Information Age is a losing proposition and China is failing in spite of its best efforts. Because, as any parent can tell you, kids are the nosiest people on the planet. The tighter the Chinese authorities try to keep the lid on, the harder enterprising young student hackers will work to pry it off.
Hong Kong protestors might lose the fight today; they might lose it tomorrow.
The arc of the moral universe is long, but in the end it does indeed bend towards justice. And democracy.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)