Despite escalating violence between protesters and police in Hong Kong, I believe it is extremely unlikely the Beijing government will take retaliatory measures against the protesters in 2020.
This is because the Beijing government has learned that a crackdown will not reverse their long-term failure to address the growing distrust Hong Kong youth feel towards both the Hong Kong and Beijing governments.
Through a combination of Western propaganda and foreign funding, the protesters are being led to believe false promises of freedom and democracy made by countries who actively profit from their unrest. I only hope they realise this before it is too late.
Foreign governments have much to gain from the Hong Kong protests. The US, engaged in a trade war with China, has taken the opportunity to safeguard its own economic interests under the guise of promoting human rights and democracy with the 2019 Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. Taiwanese president, Tsai Ing-wen, received a surge in young voter support for her lagging presidential bid prior to the 2016 Taiwanese presidential election by allying herself with the Hong Kong protesters. Taiwan has even become the primary source of funding for the 2019 protests through organisations like church and activist groups, citing fears over Chinese influence in the region.
Signs of unrest in Hong Kong arrived in late 2014, when the “Occupy Central” movement blocked major intersections in Hong Kong for 79 days in order to sway the election committee’s nomination of the now-Chief Executive, Carrie Lam. Occupy Central protesters opposed her nomination on the grounds that she received majority backing from what they deemed a biased, pro-Beijing election committee.
But in 2019, the protests were different. They were better coordinated, better funded, and more violent.
The popularity of these protests is undeniable.
I believe many of those in the protests were propelled by the constant smearing of the Beijing and Hong Kong governments by Western media sources. They exposed the long-term failure of the Chinese government’s propaganda department to ensure young people were adequately aligned with and supportive of their goals. This led to a deep-rooted distrust in the Hong Kong protesters’ hearts that will not be quelled by retroactive measures like withdrawing the anti-extradition bill or open dialogue sessions with academics and politicians. The protesters are not satisfied, even as we see Lam continually negotiate with or obey their demands.
Contrast this with the protesters’ reactions to US President Donald Trump’s decision to sign the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in 2019.
This law has had zero action taken on it since being enacted on November 27 and has done nothing to help Hong Kongers on the ground. Instead, the Act assesses whether Hong Kong is and will continue to be beneficial for US business interests, hinting at a potential reclassification of its special trade status with the US under the 1992 United States-Hong Kong Policy Act if conditions worsen. Under the guise of promoting human rights and democracy, they are protecting the more than 1,300 US companies that operate in Hong Kong; companies who benefit from Hong Kong’s proximity to China, our independent judiciary, and our rule of law. Furthermore, it grants US President Donald Trump visa and asset-blocking permissions on Chinese citizens he deems responsible for “undermining fundamental freedoms and autonomy in Hong Kong”.
How does this increase our freedoms as Hong Kongers?
Yet, the passing of this Act delighted the protesters. Nathan Law, a former politician and prominent Hong Kong protester, called it a “timely Thanksgiving present”. Jimmy Lai, another prominent protester, media tycoon and founder of anti-China publication Apple Daily, has said to the US in an interview with Freedom House, “We are fighting your battle for you.” In an interview with 60 Minutes, he said the values in Hong Kong are closer to those of the West “because of our colonial past”. This is the extent to which they are loyal to Western governments and mistrustful of their own.
According to a Reuters poll released on December 31, 2019, only 17 percent of Hong Kongers say they want independence from China, with just 20 percent saying China has abused the “one country, two systems” model to favour Beijing.
Most citizens, especially after the coronavirus, do not envy the Americans. Wuhan, a province of 60 million people, was swiftly and effectively quarantined to control the spread. A new hospital was built there in 10 days, the first of a total of 16 temporary hospitals that have now closed since Wuhan’s partial reopening.
Meanwhile, the US has the highest number of coronavirus deaths worldwide.
In a free Western society, people have their individualism, their own determinations and they decide if they want to listen to their government. These were all qualities that held them back during the pandemic.
To treat the violent anti-government sentiment in Hong Kong from the root, defensive, preparatory measures, and an overhaul of local media and education are needed; not just punitive measures once crimes have been committed. The existing Chinese propaganda philosophy, which seeks to inform and inculcate belief through principle-based doctrine must learn from the subtlety of Western propaganda sources. This was key to its success with the Hong Kong protesters.
The law cannot reverse the erosion of trust and ensuing violence between protesters and police that has already happened. It can only penalise it. Despite any foreign country’s actions, the internal security of Hong Kong is threatened most by the distrust alive in the hearts of its people. The protesters are being used to further their own ruin, but I fear they will only see this in the aftermath.
This episode of #AJOpinion is a response to our previous episode with Joshua Wong, a Hong Kong student activist and secretary-general of the Demosisto party. You can watch that here.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.