The New Hong Kong – The New York Times
The New Hong Kong – The New York Times
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Good morning. Our colleague Vivian Wang helps you make sense of China’s crackdown on Hong Kong.
China’s crackdown on Hong Kong has happened swiftly: A rising power has asserted its authority over a global financial capital, through a harsh national security law enacted last summer.
It’s one of the world’s most consequential stories, yet one often overshadowed by the pandemic. This morning, I’m focusing on Hong Kong, with help from my colleague Vivian Wang, who’s based there. Our exchange follows.
David: Britain handed over control of Hong Kong to China almost 25 years ago, and there has long been a pro-democracy movement there. Why did Xi Jinping and the rest of China’s leadership decide to act now?
Vivian: The short answer is the enormous antigovernment protest movement in 2019, in response to a government proposal that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.
Officials in Beijing also hated that foreign politicians, like those in the U.S., were so vocal in support of the protesters. Beijing is really worried that Hong Kong could be a base for foreign powers to try to topple the Chinese government.
From Beijing’s perspective, has the crackdown worked? And has it created any problems for the central government?
In many ways, it has absolutely worked. There are no more street protests. There’s extensive self-censorship. Virtually every prominent pro-democracy activist is in exile, in jail, awaiting trial or has disappeared from public life.
But there’s a lot of simmering anger among Hong Kongers, even if they don’t dare express it publicly anymore. They still shop at stores and restaurants they think support the democracy movement. That’s why we see Beijing continuing to apply pressure. It clearly, and I think rightly, doesn’t think the threat is past.
As far as consequences, the crackdown has brought international condemnation, and the U.S. has imposed sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials. The question is how much China cares. At the moment, it seems to think that it is ascendant enough to weather this.
Is the goal to turn Hong Kong into another Chinese city — one that’s politically indistinguishable from, say, Shanghai — or does the leadership still want Hong Kong to be distinct?
The framework that has always been used to describe Hong Kong post-handover is “one country, two systems.” Many people understood the “two systems” part to be twofold: Not only was Hong Kong capitalist while China was socialist, but Hong Kong also was relatively politically free, while the mainland was not.
Chinese officials still insist that they’re committed to “one country, two systems.” But their focus seems very much to be on keeping Hong Kong as a separate, hypercapitalist system, not on keeping its separate political identity. Many Hong Kongers have long said that they expected their city to become just another mainland metropolis eventually.
I have a hard time seeing how this story ends with anything other than victory for China’s leaders and defeat for the pro-democracy movement. Do people within the movement see any reason for optimism?
Ever since the security law was enacted, the mood within the pro-democracy movement has been bleak. I expected at least some people to offer fiery defiance and remind people that there is still hope — if only just as a rallying cry, whether they believed it or not. But pretty consistently across people I talk to, the consensus is that there’s not much they can do to change the situation, at least for now.
That’s why you see many people making preparations to go abroad. And not just wealthy Hong Kongers with dual citizenships — people with no experience outside Hong Kong or who don’t speak much English are doing so, too.
China’s leaders also consider Taiwan to be part of their country. But Taiwan, unlike Hong Kong, has an independent government. How do you think Hong Kong affects Taiwan?
Many people see Beijing’s actions on Hong Kong as a harbinger of, or a laboratory for, more aggressive actions on Taiwan. It’s all part of an increasingly confident Chinese government that feels it can take these risks.
At the same time, the crackdown is likely driving public opinion in Taiwan further from Beijing. In the past, Beijing has also proposed reunification with Taiwan under a model of “one country, two systems.” Many Taiwan residents can look at Hong Kong and see how that has turned out.
For more: Edward Wong, a Times correspondent who spent nine years reporting on China and has covered Hong Kong protests, recommends two episodes of “This American Life” — “Umbrellas Up” from 2019 and “Umbrellas Down” from 2020.
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