The streets of Hong Kong are once again filling up with citizens protesting the increasing Chinese controls on their autonomy and their freedom. Billed as a “Power to the People” rally, the demonstrators are carrying signs, chanting slogans, and even waving American flags and singing the Star Spangled Banner. The signs say “Power to the People” and “Stand with Hong Kong”, and remind the world of the promises China made to Britain in 1997 in the “One Country/Two Systems” agreement that marked the return of Hong Kong to China. Chinese Communism and Hong Kong’s free market economy and relative autonomy were to co-exist side by side, with no interference, for fifty years.
But the Chinese have been slowly and systematically taking both autonomy and freedom away from the people of Hong Kong, long before the end of the agreed upon fifty-year time period. The growing demonstrations have been demanding that both freedom and autonomy be returned to them.
This weekend, big rallies have been planned to take place across Hong Kong and Kowloon. Tens of thousands of people turned out on Friday night. As usual, the large numbers notwithstanding, the demonstrations were peaceful. On Saturday night, 300,000 people are expected to gather in Kowloon District and another even larger rally is planned for Sunday in Victoria Park. Sunday’s demonstration is supposed to be followed by a two-mile march from Victoria Park to Causeway Bay. But although the organizers were able to get a permit for the rally from the local police, although the permit for the march was denied. This is already worrisome because Victoria Park holds only about 100,000 people, and those in the park may only be a small percentage of those who are expected to show up. This leads to the question: what will happen to the tens of thousands of people who will certainly spill over from the park into the streets around it? It sounds like a recipe for a massive confrontation between the people of Hong Kong and the police. If the police are ordered to arrest them, the situation may deteriorate rapidly. And the penalty for such an offense in Hong Kong can be as much as 10 years in prison.
So why are the people of Hong Kong demonstrating? They say that it is not about money, and it’s not about capitalism; the people of Hong Kong are demonstrating for their autonomy and their freedom, which were promised to them when Britain left Hong Kong.
But since China has been systematically taking away that autonomy, the people of Hong Kong have lost patience.
Sunny Cheung, a student leader and spokesman for the demonstrators, spoke to Fox News reporter Susan Lee on Friday. In a very public and very courageous interview, he said that the purpose of the demonstrations was to “try to gain the attention of the U.S. and UK,” because they want the U.S. Congress to pass the Human Rights and Democracy Act. He called for sanctions against the Chinese “who infringe on peoples’ freedom and autonomy”. He went on to say, “We do not believe in the Communist party, because we believe that the Communist Party is wicked and evil.” And he assured the interviewer that the leaders of the demonstrations would not negotiate with the Chinese. He admitted that he was concerned about the precedent of the “slaughter” at Tiananmen Square in 1989, but it did not keep him from speaking out against the oppressive Chinese government that is now threatening to end the freedom that the people of Hong Kong have had all their lives.
The latest tactic that the demonstrators are using to show their resolve is to encourage as many people as possible to withdraw as much money as possible from the banks, and convert it into U.S. dollars. The maximum that can be withdrawn from the Hong Kong banks at any one time under the law is $20,000 HKD or about $20,500 US. Because of this limitation, to date only about $9 million had been withdrawn by Friday. But the demonstrators believe that this is nevertheless an important statement to make.
In the meantime, China has been amassing troops and tanks in a military buildup in the city of Shinzhen, just across the border between the Kowloon peninsula and China. The Chinese say that this is all part of previously planned riot control exercises, but in the face of the huge demonstrations in Hong Kong, it has the appearance of something far more ominous.
So the big question today is whether China will deploy its forces into the Kowloon peninsula, thereby beginning a confrontation that will end in bloodshed for the people of Hong Kong, and disaster for the financial center of Asia that is Hong Kong. It will also spell disaster for China, whose own economy is already suffering badly in the face of U.S. sanctions.
But despite the possible consequences, the Chinese may nevertheless demand obedience from Hong Kong, and in the process destroy the free market infrastructure there. Some experts say that the Chinese are unlikely to use force, at least not at this point, but if China does decide to employ its military might against Hong Kong, there is little doubt that the story will end tragically for all concerned. If, in the process, China also destroys Hong Kong’s free market economy, as is likely, the consequences will reverberate around the world.
President Trump has called for restraint and a resolution of the situation that is “humane”. There is also talk of the possibility of a Trump-Xi meeting to try to resolve this growing crisis.
Trump said on Friday that he wants to put Hong Kong on the table along with the trade talks to make sure that the situation is handled humanely. In fairness, China has already tried to accommodate the demonstrators by slashing interest rates, introducing a stimulus package for small business, and lowering rent in public housing. But as the demonstrators have said, this is not about money. It is about freedom and autonomy.
There are no easy answers as the day draws to a close. What seems to be certain, however, is that this weekend is likely to be a tipping point in the crisis. The demonstrators are standing firm. Although their demonstrations, huge as they are, are largely non-violent, the people of Hong Kong are determined to defend their freedom and independence.
The Chinese are being inscrutable. So far they have showed relative restraint, but what they will do tomorrow and the day after is still unknown. Their history does not indicate a promising outcome, although there is still hope that sanity will prevail.
If they choose to put down the demonstrations through use of force, the destruction of Hong Kong as the financial capital of Asia is almost a certainty. And the disastrous effects of that will resound around the financial markets of the world.
One can only hope and pray that wiser heads will prevail.