Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Xi Jinping and his China, and their conflicted relationship with Hong Kong – an unfolding Part 2 event: 1

Posted in macroeconomics by Timothy Platt on June 19, 2019

I have recently been offering a progression of postings on Donald Trump and on Xi Jinping, where I have been analyzing, and comparing and contrasting their approaches to leadership. And as part of that larger effort, I have been writing about how and something of why they have both turned to authoritarian approaches to both define their leadership goals and to realize them. My more recent postings in that still ongoing narrative, have focused on legacy building, first as president Trump seeks to pursue that historically defining goal, and then as Xi Jinping has. And my most recent installment to that, as can be found at:

Some Thoughts Concerning How Xi and Trump Approach and Seek to Create Lasting Legacies to Themselves 6,

was a third consecutive posting there, to discuss historical forces and events that have come to shape Xi’s approach to this, and with a goal of shedding light on both his understanding of effective leadership per se, and on how he sees his role as a leader in today’s China.

My initial intention was to continue that posting progression as a next step offering concerning Xi and his China, with that continuing that ongoing historical timeline based narrative of issues and understandings that appear to have shaped Xi and his drive to succeed. And I will write and offer that posting here in this blog soon. But I have been following a succession of recent events in Hong Kong that would prompt me to interrupt that narrative, for its timely relevance and both in understanding modern China and where that nation seeks to go, and Xi and how he seeks to lead it there.

I have identified this posting in its title, as “… an unfolding Part 2 event.” And I begin its narrative by explaining that wording, as a starting point for putting what is to follow in it into an at least recent historical perspective. And I do so by noting that the Part 1 event that can be seen as prelude to the current events that I would write of here, was the Yellow Umbrella Movement (雨傘運動) of Hong Kong protestors that came to a head and erupted across the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region in 2014, and that was most actively carried out from roughly September 28 through December 15 of that year.

Angry if passively resisting peaceful crowds, and in large numbers, shut down key areas of Hong Kong and its government services, among other areas of activity, in protest over widely perceived interference from Beijing in what should be local Hong Kong elections. And this, in many respects was the first real testing challenge that Xi Jinping faced as General Secretary of the Communist Party of China and as leader of their overall government.

I wrote two postings as current events updates to a series that I was developing at the time: China and Its Transition Imperatives, that dealt with this then-still very actively unfolding news story: Part 12.5: an inserted news update re Hong Kong and Part 12.6: a continuation of that. And my reason for adding those extemporaneous additions to that series, and for adding them in as such, was simple. I saw a direct and immediate challenge to the government of China in Beijing, and to the Communist Party of China, and to Xi Jinping and his leadership emerging, and as a globally visible spectacle. And I found myself viewing and thinking about this, in light of the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and the crackdown and massacre that ended that ordinary citizen based reform movement attempt. I felt real concern that Xi’s China might react to and suppress this attempted reform movement through military action too, just as the China of Deng Xiaoping did in Tiananmen Square.

Xi Jinping, however, found more peaceful, if equally effective ways to curtain and then shut down that call for reform, leaving smaller numbers of protestors to carry on the struggle with their yellow umbrellas for months and even years to come, after the main protests of 2014 ended. And then a decision was made to change Hong Kong’s legal system to allow the Beijing government and its courts to impose extradition of people who would otherwise face legal trial in Hong Kong and under Hong Kong law with its legal protections, to other venues including Beijing itself and Taiwan, and at the complete discretion of the Beijing government and its courts. And this in fact came about as a generally applicable decision and action, that was intended at least for immediate use, to allow extradition of a specific individual who was accused of committing murder, to a Taiwan court – not to mainland China and not to a Beijing court at all!

For purposes of this discussion, it does not matter if that intended change had its origins in Beijing, or in Hong Kong and its government and particularly as Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong since 2017, is widely known to have been hand-picked for that job by the government of the People’s Republic of China in Beijing and by the Communist Party there, and as an abrogation of local authority and control as called for in the treaty under which Great Britain returned Hong Kong to China.

What is currently happening in Hong Kong, that would rise to a level of impact and of possible action, so as to make this a Part 2 continuation of the Part 1 Yellow Umbrella Movement? I would begin addressing that question, by repeating a detail that I offered earlier in this posting in passing, here noting its current immediate significance. The Tiananmen Square Massacre: an event that is considered so toxic in the People’s Republic of China that it is all but illegal to even publically acknowledge that it happened, took place in 1989. And the current protests taking place in Hong Kong are taking place as its 30th anniversary fast approaches and at a time when that cautionary note event is back in the news again, and globally so. The people of Hong Kong certainly know at least in outline what happened then. And recent revelations as to what actually happened then and with new details emerging for that, have brought all of this into very sharp current interest focus.

You can find a brief sampling of current, as of this writing, references to this now-emerging side to that 1989 story at:

New Documents Show Power Games Behind China’s Tiananmen Crackdown,
Photos of the Tiananmen Square Protests Through the Lens of a Student Witness and
He Stayed at Tiananmen to the End. Now He Wonders What It Meant.

And you can find also-recent accounts of how this event has been all but officially obliterated from memory in mainland China, even as it is known, discussed and thought about in Hong Kong at:

Witnessing China’s 1989 Protests, 1,000 Miles From Tiananmen Square (in Hong Kong) and
Tiananmen Anniversary Draws Silence in Beijing but Emotion in Hong Kong.

And for a lessons learned news piece, as to how China’s People’s Liberation Army: the force that moved on Tiananmen Square, creating that massacre, views what they did and what came of it, see:

30 Years After Tiananmen, a Chinese Military Insider Warns: Never Forget.

And I would round out this first half to this posting by offering a brief selection of in the news links concerning this Part 2 protest movement itself:

Fearing China’s Rule, Hong Kong Residents Resist Extradition Plan,
Hong Kong March: Vast Protest of Extradition Bill Shows Fear of Eroding Freedoms,
Hong Kong Leader, Carrie Lam, Says She Won’t Back Down on Extradition Bill,
Why Are People Protesting in Hong Kong?,
Hong Kong Residents Block Roads to Protest Extradition Bill,
The Hong Kong Protests Are About More Than an Extradition Law, and
Hong Kong’s Leader, Yielding to Protests, Suspends Extradition Bill,
China Backs Hong Kong’s Leader Despite Huge Protests and
Hong Kong Protesters Return to the Streets, Rejecting Leader’s Apology.

I will have more to say on this, and particularly on its impact on Xi Jinping and his rule in China in an upcoming installment to my series on Xi and Donald Trump as they approach and seek to create lasting legacies to themselves, as cited towards the start of this posting. But for now, at least I conclude this half of this posting’s narrative here, simply adding that:

• Little if anything of what I have offered here should come across as being startling new to anyone who follows the news at all, and certainly outside of the People’s Republic of China itself where this unfolding story is being officially censored from view by their Golden Shield Project: their Great Firewall of China
• But at the same time, it is impossible to fully understand the bind that China’s leadership sees itself in from all of this, and certainly since the Yellow Umbrella Movement and definitely today, without knowing and understanding something of the background history of all of this, and certainly for China as it has held and then lost and then regained hegemony over Hong Kong as part of its national territory.

I am going to delve into some of that history in a follow-up posting to this one, where I will selectively discuss trade-motivated foreign intervention in China, and particularly as that led up to the First Opium War there. And in the course of that, I will discuss how China was forced to cede ownership of Hong Kong to Great Britain as a point of humiliation imposed on the Qing emperor, under the terms of the Treaty of Nanking of 1842 that ended that conflict. And I will equally selectively discuss the treaty and its terms, that China had to agree to when Great Britain finally returned Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997. I will simply add here in anticipation of what is to follow in this, that the history that I will briefly outline there, holds a great deal of meaning for Xi Jinping and his China’s leadership, and certainly when considered for how it fits into and supports the two sided historical narrative mythos that by all appearance drives much of Xi’s understanding of where China is, where it can go and how it should achieve those goals (as addressed in my above-cited Xi and Trump postings.)

Meanwhile, you can find this and related Xi-oriented material at Macroeconomics and Business and its Page 2 continuation.

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