China doesn’t understand Hong Kong’s protests, which is a big mistake



August 1, 2019 - 10:13 AM

Protesters gather in the district of Yuen Long on Saturday in Hong Kong, China. Pro-democracy protesters have continued weekly rallies on the streets of Hong Kong against a controversial extradition bill since June 9.

China’s rulers made it clear Monday that they don’t have any new ideas about how to respond to the protests shaking Hong Kong. At a rare news conference in Beijing, officials who deal with Hong Kong affairs defended the police crackdown with clubs and tear gas, and referred to the demonstrators as “radical elements” committing “evil and criminal acts.” The China Daily, a Communist Party mouthpiece, denounced the protesters as “colluding with external forces.” These words are timeworn, stale — and false.

The powers in Beijing are hinting at the use of People’s Liberation Army forces to put down the protests, but so far have only hinted, and expressed hope that Hong Kong’s compliant leader, Carrie Lam, as well as local police, can keep a lid on the demonstrations for now. But the tone of Monday’s remarks was uncompromising and signaled that Chinese President Xi Jinping sees this crisis as yet another moment when expressions of dissent and freedom must be snuffed out. Rather than accept that Hong Kongers have a legitimate beef and a right to say so, China’s authorities have painted the demonstrators as illegitimate, being “carefully orchestrated” from outside, as the China Daily put it. The protests, the news outlet said, are “of the same hue as the color revolutions that were instigated in the Middle East and North Africa,” an image of the Arab Spring that terrifies China’s ruling party-state.

Hong Kong police have faced off against demonstrators with tear gas and rubber bullets, saying some protesters have hurled bricks. The protesters are showing up at different locations and long into the night, disregarding calls by police to disband. Recently, some protesters were attacked by thugs while the police stood by. If the leaders in Beijing were smart, they would see that the protests that began in June are morphing into something more desperate than before, and they would be responsive to the demands. Instead, they dismiss the protests outright.

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