Why China’s Premature Bid for Hegemony Is More Fragile Than You Imagine

Everyone is starting to resist now.

The National Interest
Date: August 4, 2019  
By: Richard Javad Heydarian

“Never trust China,” a wrathful Hong Kong protester told this author during the large-scale protests on July 14 in the Sha Tin district earlier this month. “We are never going to give up, people are fighting to their last breath.” 

What began as a focused opposition to a controversial extradition bill, which would allow Beijing to retrieve fugitives and unwanted citizens fleeing to Hong Kong, has now morphed into a generalized call for independence altogether. 

Carrie Lam, the much-derided pro-Beijing Hong Kong chief executive, has offered to resign but even if she does, that won’t be enough. Nor would an apology and accountability for allegedly brutal police tactics against unarmed protesters. As protests turn increasingly violent and radicalized, there are even fears of Chinese military intervention, which could lead to a Hong Kong version of the Tiananmen massacre. 

The protests in Hong Kong, however, are part of a bigger region-wide backlash against China’s premature bid for hegemony. From Taiwan and the Philippines to Vietnam, Malaysia and Indonesia, a whole host of regional states are standing up against Beijing’s neo-imperial ambitions and revisionist policies. China’s time-tested strategy of ensuring the acquiescence of neighboring regimes through the co-optation of their corrupt elite is looking increasingly fragile. Moreover, Hong Kong is exhibit A of the perils of unbridled economic engagement with Beijing. 

What hundreds of thousands of Hong Kong residents are worried about is the preservation of the city-state’s unique political system. For them, Beijing has flagrantly violated the fundamental principles undergirding the so-called “One Country, Two Systems” regime, which was supposed to have governed Beijing-Hong Kong relations for five decades following the former British colony’s handover in 1997. 

Under Xi Jinping’s rule, Hong Kong residents have seen the gradual emaciation of the promise of universal suffrage as well as the long-cherished freedoms of assembly and free press, and other civil liberties and political rights. For them, China’s strongman leadership is obsessed with the “one country” at the expense of the “two systems” aspect of the bargain. 

Critics argue, this has come about not only through the establishment of a de facto puppet regime in Hong Kong, but also the co-optation of the business elite, media, academy and the key institutions collectively governing the city-state. Beijing’s creeping intrusion is now literally concretely on display, thanks to massive state-of-the-art infrastructure projects, including the Guangzhou–Shenzhen–Hong Kong Express Rail Link (XRL) as well as the Hong Kong–Zhuhai–Macau Bridge, which potently symbolize Beijing’s long reach. 

Even worse, there are even fears of Beijing’s surreptitious introduction of the infamous “social credit” surveillance regime to Hong Kong. That system would bring potentially dire consequences for the basic freedoms of each and every resident, including foreign journalists, academics and businessmen based in the city-state. Furthermore, there are even fears of Chinese military intervention. Ominously, China’s defense ministry spokesman Wu Qian has made it clear that it can deploy the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) for quelling protests in Hong Kong if necessary.     [FULL  STORY]