Beijing is manufacturing the circumstances to justify brutal intervention in Hong Kong, by Michael Shoebridge.
Beijing manages internal dissent ruthlessly and adeptly.
Step one is to identify and isolate critical voices and individuals before they have a chance to gather support or join together. …
Step two is to clamp down rapidly and violently on protesters who have managed to organise despite state surveillance and arbitrary arrest. …
Step three is done simultaneously with the other manoeuvres — and it’s about ruthlessly suppressing reporting of protests and of the underlying grievances that are causing them. The Chinese Communist Party’s control of information allows this to be quite successful in mainland China, and also helps limit the news about protests that leaches into the outside world.
Step four, which is also done concurrently with the other measures, involves government officials threatening retaliation against individuals’ families if they persist in ‘making trouble’. People who are brave enough to risk their own safety are often not so willing to put their loved ones at risk, so this is an effective tactic. We’ve seen it used in Australia by Chinese government operatives threatening Uyghurs to not speak up if they don’t want family back in Xinjiang punished.
The usual playbook is not working in Hong Kong:
But the normal Beijing playbook for managing dissent has just not worked in Hong Kong, for four main reasons.
First, the protest movement in Hong Kong is what Beijing truly fears — a mass movement whose scale is undeniable. And there’s no clear leadership group Beijing can arrest or intimidate to decapitate the protests, although the authorities have continued to arrest those they think might be important.
On top of this, the protesters have been incredibly innovative in shifting the nature, location and tactics of the protests, making containment impracticable. They’ve drawn on international sources of inspiration, as we saw with the kilometres-long ‘human chain’ on the weekend, which echoed the ‘Baltic Way’ protests in 1989 that helped topple Soviet rule in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
And lastly, the protests have been broadcast virally by multiple eyewitnesses through social media and have been covered extensively in the international media. Pretending they’re just by a small group of extremists or about low-level issues, which has worked in the curated information environment of mainland China, just hasn’t washed with international audiences and governments.
A violent conclusion is surely coming:
The reason Xi hasn’t taken steps to de-escalate the confrontation between the Hong Kong people and the police through politics (listening and negotiating) is that doing so would cede a level of control from the party to the people, and send a message that this might be possible in other parts of China.
As we saw with references to ‘colour revolutions’ by senior party members in the past few weeks, their fear of a mass people’s movement that ousts the CCP is real….
So, what Xi and his party colleagues see as at stake in Hong Kong is their personal futures, along with the future of CCP rule in China itself. That is the logic that brought Deng Xiaoping to order the People’s Liberation Army to massacre its own people in the streets of the capital 30 years ago, when Eastern Europe was convulsed with its own people’s movements.
And it’s this same voice of self-preservation and continued control that is likely to be loudest within the CCP as the protests continue. Beijing is driving the course of events in Hong Kong to this conclusion by refusing to engage with the Hong Kong people’s grievances — and Xi surely knows that.
This refusal is creating a more pressurised, intense and desperate environment between the protesters and the authorities, which is leading inexorably to a violent conclusion.