Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

China and its transition imperatives 12.6: an inserted news update re Hong Kong, act 2

Posted in in the News, macroeconomics by Timothy Platt on October 23, 2014

I have been writing an ongoing series on China’s power transitions as have taken place since their 18th National Congress of the Communist Party and the ascension of Xi Jinping into a position of supreme leadership of China’s Party, and through that, of his country’s government. And then I added in a fractional number-identified supplemental series installment to that with my October 1, 2014 posting that I subtitled: An Inserted News Update re Hong Kong.

I wrote that as a breaking news reaction to a wave of pro-democracy social protest that arose in the still recently former British colony of Hong Kong. And I wrote it and inserted it into my flow of blog postings as a breaking news story – a type of posting I usually do not include here, because I saw, and I add still see parallels in these recent and still ongoing news stories, and the events that led up to the massacre of Tiananmen Square that took place on June 4, 1989, when elements of the People’s Liberation Army moved into the square in force to quash an earlier generation’s pro-democracy protests.

My concern when writing and posting Part 12.5 of this, was that a more forceful Chinese Communist Party leader who was already seeking a level of control that no Party or government leader had achieved since Mao Zedong himself, might react as forcefully as his 1989 predecessor had: Deng Xiaoping.

I explicitly note here that Deng himself was a reformer even if one with only limited authority to challenge any status quo in place. And he was more limited in personal power and authority in his time than Xi appears to be at this time. And Deng was certainly much less in personal control of either Party or government apparatus than Xi seeks to be. So others, and particularly in the senior command of his People’s Liberation Army probably significantly shaped the decision to move into that square and that crowd with deadly force. But the point that is most important here is that army forces did move in, and with overwhelmingly massive force, even including tanks. And the total numbers of protestors who were injured or died as a result have been kept as closely guarded a state secret as the launch codes for their nuclear weapons – and this information is viewed as if equally dangerous.

I wrote my October 1 posting, and as an off-day posting for writing at all to this blog, because I felt grave concern that China’s government of 2014 might repeat that history, and even when any repetition of it could not be hidden for immediate actions taken, as was largely achieved when the army sealed off Tiananmen Square from all outside contact before moving in. Hong Kong is larger and more open and everyone there has and is using cell phones, tablet computers and more, and both to gather word from the outside and to report their own stories and their ongoing experiences, real-time to the world. Still, I felt real concern and I have to admit I still feel a measure of that now.

• Why should the government of Beijing feel so threatened by the almost entirely peaceful and orderly pro-democracy protestors of Hong Kong, and particularly when they had signed a treaty when taking this part of China back from Britain that guaranteed special, separate rights and regional status that are still contractually in force, and that are explicitly unique to Hong Kong?
• In a fundamental sense, the same answer to the question of what might be staying China’s hand in reacting to this protest movement, explains why they might react in force anyway: those ubiquitous cell phones and an equally ubiquitous online connectivity that has brought the people of Hong Kong into to the always interconnected global community.
• The problem here, from the perspective of China’s leaders, is that similar hands are holding and using similar cell phones and tablets and more in other parts of their nation: Ujghur hands in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, and Tibetan separatist hands in what in China is officially called their Xizang Autonomous Region.
• The fear here is that if the government of Beijing were to relax its grip in Hong Kong, Ujghurs, Tibetans and others who are also looking for more self-control would see this as proof that Beijing can be forced to back down. The fear is that groups who are already protesting and taking action, and even violent action would escalate their protests and even into full insurrection. I could cite here as what is at least a partial justification of that concern for at least some separatist and potential separatist groups, the many public attacks launched by Ujghurs, often using knives and axes on ethnic Han Chinese civilians in what they see as their homeland.
• And if some can successfully demand concessions and a voice that is both significant and binding legally but also separate and even contrary to the voice of the Communist Party, more would want this too, and the Party would lose its monopoly and with time its power. China as shaped by Mao would cease to be. The prospect of that as a possibility is the ultimate fear faced.

I write this posting at a time when tensions seem to have eased and when pro-democracy activists are in public, online broadcast dialog with Hong Kong’s Beijing approved and selected leaders. And I write this both to mark that reduction in tension from the situation that pertained at the start of this month, and to add more background and explanation to the historical context that led to my posting of October 1, 2014 as an unexpected and last minute series entry (and blog entry too.) I feel more hopeful now than I did then, that these news events can be resolved without a show of force that, I add, would have devastating impact on all of China’s efforts to join the global community as a nation of positive influence and power. I am sure that concerns over the possible global impact back on China, if it were seen as over-reacting here, have to be at least influencing decisions made on how to react to and respond to these protestors. And this leaves me with an open question that I would ask as to how all of this might best move forward:

• What could the leaders of China’s government in Beijing, and the spokespersons and leaders of this protest movement insofar as they might be identified, do that would give them each on their respective sides a sense of genuine victory and without requiring that those on the other side seeing themselves as being losers in some perverse zero-sum game?

I am adding this into my progression of postings in this series, as a second in a row supplemental addition to it. And at least as of now I expect to follow it with a next regular installment, which I add I have already written and uploaded. That posting is scheduled to go live to the blog on December 7, 2014 as Part 13 of this series. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at Macroeconomics and Business and its Page 2 continuation, and at In the News.

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