In Hong Kong, anti-government protests are not letting up at all for fourth months already. Last Sunday was no exception here, with more than 100 people detained. Demonstrators threw bricks and Molotov cocktails at the guards, blocked the streets, engaged in arson attacks and acts of vandalism. In response, the police used tear gas and emergency vehicles equipped with water cannons. After clashes between the protesters and Hong Kong security forces, 25 people were taken to hospitals with injuries.
And apparently, the rebellious province is not going to give up and may spoil the big anniversary - the 70th anniversary of PRC formation, which falls at October 1 this year.
What is the motive?
July 1, 1997 witnessed last English Governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten leave Fragrant Harbor (Xianggang in Mandarin Chinese) on board Her Majesty’s Yacht Britannia, having officially completed the process of transferring this overseas territory to the jurisdiction of the People's Republic of China after its over 150 years under British rule.
The return of Hong Kong became the first step in the context of "One country, two systems" policy proposed by Deng Xiaoping and proclaimed by China, in the light of which a joint Anglo-Chinese declaration appeared after years of agony. Compliant with this document, Hong Kong received the status of China's Special Administrative Region (SAR) for a period of 50 years, after which a full integration as a territorial subject of the PRC is expected.
Initially, most Hong Kong residents welcomed the reunification with their ancestral lands and freedom from the colonial status of their city. This was facilitated by a balanced and careful policy pursued by China, which left virtually all the annexed territory's spheres of life unchanged. Hong Kong residents enjoy a markedly broader range of democratic rights and freedoms than those of mainland China. This is evidenced by the mere fact that Hong Kong is the only place in the country where people openly celebrate anniversaries of major events in the Tiananmen square. Thus, 150 thousand people took part in the action dedicated to the 10th anniversary of these events in 2009.
But the idyll was not destined to last long.
Contradictions between the Central government and the opposition, widely represented in the SAR administration, began to appear by the end of 1997. In the first instance, they were abstract in nature, but in the summer of 2003, half a million people took to the streets to protest against the security law proposed by Hong Kong's Chief Executive Dong Jianhua. Besides, the opposition demanded to introduce the universal right of suffrage in the SAR. Permanent opposition protests and demonstrations continued until the resignation of Dong Jianhua in 2005. The infamous security law had never been passed. The protesters failed to achieve any electoral system change.
The first large-scale protests in the six years after the annexation of Hong Kong were rather peaceful, with long pauses and halts, without any ardent leaders or activists engaged. The Chinese authorities did not aggravate the situation, conducting negotiations and making tactical concessions. The official reason for Dong Jianhua's dismissal was bad health, which did not prevent him from being appointed Vice-Chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. The United States predictably expressed concern over violations of democratic norms, to which China responded with a demand not to interfere in its internal affairs.
The next robust surge of the protest movement, which lasted almost three months, occurred in September 2014 and was dubbed the Umbrella Revolution. Having begun as part of the campaign called Occupy Central (Central Hong Kong) and initially implying a brief sit-down strike, the protests escalated into numerous demonstrations after the police used tear gas and pepper spray. Behind the unrest there were traditional demands to introduce amendments to the electoral system and to dismiss yet another Chief Executive of Hong Kong Liang Zhenying.
In contrast to the 2003-2005 unrest, the Umbrella Revolution bore all the signs of a color revolution and progressed under the classical scenario. After the peaceful beginning, the protesters' actions radicalized, the demonstrators began blocking streets, disrupting security fencing and entering the Central government complex.
The police arrested about 1,000 people, with nine activists, including student leader Joshua Wong, found guilty of disorderly conduct and sentenced to trial periods or community service for the most part. The authorities managed to avoid sacralizing victims, to neutralize the campaign leaders and to eventually extinguish the protest potential.
At the same time, it should be noted that the protests have significantly evolved, becoming more ambitious and bellicose. Many observers found a link of these events to the CIA and George Soros-funded NGOs. At the official level, US President Barack Obama urged the PRC authorities to show restraint towards the demonstrators. In his turn, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the Hong Kong situation was a domestic matter of China and warned the US against any attempts to intervene.
For the time being, a new wave of street protests began in June this year to continue until this very day. The occasion was a government bill that would allow the extradition of crime suspects from Hong Kong to China. The protests have assumed an unusually mass character. With a population of about 7.5 million people in Hong Kong, some days the number of their participants exceeded 1 million, and on June 16 more than 2 million people took to the streets. At the same time, the protests involved not only the metropolitan city's center, but also its commuter belt.
The transition from peaceful to drastic actions was rapid enough. On July 1, protesters seized the Legislative Council's building, wreaking havoc there and desecrating the national symbols. The police paid back with plastic and rubber bullets in addition to tear gas and water cannons. There were hundreds of detainees and dozens of victims. Trying to stop the protests, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam scrapped the controversial bill, but this yielded no results, since the demonstrators laid down quite a number of "new-old" conditions. The fact that the actions have not subsided but intensified instead, corroborates the bill's being only a pretext for instigating protests. One cannot but recall the Ukrainian Maidan revolution, a film about which was shown to Hong Kong demonstrators. It is noteworthy that the current actions lack any pronounced leaders, whose isolation could disorganize protesters' activity, as it used to be. The role of a facilitator changed over to the Internet resources with professional engineers behind them.
Washington has openly backed the protests under the guise of “defending democracy”. Beijing accused the US of interfering in its domestic affairs in a tougher form than before. So, September 19 saw spokesman for the office of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's special envoy in the Special Administrative Region (SAR) of Xianggang asssess the meeting of Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi with one of the protest leaders Huang Zhifeng and his associates, carried out under the pretext of supporting “freedom and justice”, as a fact of flagrant interference in Xianggang affairs. He has stressed that no one possesses the right to agitate for the independence of Hong Kong or a color revolution, no one has the right to conspire with foreign forces, and the scum of society opposing China and advocating the independence of Hong Kong should be set in the pillory of history.
Analyzing the twenty years of Hong Kong's existence under the PRC jurisdiction reveals that as the Washington-Beijing rivalry gains momentum in the geopolitical arena, the US is yet more actively using the Hong Kong factor to weaken its opponent. These efforts' primary objectives are as follows.
First, the “One country, two systems” policy in the Hong Kong SAR is being discredited in order to prevent its application in case of China's possible unification with Taiwan.
Secondly, Hong Kong-generated opposition and anti-government sentiments embrace the entire Chinese society, with a special focus on young people.
Thirdly, the incitement of separatist unrest in the Xinjiang Uygur and Tibet autonomous regions is projected as exemplified by Hong Kong.
Fourthly, reasons are generated to impose sanctions against China, both economic and political.
And finally, economic damage is inevitable due to the disorganization of Hong Kong as an important financial and logistics centre.
In a nutshell, China has found itself in a tight corner – on the one hand, it cannot directly intervene and affect the situation without violating the Hong Kong status agreement; on the other hand, it cannot show a lack of determination fraught with unintended consequences. China knows how to wait, but the time ceiling seems to have been reached for the time being.