Stories that sneak up on us (China story of the day)

by on July 2, 2014 at 1:02 am in Current Affairs, History, Law, Political Science | Permalink

Here is one of them, coming to me in an email from the Sinocism China Newsletter, about the growing demands for democracy in Hong Kong:

Any public suggestion that the People’s Liberation Army might intervene here was politically unacceptable until very recently, but it is now raised as a possibility by some of Beijing’s advisers. “A showdown is getting more and more inevitable by the day, and some degree of violence is imminent,” said Lau Nai-keung, one of Beijing’s most prominent allies in Hong Kong. “If worst comes to worst, the P.L.A. will come out of its barracks.” Mr. Lau is one of the six Hong Kong members of the Basic Law Committee, a group under the National People’s Congress Standing Committee in Beijing that sets policies relating to Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

An associated NYT story is here.  Uighur terrorism has been another story that has snuck up on us.  How many more China stories will be sneaking up on us this year?  Next?

1 Brett July 2, 2014 at 1:06 am

What would happen if the PLA actually came out in public force and put down Hong Kong protests for the defense of democracy? Serious emigration, like what people feared might happen back when the transition from British rule happened? Investor flight? Nothing at all after the initial outrage?

2 andao July 2, 2014 at 5:03 am

There was serious emigration before the handover to China, something like 1 million people left. Some came back later after things appeared to stabilize, but there is currently a second emigration wave underway. Not just due to political problems, but more the cost of housing, income inequality, and the whole city being transformed into a shopping mall for mainland tourists.

3 Ann S July 2, 2014 at 10:05 pm

I lived in Hong Kong from 1992 to 1998, and the worst of the brain drain was over before I got there in 1992. In fact it had already started reversing, with people coming back to the territory because business was good, but the key was that they had a passport/green card/right of abode elsewhere and so could leave quickly. The stereotype was that they came back to Hong Kong but kept their money and children safely away, often in ‘Hongcouver’ (since Canada offered a better deal to them at the time).

It was mostly the Brits that left in 1997, just before the Handover. In part, that was because any British citizen could come to Hong Kong before, and some worked as bartenders or whatever. After the Handover, they had to go through the same process as other expats.

I really admire the spirit that so many Hong Kongers have shown, for example by keeping up the yearly vigil in the park on June 4 each year.

4 Brandon July 2, 2014 at 12:38 pm

In many ways, Beijing’s moves are very predictable (see this pseudo-dialogue on Chinese nationalism between a sociologist and an anthropologist, for example).

Ultimately, Beijing will either impoverish its populace or heed to the populace’s wishes. How and when this will happen is the unpredictable part, but nobody – not the investors, not the locals – is going to be fleeing.

5 Cloud July 2, 2014 at 1:19 am

If the PLA actually came out in public force and put down Hong Kong protests, it is much more to worry than investor flight! It is simply a signal that Beijing refused to progression to true Democracy, not only in HK but the whole China!!! This would be a huge blow to the believers of “economic progress brings democracy” , and revealed the true nature of Chinese Government. They want to continue the corrupted Empire rather than a “people-first world class nation”. In a sense the PLA against HKer is equal to a statement against all Chinese people!

Need not to say a statement AGAINST True Democracy!

6 Cloud July 2, 2014 at 2:32 am

Yet another signal China won’t Change at all!

Why Nations Fail China edition face heavy censorship!!!!!

7 Ray Lopez July 2, 2014 at 1:51 am

Life imitating art imitating life. I am reading the James Bond novel penned by Raymond Benson, “Zero Minus Ten”, who has had several of his novels turned to film, on something like this theme (involving the late 1990s handover of HK by the UK to China).

8 philipp July 2, 2014 at 2:00 am

Well the Uighur story has been brewing for some time. Would say it was a matter of when, not if there would be some kind of terrorism evolving. The riots of 2008 where a warning. Very interesting for international Jihadits too.

Sinocism definitly a great source if you want to be up to date of whats happening in China.

9 andao July 2, 2014 at 5:06 am

SCMP reported today that the gov is refusing to allow students and officials to observe Ramadan fasting. Great way to turn the pious against the gov

10 Widmerpool July 2, 2014 at 8:39 pm

Uighur terrorism is part of a continuum of terrorism running from China to the Caucasus, most of it is under the radar in the west.

11 chip July 2, 2014 at 2:10 am

Will China crack down and change Hong Kong, or will Hong Kong set in motion events that change China?

12 Cloud July 2, 2014 at 2:34 am

I am not optimistic on the latter

13 andao July 2, 2014 at 5:14 am

The official Chinese press narrative (which many Chinese believe) is that Hong Kongers are arrogant, ungrateful, controlled by secret foreign forces, and most importantly, are jealous of progress in the mainland. The press also pushes the notion that Shanghai, Beijing, and Shenzhen are at least as great as Hong Kong, and will surpass it soon (if they haven’t already). Of course the “greatness” usually revolves around infrastructure, like who has more big skyscrapers or metro lines.

So with this image of Hong Kongers firmly planted in the brains of a great many Chinese, why would they allow themselves to be influenced by the backward Hong Kongers? Anything critical a Hong Konger says will be construed as jealousy or arrogance. So no, I have very little hope that Hong Kong will meaningfully influence the mainland, so long as the internet remains tightly controlled in China, and Chinese people can’t get the full story themselves.

14 Jonathan July 2, 2014 at 9:30 am

Another classic trope pushed by the Chinese media (and, in my experience, believed by even more Chinese people than the ones mentioned above, though those are commonly held as well) that Hong Kong is “too small” to do things on its own and thus it would wither and die if it were not part of China.

15 kiwi dave July 2, 2014 at 12:01 pm

Hong Kong is “too small” to do things on its own and thus it would wither and die if it were not part of China

Just like Singapore, Luxembourg, Lichtenstein etc.

You would have to be pretty gullible to believe that particular propaganda line. HK may be small in area, but it has over 7 million people, more than plenty of successful sovereign countries (Denmark, Finland, Norway, New Zealand). Its GDP is bigger than three quarters of the sovereign states in the world.

Unfortunately, what was also unbelievable was the idea that 1 country 2 systems would work for anything like 50 years. Either China would liberalize or HK (and Macao) would get totalitarianized. Not that Britain ca. 1984 had any realistic choice in the matter.

16 Andao July 3, 2014 at 5:23 am

Yes, I’ve heard “let’s cut off their water” or “let’s stop selling them food” many times. Because obviously it’s impossible for Hong Kong to get food or water from anywhere but the mainland. Obviously.

17 Cash My Check July 2, 2014 at 3:19 am

Anyone who has been to both Hong Kong and mainland China knows a clash will have to come at some point. Hong Kong is one of the nicest cities on earth, with a British heritage of freedom and individual rights. The contrast with the smog-enveloped, nationalistic, anti-Western masses in China is enormous.

18 Alex July 2, 2014 at 1:55 pm

HK is indeed one of the nicest cities on earth. I agree with that.

Not so much with the assumptions about mainland chinese people. Sure, Hong Kongers have 150 yrs. more experience with rights, freedom and if nothing else a stable society. That alone is reason enough HK feels so good to visit. Whereas Mainlanders are experiencing firsthand the fairytale of state-crafted economic progress. That impressing progress and a culture that interpretes individualism as antisocial would make it hard for anyone to see the virtues of a “chaotic democracy”. Even more so if you try to sell these virtues as “British heritage”. I doubt the use of those words will catch any hearts in China.

The contrast between HK and PRC is enormous. I also agree with that. Anyone who has been to both will experience that, more or less. That includes the millions of mainland Chinese tourists. Which is why I hope a clash will happen as late as possible. Because when it does happen, any mainlander counts that has made made that “chinese democracy a.k.a. hong kong”-experience themselve.

19 Cloud July 2, 2014 at 3:59 am

As an Econ-nerd, I would urge other econ-nerd to read this article, and spend some of your time to use the Hong Kong situation to rethink the whole “Chinese style Capitalism” Model !

“Seventeen years has passed since the Handover, what do we observe from this awkward institution arrangements? Unfortunately, we can’t see that China is adjusting itself towards the Hong Kong model, rather she is forcing Hong Kong to adopt her model. Numerous examples are there, I only name a few of them:

1) China announced the White Paper, saying the “One Country, Two system” doesn’t mean HK has real autonomy ;

2) the recent “unlawful” passage of the budget for the development project of the north-eastern part of HK, which many suspects is a precursor of “eliminating” border between Hong Kong and China;

3) Delaying (and even rejecting) the implementation of universal suffrage for Chief Executive, in the meantime channel political interest to the pro-china political parties in the cities; etc

These are all examples showing that Chinese government is extending their ‘extractive’ rule to HK, by ‘granting’ citizens less economic and political rights, rather than learning from it. Romer suggested that Charter City would be a testing ground for absolutism government to test their policies and find out the best policies for the whole nation. I agree that Charter City can possibly induce economic growth in the nation, yet Hong Kong serves as a good example to place doubt on whether this concept can generate sustainable growth to the nation.”

20 BC July 2, 2014 at 8:04 am

One country, two systems? More like 1 country, (1+epsilon) systems. As we all know, eventually epsilon becomes indistinguishable from zero.

21 Roy July 2, 2014 at 4:35 am

The PLA hasn’t been used for a role like this since 1989, and if they do now they might as well start nationalizing Taiwanese factories and bombing Taipei, the consequences won’t be much different.

Of course this is a threat, but not a very convincing one. The key point is that it is being made at all, even in this way. The Chinese leadership is out of ideas and incredibly stupid, stupid enough to push both hypotheticals like this and maritime confrentations, but not so stupid to pull crap like this until things get far worse than they are now.

One aspect of Chinese development is that they have not done so in a way that makes a lot of friends. I really wonder if a China that produced another june 4 would not find itself very alone versus the world, even with the WTO and UN veto. With the current US and EU economic situation and the unpopularity of Free Trade the blowback could shatter the Chinese economy.

22 andrew' July 2, 2014 at 5:07 am

Can we trade them Haiti?

23 Hoover July 2, 2014 at 5:39 am

The people need liberating. Who better to help than the People’s Liberation Army?

24 Fallgrief July 2, 2014 at 6:27 am

What would be the international consequences for China if they did deploy the PLA to suppress protest in HK? None that I can see. The west would deploy the same wet lettuce they launched against Putin after Crimea, and sanctions against China are even less likely than against Russia. After a couple of months of statements by western leaders and many column inches of commentary, nothing would happen and China would have its way. At most a few western businesses entering Asia may prefer Singapore as an HQ over HK, but most which are serious about China go to Shanghai anyway these days.

25 Cloud July 2, 2014 at 7:08 am

exactly ! see Ukraine for reference! If they can’t deal with Russia, why you think they can deal with China!

26 Z July 2, 2014 at 8:48 am

I don’t know. I bet a sternly worded letter from Obama would shake things up in Peking.

27 Wolf July 2, 2014 at 10:45 am

of course neocons like mccain would have handled it wonderfully.

28 Z July 2, 2014 at 11:12 am

Did they have neocons in 1989? I’m pretty sure that crew was still calling themselves liberals at that time.

29 Dbltap July 2, 2014 at 12:42 pm


30 carlospln July 2, 2014 at 6:48 pm

It goes all the way back to ‘Team B’ in the late ’70’s.

Know your history.

31 Alex July 2, 2014 at 1:33 pm

AFAIK for the majority of trade between China and the rest of the world, HK is still the inevitable legal link. Foreign companies cannot directly invest in the PRC, but they can own HK companies, which in turn can own PRC Companies.

With regards to foreign investment PRC needs HK. One way for the PRC to weaken HK of course to lift these restrictions on foreign investment.

32 Andao July 3, 2014 at 5:32 am

The clash between China and HK would be more distinct, you’ve got the big poor belligerent dictator fighting the tiny, meritocratic, rich democrat. Russia and Ukraine were (are) both corrupt and undemocratic.

Plus, Ukraine isn’t going to say “things certainly were better when we were a Soviet colony”. Hong Kongers like waving British or colonial era flags at these protests. So there’s a sense – right or wrong – that things were better in the past, and China mucked them up. In Ukraine, things were always pretty mucked up.

33 dearieme July 2, 2014 at 6:54 am

We could have followed one of my own schemes at handover: offered entry visas for the Falklands to every HKer who wanted one. The Falklands would now be marvellously prosperous and about to take over Argentina, or the Western Malvinas Special Economic Zone as it would become.

34 Cloud July 2, 2014 at 7:08 am

This is what should have been done!!!!!!! UK should have done that!

35 The Anti-Gnostic July 2, 2014 at 8:33 am

I hear there’s also some interesting stories coming out of those places in the Middle East that aren’t Israel. But, probably nothing of note.

36 Z July 2, 2014 at 8:59 am

We have a Uighur problem in my neighborhood, but we spell it different.

37 Jonathan July 2, 2014 at 9:39 am

Racism and humor, two great tastes that taste great together.

38 Peter July 2, 2014 at 11:25 am

“How many more China stories will be sneaking up on us this year? Next?”

A war with Japan looks increasingly likely. Lets hope the surprise is that it ends up being a short, minor war that is quickly contained.

39 Adrian Ratnapala July 2, 2014 at 12:16 pm

Or hope that it doesn’t happen at all. Even an an unbelievably small, minor war with no loss of life, is very bad. If Japan looses it, then geopolitics the balance of world power has taken a nasty turn. If China looses it, or even if it is a tie, they will be angry and spoiling for a new fight.

40 dearieme July 2, 2014 at 1:16 pm

The Pacific is very wide. Unless China attacks Pearl Harbour, need the US do anything?

41 Peldrigal July 2, 2014 at 11:19 pm
42 Anon July 2, 2014 at 6:59 pm

Then the United States cuts off China’s food supply and things get really nasty.

43 The Anti-Gnostic July 2, 2014 at 1:58 pm

That’s what they said about World War I, which is still being fought.

44 Joseph Wong Wing-ping July 2, 2014 at 6:50 pm

China, after four months, still hasn’t released photos or IDs of the Kunming Train Station attack suspects. But they were very quick, within two hours of the attack, to label it an act of terrorism by Uighurs. Likely the attack was carried out by Chinese unhappy with their lives like many mass murder attacks in China. China is using the attack to justify what it does in Xinjiang.

East Asians always have their index fingers in the air to judge which way the wind is blowing. The power is on mainland China’s side so Hong Kongers will bend in China’s direction. Those who really don’t like the situation will move out of China.

45 Tyler July 2, 2014 at 11:20 pm

Beijing has already bought off everybody with power in Hong Kong. The problem is that this translates into more economic/social stress on the average citizen, particularly through 1) increased property prices and 2) increased tourism from mainland China. Beijing has decided that it would rather buy the support of the elites than the support of the masses, and as a result they will have to deal with these kinds of demonstrations. Turnout would drop drastically if the Beijing-controlled government actually addressed their economic concerns instead of spending all of its time catering to the needs of the local power elite, but then you’d have to deal with the backlash from the elites. To Beijing, one bad word from Li Ka-shing is worse than five years of July 1st protests.

46 Kai-HK July 2, 2014 at 11:30 pm

I currently live in Hong Kong. My feeling is that this will not break out into open conflict/hostility.

Perversely, Hong Kongers enjoy greater rights to self-determination than they did under the British. Under the British system, the governor and much of the administration was determined for them in the UK. There was no system of universal suffrage and self-determination. Today HK-ers can at least pick their local representatives and the current chief executive is picked by a system of 800 qualified ‘electors’ drawn from the business community, Legco, and other professional and religious organizations.

But back to why I feel that stability will prevail. Simply put, Hong Kong has a strong constitution of basic rights that allow for a high degree of individual autonomy and economic freedom, resulting in the territory/city-state having one of the most economically impressive track records for any polity in modern history. Unemployment is low, economic opportunity is robust, and rights to free speech, religion, etc. largely protected. The fact that you can have a protest of the size that took place in Hong Kong, with very little residual conflict, is an indication of what is right with the system. Too many people have a vested interest in stability and maintaining the system that works, both in Hong Kong and in Beijing. Cooler heads will prevail.


47 Andao July 3, 2014 at 5:40 am

You talk about free speech, but journalists get attacked with meat cleavers. Apple Daily’s warehouse was lit on fire. Beijing has the economic power to put unfriendly newspapers out of business by pumping money into pro-Beijing newspapers.

Of course every side should get their say, but when one side can outspend the other 100 to 1, Beijing definitely has the power to control the conversation. Even the British didn’t have that type of media control.

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