Why China wants to crush Hong Kong: Beijing’s power play to seize control and spread authoritarian rule

Monday - 15/06/2020 19:19
the world is facing another massacre, and expert has warned. Picture: AP Photo/Jeff WidenerSource:News Limited
the world is facing another massacre, and expert has warned. Picture: AP Photo/Jeff WidenerSource:News Limited
Beijing’s efforts to squash democracy in Hong Kong and seize control with tough new laws risks the world witnessing another Tiananmen Square.

The world risks having to witness another Tiananmen Square moment, an expert has warned, as China moves to crush freedom in Hong Kong and seize control.

Beijing has grown impatient with ongoing protests on the prosperous island, which have seen hundreds of thousands of people take to the streets almost weekly.

Hong Kong citizens are used to relative liberty compared to mainland China and are angry over attempts by the mainland to erode it.

Those attempts took a dramatic step forward late last month at the National People’s Congress in Beijing, with the rubberstamping of strict new national security laws imposed on Hong Kong.

When the laws are enacted, they will make protests illegal and able to be characterised as terrorism, explains Michael Shoebridge, director of the Defence, Strategy and National Security program at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

“Criticism of the Chinese government, acts of public protest, strikes, not singing the Chinese anthem and abusing the Chinese flag will be criminal acts,” Mr Shoebridge said.

Even mild criticism of Chinese President Xi Jinping will be classed as sedition, punishable with “lengthy jail terms”, he said.

RELATED: China is infiltrating Australia on multiple fronts, from business to politics

 

Protests flared up again in Hong Kong last month when Beijing signed into law sweeping new national security legislation. Picture: AP
Protests flared up again in Hong Kong last month when Beijing signed
into law sweeping new national security legislation.
Picture: APSource:AP

President Xi Jinping votes on the national security legislation concerning Hong Kong. Picture: AP
President Xi Jinping votes on the national security legislation concerning Hong Kong. Picture: APSource:AP
 

Mainland security forces, like the People’s Armed Police and officials from the ministries of state and public security, also look like to “establish formal presences in Hong Kong” to enforce the new laws.

President Xi seems increasingly eager to realise his ambition of absorbing Hong Kong and do away with its democratic freedoms.

As well as offering economic and strategic advantages, the prosperous island also holds symbolic importance.

And perhaps just as importantly, Hong Kong also threatens China’s ability to control its people, Mr Shoebridge said.

“Xi’s actions to repress Hongkongers’ freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of association and freedom to strike are aimed at preventing the political contagion of freedom from spreading inside mainland China,” Mr Shoebridge said.

“The Chinese government does not want a vibrant example of political freedom showing its 1.4 billion citizens that there’s an alternative to the authoritarian rule they live under, particularly when that alternative is a part of their own state.”

RELATED: The West expresses concern over new Hong Kong security bill

 

Riot police move forwards as anti-government protesters swarm the streets. Picture: AP
Riot police move forwards as anti-government protesters swarm the streets. Picture: APSource:AP
 

 

A protester throws back an exploded tear gas shell at police officers in Hong Kong. Picture: AP
A protester throws back an exploded tear gas shell at police officers in Hong Kong. Picture: APSource:AP
 

Hui Feng, a senior research fellow at Griffith University, said the move sounds the death knell for the ‘one country, two systems’ model that has presided since Britain handed back Hong Kong.

“For Beijing, the move kills two birds with one stone,” Mr Hui wrote in an article for The Conversation.

“In the short term, it should help quell – through intimidation – the civil unrest that has been raging in the city for over a year. More profoundly, in the longer term, it could be the decisive blow for rule of law in Hong Kong – and the city’s autonomy.”

In failing to win the hearts and minds of Hong Kong citizens, in its long-term strategy to bring it into the mainland China way of life, Beijing is now opting to “impose fear”, he said.

Beijing has decided that now is the time to deal with its Hong Kong problem. The timing is not accidental.

China has wedged the Western world between a rock and a hard place with trade, political and diplomatic posturing.

It comes at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has plunged the United States and United Kingdom into crisis, making them less able to intervene.

The global community is placed in a difficult position when it comes to how to respond.

“This is a Tiananmen moment for the rest of us,” Mr Shoebridge said.
 

The famous ‘Tank Man’ photo from Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989.
The famous ‘Tank Man’ photo from Tiananmen Square in Beijing in 1989.Source:News Corp Australia
 

In early June 1989, after months of protest action in Beijing by students demanding economic and political reform, Chinese tanks rolled in to Tiananmen Square in the middle of the city and attacked.

Demonstrators were shot and bayoneted. Tanks were said to have rolled back and forth over bodies until they were pulp, which was hosed away down drains.

The number of dead was difficult to confirm but top-secret cables from the British Embassy at the time estimated it was close to 10,000.

“The new laws, and the enforcement and implementation action that Beijing will take as a result, are inflicting tragic human rights abuses on 7.5 million people.,” Mr Shoebridge said

“It’s possible to prevent at least some of the courageous people of Hong Kong from spending years in Chinese jails for acts – and thoughts – that are guaranteed in the commitments the People’s Republic of China made before the world in 1997, just as it was possible to save thousands of Chinese citizens from arrest and arbitrary detention in the aftermath of the People’s Liberation Army massacre on the streets of Beijing back in 1989.”

But what the world does in response remains to be seen.

There are economic and diplomatic complexities involved for the West, and any attempts to force Beijing to back off could be fruitless anyway, Mr Hui said.

“The Chinese leadership is unlikely to back down and be seen as giving in to external pressures.

“This puts China even more firmly on a collision course with the US and suggests the Chinese leadership is as determined as ever to fight a new cold war with its western adversaries.

“And Hong Kong is in the middle, poised to become, as pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong, put it, ‘the new Berlin’.”

 

Crowds in Tiananmen Square during protests in 1989.
Crowds in Tiananmen Square during protests in 1989.Source:News Corp Australia

Protests in Hong Kong last June. Picture: AP
Protests in Hong Kong last June. Picture: APSource:AP
 

China’s tough stance in Hong Kong is just the beginning of President Xi’s desire to put an end to long-running territorial disputes.

“Having boiled one frog, Beijing is already turning up the heat on another, and we can expect heightened steps to isolate and coerce Taiwan,” Mr Shoebridge said.

“That’s because Taiwan is the other radioactive demonstration that the Chinese Communist Party claim to be the only option as ruler of China is not just self-serving but simply wrong.

“Taiwan is a physical and political demonstration of this deep untruth, and so must be ‘reunified’ and subjected to party control.”

Australia and other democratic nations must act to “reverse the growing isolation of Taiwan and forestall Beijing’s efforts to boil this second frog”, he said.

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 Keywords: China

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