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Hong Kong protests: A real test for Beijing

Thursday, Oct 9, 2014
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(Photo: Pasu Au Yeung)

(Photo: Pasu Au Yeung)

No doubt Chinese President Xi Jinping would prefer to have the Hong Kong matter settled without bloodshed, but if need be, China’s Politburo will most likely do what it does best: repression

No doubt Chinese President Xi Jinping would prefer to have the Hong Kong matter settled without bloodshed, but if need be, China’s Politburo will most likely do what it does best: repression

The dramatic events in Hong Kong have caught the world’s attention and put President Xi Jingping and his cronies in the Chinese Communist Party in a tight spot. If Xi believes that Hong Kong’s democracy movement will undermine his command, there is legitimate concern that he will eventually order the use of deadly force to crush the protests. Global investment banks and media outlets will be caught in the chaos, and multiple crises on the mainland the housing bubble, shadow banking, corruption, pollution, ethnic unrest might collide and come crashing down. The Party could lose control.

If Occupy Central with Love and Peace prevails, the Umbrella Revolution could spread to the mainland, via Shenzhen province, where Apple has its mega factories. But with the West consumed by the ISIS crisis in the Middle East, who is to stop Beijing from deploying PLA troops to remind the brave residents of Hong Kong who’s the boss? Xi must be calculating; will the Western bloc adhere to the Kissinger Doctrine, the pusillanimous policy of protecting business interests by ignoring the appalling human rights record of Communist China, or will the Western democracies stand in solidarity with the people of Hong Kong? There is cause for concern; Prof. Greg Autry of the University of Southern California, co-author of Death by China, states; “Time and again we allowed the interests of the Communist Party to override the interests of the American people and all common decency toward our fellow human beings because our politicians and businesses have been very carefully corrupted by Chinese money and influence.”

No doubt Xi would prefer to have the Hong Kong matter settled without bloodshed, but if need be, China’s Politboro will most likely do what it does best: repression. Since coming to power in Beijing, Xi has intensified state-sponsored persecution in Tibet and Xinjiang, sending battalions of People’s Armed Police to cruelly assault defenceless civilians in western China, where there are no hotels, consulates, bankers, journalists or diplomats to bear witness. In Hong Kong, everybody is watching, and the stock market is holding its breath.

For years Beijing’s spin, which has hitherto found alarmingly wide acceptance, is that authoritarian states are more productive than democracies, the crimes of the Mao era and the continued oppression of the citizenry by domestic security forces are rectified by economic growth. China has cleaved to this economic exceptionalism argument for decades, but in fact Asian nations with democratic governance, notably India and Japan, have generated prosperity without a one-party dictatorship. Since my childhood years in New Delhi, I have closely observed Indian democracy, and I am impressed with the frequency of elections and the size of the voter turnout; over 66 per cent. In the United States, voter turnout hovers below 30 per cent or far less, most of the time. In China, there is no voting at all. The people of Hong Kong are asking for universal suffrage. This is perhaps the Communist Party’s greatest fear: the power of the people, rising against the monopoly of power held by the men in black who own the Party and hoard the spoils.

The protests in Hong Kong swelled as the CCP celebrated 65 years of one-party dictatorship on October 1. In Beijing, the annual parade displayed massive amounts of military hardware and battalions of soldiers bearing all manner of weaponry. A day later, on October 2, Gandhi Jayanti is observed each year with an inter-faith service at New Delhi’s Gandhi Smriti. These twin ceremonies, just a day apart, reveal a fundamental difference in the national vision of the Chinese and Indian republics.

Ceremonial decorum at Xi Jingping’s formal reception at Rashtrapati Bhavan on September 18 was shrouded by the shocking news that 1,000 Chinese troops had brazenly invaded Ladakh, from encampments in Tibet, after more pledges of the old Hindi-Chini bhai bhai variety. Prime Minister Narendra Modi urged the “early settlement of the boundary question” and noted: “Even such small incidents can impact the biggest of relationships just as a little toothache can paralyse the entire body”, sending out a clear message that India would not be bullied.

The international community would be well advised to examine China’s subjugation of Tibet to understand the Chinese Communist Party’s record of violating agreements, treaties and international norms of conduct. Chairman Mao promised Tibet the one party-two systems arrangement that putatively exists in Hong Kong. From the 1950s, when the Tibetan people resisted violent assaults on their culture and their land, Mao slaughtered over a million people, destroyed a great Buddhist civilisation, and began China’s plunder of the Tibetan plateau. When the images of peaceful protesters in Hong Kong attacked with teargas and rubber bullets were broadcast all across Asia (except the Chinese mainland, where party censors are working overtime), support in Taiwan for Beijing’s offer of a one party-two systems arrangement plummeted.

During Xi Jingping’s recent visit to India, the Modi government did not suppress Tibetan protesters, and the Indian public learned more of the escalating crisis in Tibet. India faces a growing Chinese military threat bearing down upon the subcontinent from the Tibetan plateau. China’s repeated incursions into Ladakh over the past two years exhume the wounds of the 1962 India-China war, an anxious month of skirmishes that gave Mao a stunning victory and greatly advanced China’s hegemonic ambitions across the continent, locking India and China into a costly and dangerous arms race, that China now seems bent on accelerating.

India has unfailingly protected and cared for Tibet’s exiled leader, the Dalai Lama, and Tibetan refugees since 1959, while in recent years many countries have shunned the Dalai Lama due to Chinese threats and commands. When South Africa recently denied His Holiness a visa to join a Nobel Peace Prize Summit, a few righteous fellow Nobel laureates, notably Shirin Ebadi of Iran and Jody Williams of the United States, travelled to India to stand with the Dalai Lama and declared their intention of staying away from the summit, that was later postponed.

The leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile, Lobsang Sangay, born and raised in democratic India, is yet to make any statement about the protests in Hong Kong, raising questions about his true allegiances. In a 2013 speech at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, Sangay had said that the Tibetan movement had abandoned democracy as a goal, accepted Chinese Communist rule in Tibet in its present structure, and said that China had full “discretion” in militarising the Tibet-India border. Elliot Sperling, Professor of Tibetan Studies at Indiana University, just tweeted: “Tibetan exile PM insists Tibet doesn’t need democracy; given HK idealism & guts, do exile Tibetans still not see him as an embarrassment?”

The people of Hong Kong have sent a message to the world. Which side are you on?

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