Hong Kong has been a center of focus for much of the world these past few weeks, with good reason. Record-breaking protests, which initially began due to outcry over a potential change in extradition policy and now far exceeded that initial issue, have been rocking the city. Protestors have clashed with police who turned to tear gas and rubber bullets to repel them.
Amid this chaotic situation there have been whispers of fear that a tragedy from 30 years ago will be recreated.
However, it would be foolish for China to create another Tiananmen.
The main reason for this is quite simple. Information. In the age of the Internet any move China makes will be seen and heard around the world instantly, and without the need to smuggle pictures out in a box of tea. This is especially important given that China is currently embroiled in two major issues that are taking up a great deal of its focus and resources.
The United States and China are still battling each other in a trade war, which, despite hopes that things were improving, have now deteriorated further than ever before. This means that that US is watching China with an extremely skeptical eye. Any behavior that the Trump administration deems as provocative or negative, may cause them to pressure the Chinese government more heavily, not only economically, but politically, as well. President Trump has already made a connection between the potential of a trade deal and what is currently transpiring in Hong Kong, going so far as to say it would be “very hard” to do a trade deal if China resorts to violence in Hong Kong and making direct links to Tiananmen. Whatever one might say about using the Hong Kong protests as leverage for a trade deal, one thing is clear about the situation. The United States is watching.
The second issue, and where China is already receiving ire for its inhumane and counter-humanitarian measures is the Xinjiang/Uyghur issue.
The international community has been watching what has been unfolding in western China with concern as potentially one million Uyghurs have been forced into what the Chinese government is calling “vocational education and training centers” in order to “combat terrorism”. Most in the international community seem unconvinced.
The combination of these two issues put a great deal of pressure on the Chinese government, a fact that seems to irritate Chinese officials profoundly. This suggests that China is feeling the pressure of so many eyes watching them. If true, Hong Kong would certainly be no exception to those watchful eyes.
However, one does need to take pause. Though this article is of the opinion that it would be foolish for China to create another Tiananmen that does not mean that those who make up the Chinese government are of the same opinion or that they won’t. Here are some things that should be considered.
Though much of the international community has condemned China’s actions against the Uyghurs, there are some who commended them. 37 countries, including: Russia, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, the Philippines, and Zimbabwe have pledge their support for China openly. However, one could easily point out that the human rights records of these countries supporting China are quite dubious themselves and thus their word on this matter means little. That said, that these countries are backing China does present a problem towards limiting any action the Chinese might take with regards to Hong Kong.
It should also be stated that American support, limited as it may be now, is not assured. Given that the Trump administration is currently trying to create a trade deal with China; needs Chinese aid to better assure a North Korean denuclearization treaty; and have given security assurances to Taiwan, including recently selling them billions of dollars worth of F-16 fighter jets, much to China’s displeasure; they may decide any fight over Hong Kong is not worth the risk.
There should also be concern with Chinese leadership. With President Xi Jinping’s continued consolidation of power, he seems more intent on control and creating stability in China, something which the Hong Kong protests certainly go against.
To reiterate, though the idea of a Tiananmen Square situation occurring in Hong Kong should be met with great sadness, and would be unwise of the Chinese government to enact in an era in which it is trying to be an active participant in the international community, it is not impossible that the Chinese government will decide to use force against Hong Kong, in spite of any damage or pressure inflicted upon China or its image. That said, it is possible that they will recognize that the world is watching them very intently and decide not to act in an aggressive manner for the sake of not turning the international community against them further. As such, one may hope that cooler heads prevail with this situation and that a positive outcome comes about.
The Diplomat; Hong Kong’s Extradition Bill and Taiwan’s Sovereignty Dilemma; Ming-Sung Kuo; June 26, 2019 https://thediplomat.com/2019/06/hong-kongs-extradition-bill-and-taiwans-sovereignty-dilemma/
The Diplomat; 2 Months on, Hong Kong Remains Defiant; Adryel Talamantes; August 21, 2019 https://thediplomat.com/2019/08/2-months-on-hong-kong-remains-defiant/
BBC; The photos that defined a massacre; Fiona Macdonald; October 5, 2017; http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20171005-the-photos-that-defined-a-massacre
The Diplomat; What Happened to the US-China Trade Deal?; Paul Wiseman; August 10, 2019 https://thediplomat.com/2019/08/what-happened-to-the-us-china-trade-deal/
Reuters Video; August 19, 2019; https://www.reuters.com/video/2019/08/19/trump-links-china-talks-with-hong-kong-p?videoId=589317206
The Diplomat; China Stays Tough on Xinjiang Policy Despite Growing Global Outcry; Charlotte Gao; November 29, 2018 https://thediplomat.com/2018/11/china-stays-tough-on-xinjiang-policy-despite-growing-global-outcry/
Reuters; Exclusive: China will retaliate ‘in proportion’ to any U.S. sanction over Muslim Uighurs – ambassador; Michael Martina; November 27, 2018 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-china-uighurs-exclusive/exclusive-china-will-retaliate-in-proportion-to-any-us-sanction-over-muslim-uighurs-ambassador-idUSKCN1NW2PA
France 24; 37 countries defend China over Xinjiang in UN letter; July 12, 2019 https://www.france24.com/en/20190712-37-countries-defend-china-over-xinjiang-un-letter
Bloomberg; China Threatens Retaliation Over U.S. Arms Sale to Taiwan; August 21, 2019; With assistance by Iain Marlow, Lucille Liu, Miao Han, and Debby Wu https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-08-21/china-threatens-retaliation-over-u-s-arms-sale-to-taiwan
The Diplomat; Xi Jinping Continues His Quest for Absolute Party Control; Shannon Tiezzi; July 10, 2019 https://thediplomat.com/2019/07/xi-jinping-continues-his-quest-for-absolute-party-control/