China signals Xi won’t bow to Hong Kong protesters’ demands

When protesters in Hong Kong became more forceful on Monday, the People’s Daily reprised a recent speech of China’s leader, Xi Jinping, calling on party cadres to carry forward the struggle of the communist revolution fought 70 years ago.

“We must overcome all kinds of difficulties, risks and challenges,” he said.

It was the latest signal that Mr. Xi has no intention of bowing to the protesters’ demands for greater rights. On the contrary, the storming of Hong Kong’s legislature on Monday night seems to have given ammunition to hard-liners and prompted the sharpest denunciations in Beijing so far, suggesting the ruling Communist Party’s patience was wearing thin.

“I think they have realised it is time to take measures” to restore order, Song Xiaozhuang, a professor in the Center for Basic Laws of Hong Kong and Macao at Shenzhen University, said in a telephone interview, referring to authorities in Beijing. “This does not mean there is no patience, or that they want to get it done promptly, but it does mean that they cannot wait for long.”

Mr. Xi has not publicly addressed the political tumult in Hong Kong. Nor have officials disclosed any options they might be considering. But there is little doubt about Mr. Xi’s convictions, which are shaped by history and a deeply felt sense of the perils of popular uprisings.

“I have heard him talk at length, and passionately, about the challenges of governing China, and the need to maintain order in order to keep the country together,” said Ryan L. Hass, who served in the Obama administration.

He noted that the mass protests that toppled authoritarian governments in North Africa and West Asian in 2011 coincided with Mr. Xi’s ascent to the presidency and were “seared into his brain”.

Sense of destiny,

Mr. Xi’s stance is not without risks, but he has governed with a millenarian sense of destiny, regularly exhorting the Communist Party to return to its original mission to transform the nation into the global power.

While the events in Hong Kong have generated considerable sympathy for the protesters, forcing the city’s leader to back down and suspend a deeply unpopular extradition Bill, Mr. Xi still has most of the advantages of power on his side.

Those include time and influence. The central government can still mobilise a vast network of supporters in Hong Kong, including civil servants and business people beholden to the central government, economically or politically.

In a last resort, there is also the Chinese military. Few analysts expect Mr. Xi intends to use force, but few doubt that he would if security significantly deteriorated in the city.

The People’s Liberation Army disclosed on Tuesday that troops from its Hong Kong garrison had conducted training exercises last week. One photograph accompanying an article in the official military newspaper showed soldiers aboard a gunboat in Victoria Harbor, weapons drawn, with the city’s skyline in the background.

After weeks of relative restraint, officials in Beijing have also begun to warn of grave repercussions. A spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office warned that the defacing of the legislature was “a blatant challenge” to Beijing’s red line: its sovereignty over the territory.

The Global Times, a nationalist tabloid controlled by the Communist Party, called for “a zero-tolerance policy”, warning that more violence could open a Pandora’s box.

That the protests in Hong Kong took place shortly following the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square protests and other cities in China has only hardened official views. This year is also the anniversary of the popular movements that swept Eastern Europe in 1989, toppling not only the Berlin Wall but also, ultimately, the Soviet Union itself two years later.

“There has also been a tendency to present these struggles — and Tiananmen was presented this way — as not being spontaneous expressions of the popular will,” Jeffrey Wasserstrom, a professor of history at the University of California, Irvine, wrote in an email, “even in cases when that is clearly what they are.” Rather, he wrote, Beijing describes such protests as “illegitimate efforts by small sets of malcontents spurred on by mysterious foreign forces.”


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