Hong Kong still bat­tling but China has won the war

The Washington Times Weekly - - Kamala Harris’ Nosedive -

The so-called bat­tle for Hong Kong is still rag­ing. While the demon­stra­tions are both smaller and more vi­o­lent than when they first erupted five months ago to protest a law (now with­drawn) that would have al­lowed ex­tra­di­tions from Hong Kong to Main­land China — the flare-up on the first week­end of Novem­ber saw nu­mer­ous stores smashed and even a stab­bing in a shop­ping mall — their longevity has been ex­tra­or­di­nary.

In 1989, Tianan­men Square had been oc­cu­pied for barely a month when the tanks rolled in. Other mass move­ments across the world have fiz­zled in a mat­ter of weeks as pro­test­ers were sup­pressed, pla­cated or sim­ply grew bored.

Hong Kong’s de­fi­ant spirit — its will to bat­tle — is re­mark­able. But the war is over. And China won.

Five months ago, the Hong Kong protests looked to many like a gen­uine challenge to Beijing, one that could shake the foun­da­tions of Com­mu­nist rule. The ex­tra­or­di­nary mass ral­lies that char­ac­ter­ized the be­gin­ning of the move­ment, with roughly 1 mil­lion peo­ple tak­ing to the streets in a city of only 7 mil­lion, were by far the most pro­found challenge to the Chi­nese Com­mu­nist Party since 1989.

China could not risk con­ta­gion, and many agreed it would ul­ti­mately send in the army to put down the protests, lest they spread to ci­ties in the main­land.

In a clas­sic episode of “The Simp­sons,” Mr. Burns is booed mer­ci­lessly at a film fes­ti­val, only to be re­as­sured by his as­sis­tant Smithers that the crowd was re­ally scream­ing “boourns,” not “boo.”

No, this has noth­ing to do with Pres­i­dent Trump at the UFC fights. Rather, as protests broke out in Hong Kong, pan­icky, un­in­ten­tion­ally com­i­cal pieces ap­peared in Com­mu­nist-run me­dia or­gans such as the China Daily claim­ing to cred­u­lous do­mes­tic au­di­ences that the Hong Kong pro­test­ers were ac­tu­ally com­ing out in fa­vor of the Beijing regime.

Such laugh­able pro­pa­ganda sug­gested a regime that was very, very ner­vous.

Weeks later, the protests con­tinue in Hong Kong — and nowhere else. Con­ta­gion looks like an in­creas­ingly re­mote pos­si­bil­ity. Cru­cially, Main­land opin­ion has turned de­ci­sively against what the Chi­nese me­dia re­fer to re­lent­lessly as “ri­ot­ers” and “for­eign con­spir­a­tors.” (The laugh­able at­tempt to claim that they are ac­tu­ally pro-Beijing was aban­doned early on.)

A pe­rusal through my WeChat ac­count tells the tale. WeChat, owned by Chi­nese con­glom­er­ate Ten­cent, is both a chat app and a so­cial net­work

— Chi­nese users post pho­to­graphs, memes and sta­tus up­dates along­side their text mes­sage con­ver­sa­tions. And among my many Main­land con­tacts on WeChat, sen­ti­ment is uni­ver­sally hos­tile to Hong Kong. My feed is filled with con­dem­na­tions of the “van­dals” and “ri­ot­ers” in Hong Kong.

Note that many of these WeChat con­tacts fit the profile of those who we might ex­pect to be on the side of the pro­test­ers. Many were ed­u­cated abroad, have ad­vanced de­grees, and work in pro­fes­sional fields. Yet on the Hong Kong ques­tion they are as na­tion­al­is­tic as their Lit­tle Red Book-clutch­ing an­ces­tors.

Oth­ers with deep net­works in China re­port sim­i­lar among their friends and ac­quain­tances. Mean­while, many Chi­nese liv­ing abroad have staged (ac­tu­ally) pro-Beijing demon­stra­tions in dozens of ci­ties out­side China.

Hong Kong, in other words, is iso­lated.

Beijing may not have paci­fied the city it­self, but it has elim­i­nated the far more dan­ger­ous pos­si­bil­ity of protests spread­ing. The 1989 stu­dent move­ment, by con­trast, may largely be re­mem­bered for the atroc­i­ties that oc­curred in and around Tianan­men Square in Beijing, but there were pro-democ­racy protests in dozens of ci­ties across the coun­try.

To­day, rather than send in the PLA and re­run a “tank man”-style atroc­ity, Beijing ap­pears will­ing to let the demon­stra­tions con­tinue. Beijing even cel­e­brated the na­tion’s 70th an­niver­sary in grand style Oct. 1 in Beijing while con­tin­u­ing to let Hong Kong smol­der. But this is in fact ev­i­dence of Hong Kong’s weak­ness as op­posed to its strength.

Hong Kong sim­ply doesn’t mat­ter to China like it used to. In 1997, when Hong Kong was handed over from the United King­dom to the Peo­ple’s Repub­lic, its econ­omy rep­re­sented some 20% of to­tal Chi­nese gross do­mes­tic prod­uct. Hong Kong was also a cru­cial gate­way for for­eign in­vest­ment into China.

To­day, Hong Kong’s GDP rep­re­sents less than 3% of China’s to­tal GDP. For­eign in­vest­ment has poured into the main­land, over­fly­ing Hong Kong en­tirely. Shang­hai’s stock mar­ket, which didn’t even ex­ist be­fore the 1990s, now boasts a larger mar­ket cap­i­tal­iza­tion than Hong Kong’s. It was re­ported last week that Hong Kong is, in fact, in re­ces­sion — but there’s no sign that the rest of the coun­try will fol­low.

The coura­geous Hong Kong protest move­ment will con­tinue to ir­ri­tate and em­bar­rass Beijing. But fun­da­men­tally, it won’t threaten it.

Ethan Epstein is deputy opin­ion ed­i­tor of The Washington Times. Con­tact him at eep­[email protected]­ing­ton­times.com or on Twit­ter @ethanep­sti­i­i­ine.

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