Dark Clouds of History Gather Over Hong Kong

For those of us who remember the events of 1989, the escalating events in Hong Kong are starting to sound horribly familiar.

When Hong Kong was handed over to Beijing twenty years ago, the great worry was that the Western-style democratic freedoms its people enjoyed would be trampled by the Chinese communists. It was less than a decade since the brutal repression of the pro-democracy movement in Mainland China. But if the Communists learned anything from Tiananmen it was to play the long game and keep the guns out of sight.

Beijing is playing the last moves of its long game. How long are the guns going to stay hidden? For now, Beijing has backed off.

For now.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, reportedly after consulting authorities in Beijing, suspended a bill that would have facilitated extraditions to mainland China. Ms Lam backed down in the face of demonstrations by about a million people in which police used tear gas and rubber bullets against the protesters. Police also took photographs of individual protesters, heightening fears of reprisals.

Hong Kong citizens know that “justice” in mainland China is at the whim of the Communist regime, which has a 99% conviction rate. China also (conservatively estimated) executes more than 1000 of its people every year, and is rumoured to use capital punishment to fuel a gruesome trade in human organs. Disappearances are common: businessmen, booksellers, even China’s most famous actress disappeared without a trace for months, last year. Millions are allegedly incarcerated in “re-education camps”.

Hong Kongers are rightly sceptical that Beijing is really going to back down.

Ms Lam has refused to withdraw the bill totally. She says she hit the pause button to prevent further violence but still claims the legislation is justified. That’s why hundreds of thousands of protesters — young, old, families and religious groups among them — turned out again yesterday…

Taiwan is also keeping a nervous eye on developments.

Chinese President Xi Jinping pays lip service to the “one country, two systems” model…and claims it is his preferred model for eventual unification with the democratically run island of Taiwan. But as China turns the screws to strengthen state power by eroding the independence of Hong Kong’s institutions, Taiwan’s leaders are more insistent than ever that “one country, two systems won’t be accepted by a democratic Taiwan”, as Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said on Friday.


Meanwhile, as they are about so many things, mainland Chinese are being kept in the dark.

Mainland news outlets had no major coverage of the event, except for some mentions in state media…Many in China still use VPNs to get past the Great Firewall for information, though, and some people who saw the news tried to start a discussion. Many of the comments were promptly censored…apart from scrubbing posts that mention the protest…people are also saying that their WeChat accounts were suspended after sharing pictures of the protest in group chats.


While China can hide the truth from its people, it cannot (yet) do the same to the rest of the world. When Deng Xiaoping warned that he could take Hong Kong by force if he wanted to, Margaret Thatcher riposted that “the eyes of the world would now know what China is like”. Beijing is being (slightly) more circumspect this time.

While a backdown from Beijing on the bill seemed near inconceivable just a week ago, the violence and escalating unrest forced their hand.

“The outcome doesn’t bear thinking about if this situation wasn’t turned around,” the source said, also declining to be named given the sensitivity of the matter.

[…] “I suspect …[Vice-Premier Han Zheng] would have had to consider, are we prepared to continue to fire rubber bullets or even real bullets in order to get this through, and what would be the implications for the central government internationally, vis-a-vis the U.S. So that protest was the turning point.”


Nobody should be fooled that the Communists have really had a change of heart though.

“The suspension is just a postponement. The plan is just being delayed. It’s not the matter of what, it’s a matter of when,” opposition lawmaker and protest leader Claudia Mo said in an interview.