If they persist, they cannot lose
July 18, 2019 5:55 AM   Subscribe

Ai Weiwei: Can Hong Kong’s Resistance Win? (NYT) “The youth of Hong Kong, who have grown up well informed by the internet, are keenly aware of the stark alternatives before them. They are accustomed to freedom, personal rights and access to information. They know what they want, what they are defending and the nature of the opposition they face. They have watched the freedoms of Hong Kong — in the media, education, housing, commerce and elsewhere — slowly slip away, and they know that the Communist Party stops at nothing in pursuing its interests.” posted by adrianhon (19 comments total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
 
I guess I'm being affected by the times, but no, I don't think they're going to win, and I don't think One Country Two Systems is going to last until its nominal expiration date. In 1997, China was a fast-growing power, but it had virtually nothing that could compete with HK with regards to its economy. Now there are a half a dozen cities within a few hundred miles that have been, and are, catching up and overtaking Hong Kong, and none of those cities have that pesky, messy democracy flaw.

The CCP have waited to see if they could replicate Hong Kong's economic success without having to give hundreds of millions Hong Kong level liberty, and I think it's been shown to their satisfaction. Combine a sense that Hong Kong isn't "special" anymore with a Pooh Bear For Life with a particularly thin skin about personal antagonism, and I think that's a recipe for accelerating the timetable of total party control.

Hong Kong is a golden goose, yes. But as for the government of China, well, they have a bunch of those now.
posted by tclark at 6:43 AM on July 18 [10 favorites]


All kinds of alternative futures on the table, I’d say.

“China’s long-term plan for Hong Kong? Assimilation, integration, digestion, oblivion...”, Hong Kong Free Press

“China scrambles to deliver new Hong Kong strategy – but military response not an option”, South China Morning Post

I live here and it’s hard to overstate how much these last few months have shaken up the city. The interlocking problems of insanely overpriced housing, a limited welfare system and a functionally unaccountable government that ignores the popular will are not going to be solved with a payout or new elections. I have kids using their worksheets to write protest slogans instead of completing their homework, my neighbourhood MTR station hosts a well-kept Lennon Wall, it’s all anyone is talking about - and the government still seems paralysed, presumably because no one in it is used to understanding constituents other than Zhongnanhai and the banks.

If anything, I’d say whoever Beijing had in the police and protest movements has been replaced. How did they miss that actually, yes, Hong Kongers do actually care about their city as a civic entity and not just as a vehicle for their personal wealth? That they might want their government to...do things... to solve the housing crisis, the crisis of a pressure-cooker education system that can’t produce the workers the economy and civil society needs, the crisis of one in four seniors being too poor to live with dignity?

The way out I see - as a person who does not think like the CCP! - is on the order of constitutional change: the end of functional constituencies, the Legislative Council being fully directly elected and a Beijing-interference-free candidate selection process. Campaign finance reform would help too. Am I hopeful? I mean - I have to be.

Ai’s piece above does raise a question that should make us all uncomfortable: how wealthy does a free society have to be before the world protects them from being destroyed?
posted by mdonley at 7:38 AM on July 18 [24 favorites]


Ai’s piece above does raise a question that should make us all uncomfortable: how wealthy does a free society have to be before the world protects them from being destroyed?

An even better question would be, has the world ever protected a free society from the wealthy?
posted by Reyturner at 7:42 AM on July 18 [15 favorites]


I imagine that it's only a matter of time before all of Hong Kong's major political parties, independently of each other, announce that they have seen the light of Xi Jinping Thought and have unanimously decided to dissolve themselves, their members joining the Chinese Communist Party.
posted by acb at 8:11 AM on July 18


Another related I forgot to put in the post: the Talking Politics podcast has a good primer on the Hong Kong protests, and I summarised some salient posts in a Twitter thread.
posted by adrianhon at 8:18 AM on July 18


How did they miss that actually, yes, Hong Kongers do actually care about their city as a civic entityy and not just as a vehicle for their personal wealth?

Wasn't that the bargain the CCP made with the people 30 years ago--we'll give you increasing living standards in exchange for autocratic control over society? I mean they didn't say it that baldly of course but that's essentially what they did. It doesn't exactly surprise me that Beijing doesn't know how to deal with Hong Kong.
posted by Automocar at 8:21 AM on July 18


Hong Kong is a golden goose, yes. But as for the government of China, well, they have a bunch of those now.

Sure, but it also means that the Party has that much more to lose. And interestingly enough, it's the youth that are protesting, the very ones that have grown up a in post-Handover era and that the Party has been targeting with education and cultural materials more friendly to Mainland China. And that obviously isn't working. I think Hong Kong is on a similar trajectory to Taiwan, in terms of younger people having a stronger local identity instead of a Mainland Chinese one. And if they continue to be similar, that only means local identity will not go away no matter how much the Party tries to replace it or smother it.
posted by FJT at 8:28 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


On the one hand it's been inspiring to watch people mobilize themselves, but then again China has basically two ways of addressing protesters: prison, or death, so I'm not exactly optimistic.

What's more, they've already kidnapped people to mainland prisons, they can do it without the bill (I'm still puzzled why they bothered with the bill in the first place, it drew unnecessary attention). They won't permanently kill the bill because that would look weak, they'll just leave it in limbo forever, and continue kidnapping select persons of interest. No fuss, no muss, business as usual.

I mean, sure, they could just start massacring people (and they'd get away with it) but I don't think they're that stupid or desperate. Easier to just wait.

Simply wait out the protests. Never address it, never do anything obvious, just keep cracking down slightly, slightly, tighter and tighter over a long period until things grind to a halt on their own. Letting Hong Kong "win" would be completely unacceptable; they cannot let mainlanders see protests work. Just wait, let people lose interest, and proceed.
posted by aramaic at 9:03 AM on July 18 [6 favorites]


I think by deeply antagonizing Hong Kongers, the CCP has unintentionally made it "safer" to allow HK free elections. Because HKers now see themselves as separate from mainlanders, democratic movements are less likely to spill over to the mainland. And mainlanders hold enough contempt for HK that they're not going to want to follow*.

*Also, a common opinion of the educated classes in mainland China is that while the CCP does a lot of stuff they don't agree with, authoritarianism is necessary for China because it's such a chaotic place: see this interview with Liu Cixin, (ctrl+f "hell on earth"). Even if HK gets free elections, the mainland is not going to clamor for them at this point.
posted by airmail at 9:08 AM on July 18 [2 favorites]


I think by deeply antagonizing Hong Kongers, the CCP has unintentionally made it "safer" to allow HK free elections

Seriously, I'm surprised the Party hasn't learned from it's experience with Taiwan. When they launched missiles and threatened Taiwan on the eve of the '96 election, it pretty much helped Li Teng-hui, the candidate they were trying to get people of Taiwan not to vote for! I think the whole "China will be patient" thing is overplayed. They totally can make mistakes.
posted by FJT at 9:18 AM on July 18


Also, a common opinion of the educated classes in mainland China is that while the CCP does a lot of stuff they don't agree with, authoritarianism is necessary for China because it's such a chaotic place

Mao's Cultural Revolution as Hobbes' State Of Nature.
posted by acb at 9:20 AM on July 18 [1 favorite]


Simply wait out the protests.

They've been trying to do this for 20+ years. It hasn't worked, partially because of incompetence in their hand-selected puppets, but at root, because the CCP has not been able to deliver year-on-year, life-changing increases in prosperity the way they've delivered in the mainland. When the British ruled Hong Kong, many of the same structural issues were there -- a housing bubble that hasn't meaningfully slowed down in 50 years, a pressure-cooker education system, lack of any meaningful social safety net, lack of accountable government. But people put up with it, and they would tell their children to put up with it, because everybody could look over the border and tell themselves their lives were better than that.

That isn't the case anymore.

And like, I'm not saying that the protesters will succeed, but the people in this thread casually tossing off glib doomsaying do not understand, I think, the scale of anger in Hong Kong. One third of the population was in the streets a few weeks ago in the face of rumors of military deployment. If an equivalent portion of the US marched, one hundred million people would have materialized overnight in Washington DC.

How long would it take for a protest movement to "grind to a halt on its own", if it could bring hundred million people into the streets of Washington DC?
posted by joyceanmachine at 12:52 PM on July 18 [14 favorites]


Easy prognostications of doom are as glib and useless as assurances of certain victory. History doesn't stop until we're all dead. Until then it's all just fighting to try to make tomorrow better than today, and hoping it's not worse. There's no point focusing on some final binary outcome: it's never coming, just (fingers crossed) another day.

/ramble
posted by howfar at 1:05 PM on July 18 [1 favorite]


Today was messy. The protest march approved to go from Causeway Bay to Wan Chai just...kept going until it got to Central and the Liaison Office (Wikipedia link) in Sheung Wan. Tear gas was fired at protesters late in the evening, the front of the Liaison Office was covered in egg and ink, and unidentified groups of men in white shirts (the protesters wear black) attacked passengers on a train (Twitter link; the video is quite disturbing). More coverage of the day from SCMP and more on the violence in Yuen Long, where the train passengers were attacked, here from HKFP.

This isn't slowing down.
posted by mdonley at 10:04 AM on July 21 [3 favorites]


The phone footage of the Yuen Long attacks is terrifying. Completely trapped.
posted by Dysk at 4:32 PM on July 21 [2 favorites]


If you'd like to hear from one of the leading voices of democratization themselves in English, check out this piece (6m36s, click 更多... to read the text) from Eddie Chu on RTHK, our public broadcaster, today. Letter to Hong Kong gives political leaders and politicians from around the city an English-language platform to share their views on the events of the day; more episodes can be found by scrolling to 'catchup' here.
posted by mdonley at 5:25 AM on July 22 [2 favorites]




Tiny Apartments and Punishing Work Hours: The Economic Roots of Hong Kong’s Protests (Alexandra Stevenson and Jin Wu for New York Times, July 22, 2019)
Rents higher than New York, London or San Francisco for apartments half the size. Nearly one in five people living in poverty. A minimum wage of $4.82 an hour.

Hong Kong, a semiautonomous Chinese city of 7.4 million people shaken this summer by huge protests, may be the world’s most unequal place to live. Anger over the growing power of mainland China in everyday life has fueled the protests, as has the desire of residents to choose their own leaders. But beneath that political anger lurks an undercurrent of deep anxiety over their own economic fortunes — and fears that it will only get worse.
Article includes grim photos and diagrams of what an illegally subdivided apartment that is (apparently) typical in Hong Kong looks like, compared to other notoriously expensive cities in the U.S.
posted by filthy light thief at 5:36 AM on July 25 [2 favorites]




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