Edtiorial: China all-in over Hong Kong -- Should the U.S. cold-call?
The U.S. had a vision to change China, and was convinced that by diffusing religion, trade, and cultural concepts into the country, China would become steadier and more similar to the west a country. Like it or not the influence goes both ways since the reopening of direct ties between Washington and Beijing in 1972. The Chinese were impressed by Coca-Cola, Hollywood and other brand Uncle Sam products. They also affected the way the U.S. thinks in their own fashion during the process. Today, many of the U.S.’s methods are no longer secretive nor superior.
The competition between the two powers gets more transparent even fairer at a speed neither of them would’ve anticipated. Even White House staff starts to criticize China in fluent Putonghua. Under the unprecedented circumstances, the leaders of the U.S. seem panicked but refuse to breathe into a paper bag. The steps they took regarding Hong Kong are the aftermath of the panic attack, arguably the most non-cost-effective one.
“One country, two systems” is a large scale experiment conducted by the Communist Party of China (CPC) to see if an adopted capitalism city-state could co-exist with a communism motherland within the frame of a civilization state. Ideally, the experiment could even be beneficial to not just Hong Kong and China, but also the businesses operating in Hong Kong, regardless of their nationality and political tendency.
CPC seems to have an idea that if the experiment pans out, the whole country would be united under a grander yet more inclusive schema, and would eventually benefit the economy. In return, Hong Kong gets to keep its buffer zone status and the gray areas within its ecosystem.
Those who fled to Hong Kong during different eras holding various grudges are more than free to make fortune while publicly cursing CPC and not to worry a bit, which is the essence of Hong Kong’s existence in the first place. Beijing went along with it since Deng Xiaoping, and everyone thought it turned out well until 2014. HKEX is a living evidence that not to be labeled red or blue matters – its business bumped the ceiling when Beijing and Washington became frienemies. CDR companies wrestled over a place in NYSE to get as close as possible to the US. But as US-China relation starts to go sour under Trump administration, CDRs are rushing back to HKEX to avoid becoming collateral damage of the rising tension, and it’s trending.
The bottom line is. CPC is very likely not to tolerate Hong Kong to be the rehearsal of overthrowing China’s socialism system. As a matter of fact, no sovereignty would put up with continuous threat to its existence. Taiwan passed anti-infiltration law to gag CPC proxies. The US passed PATRIOT act to suppress terrorism after 9.11. CPC’s reaction is very much expected and almost instinctive.
The White House claims that its concerns over Hong Kong were merely humanitarian and kept the intelligence community at arm’s length on the issue. But some time ago, the then US ambassador to China Mr. Jon Huntsman’s awkward guest performance in inciting “Jasmine Revolution Beijing” proved that Washington’s plan on cultivating color revolution leaders is still alive and has a rather low success rate, the CPC on the other hand appears to have intact abilities to quickly tackle unwanted political campaigns. In Hong Kong, the plot repeated itself. Since Hong Kong’s enthusiastic imitation of Occupy Wallstreet in 2014, the intensity of the movement went all the way up.
The turmoil it created seemed to give Beijing quite some headaches. Yet not even one qualified local individual emerged as a respected and widely recognized figure that could lead the city to confront CPC. And Beijing apparently is resilient enough to not to kowtow at the conference table to the US trade delegation. On top of that, the younger generation of China who never witnessed the dark age of war and political havoc tend to believe the Beijing version of “stableness and prosperity”, which should be seen as a major strategic loss for the US.
Radically different from the Taiwan Question, Hong Kong-Beijing relation is not an extension of US-China relation. For Taipei and Beijing, accusing the opponent being the illegal regime and derecognizing its status provides legality to both sides and the peace of the strait partly counts on that. Taipei’s insecurity towards Beijing is also quantifiably profitable. It drives votes, money and allies into American stake holders’ pockets. As a city-state adjoins the continent and legally subjected to Beijing who has not much to offer other than its financial sector. Hong Kong could hardly provide the leverages needed.
In China’s virtual single-party system CPC has unmatched power domestically. But it also means if something goes wrong, the answer will be much more complicated than stepping down and waiting for the reelection. If the paternalistic party reaches a consensus internally, it tends to materialize the principles into documentations in order to distribute to lower level bureaucrats, and to be presented repeatedly on public media, so the villagers in the remote mountains of Yunnan would be acting upon the same instructions as the businessmen in Shanghai. Xi, the person in charge of 80 some million party members needs to understand and pursue the policy before he took office. Actually, in his past few public address refer to Hong Kong, including the decision of the Fourth Plenary Session of the 19th Central Committee of the CPC.
There were crystal-clear messages that sovereignty and security are seen as the most important pillars to the party’s rule. The National People’s Congress (NPC) spokesperson almost recited the decision word by word at the press conference, which means the CPC evaluated and got ready for the situation no later than last November, and even willing to pay a considerable price for solving the problem for good.
Locally brooded politicians in Hong Kong never understand the decision-making flow of CPC. They tend to make sensational comments and empty threats over the non-essentials. Most of the time they don’t event know the meaning of the threat themselves. Once Beijing take the threats seriously and retaliates, they would be making a fuss about how hurt they are. Yet somehow, they always neglect the signals that really mattered like they just did. These qualities make them cost-effective for the US but disappointing for the natives – how could they be trusted to prevail CPC when they don’t understand what CPC is in the first place? And what could the US get from this crowd, if Hong Kong was cornered to take side?