Hong Kong Could Disrupt Xi's Dream of an Unshakable China
Oct. 1, 2019 marked the celebration of the Chinese Communist Party’s 70th year in power, characterized by a vast parade to display the country’s military capability and economic progress. Shrouded by Leader Xi Jinping’s promise of a China that “no force can shake,” however, is an increasingly unstable and growing rebellion in Hong Kong -- a region perpetually struggling for autonomy.
In recent months, millions of Hong Kong citizens have organized and marched in city-wide anti-government protests. Headlines describing celebratory displays of Chinese propaganda and civilian festivities in Tiananmen Square juxtaposed with the violent pandemonium of tear gas and riot shields in Hong Kong has shed light on the growing civil unrest within the Republic.
As Hong Kong’s government, led by Beijing-backed Chief Executive Carrie Lam, has become increasingly less democratic, controversial pro-republic bills have been proposed. The 2019 Chinese Extradition Bill, which would allow Hong Kong extraditions to China, is considered a catalyst in the Hong Kong-China tension. Now that the bill has been rescinded, protesters' new demands include a “withdrawal of the ‘riot’ description used about the protests, amnesty for all arrested protesters, and an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality.”
In the battle of ideologies between Hong Kongers and the Chinese government, President Xi’s self-proclaimed ability to protect China’s “prosperity and stability” feels hollow.
The question remains: can President Xi convince the world that his authoritarian policies have created an untouchable super-nation while being upstaged by the protesters in Hong Kong? It seems unlikely. According to Jean-Pierre Cabestan, a Hong Kong Baptist University professor of political science, “the media will be split between covering the parade in Beijing and covering what’s happening in Hong Kong.” This split is not limited to media coverage and it is certainly not limited to single pieces of legislation.
The overarching, potentially unbridgeable ideological divide between China’s central leadership model and Hong Kong’s democratic perspective is the core cause of their incompatibility. Anti-Beijing voices have become more vocal than ever, forcing Beijing to acknowledge, or at least recognize, the Hong Kongers’ pleas. The citizens’ feeling of disenfranchisement is not limited to the Chinese administration, as their own Hong Kong government “spends heavily on infrastructure and cultural projects to integrate more closely with China.” The combination of both governments’ apathetic responses to previous Hong Kong protests and Beijing’s unwillingness to validate democratic legitimacy has sparked an even greater ideological divide.
It is crucial for President Xi’s planned expansion of Chinese influence to frame the protests as a symbol of Hong Kong’s failing democratic ideals. According to Jean-Philippe Béja, a professor at the Centre for International Studies and Research at Sciences-Po, “[Xi] has to show the Chinese people that the so-called democratic values result in chaos.” His proposed solutions — economic integration, communist education, and pragmatism — to the region’s instability, however, are the very same tenets in which protestor’s hostility are rooted.
As protests are expected to progress in violence and intensity, all eyes are on President Xi’s ability to protect his promise of peace while forcing his own anti-democratic doctrine on the growingly more democratic stronghold that is Hong Kong.