CAVAN HOGUE. Where is Hong Kong going?

Current protests, including violence, present difficult decisions for the PRC and for Xi Jin Ping. The Hong Kong Government does not seem to be able to control things so what will Beijing do? No option provides a simple solution. 

The situation in Hong Kong has been steadily escalating and poses dangers for Hong Kong as well as implications for the PRC and for Taiwan. The protests have become more violent and are no longer only by students. Smaller counter-protests have been staged by pro-PRC people. A further complication is the existence of factions within the protest group particularity between the more radical and violent ones and those who want to remain peaceful. The big question is what will Beijing do? And will the protesters back down? Might the more radical lose support from the mainstream who just want a peaceful life?

A cache of bombs and other material was discovered by the authorities but we don’t know who put them there. The students are unlikely to have access to this material which means either they are getting support from outsiders or, perhaps more likely, they were put there by Beijing, its HK supporters or less likely by the HK authorities to provide the option of taking firm action on the grounds that the protesters are terrorists. White clothed thugs including Triad members beat up peaceful protesters at Yuen Long train station presumably as a warning. They were hired either by Beijing directly, by the Hong Kong PRC supporters or less likely by the Hong Kong Government. Although Carrie Lam has condemned all violence the police were conspicuous by their absence. So far the PLA Hong Kong garrison has not intervened but actions taken could be a precursor to having them move in to “restore order”. Slogans painted on the Legislative Council building and especially the PRC Liaison Office have been very provocative. They have condemned the PRC in obscene terms and one read Xi is a pig.

So the question is will the protesters push Beijing to intervene in some way or will things calm down? It is hard to say but the PRC is faced with a difficult situation and Xi Jin Ping in particular. The Hong Kong Government shows little ability to control the situation. The young radicals want Carrie Lam to step down and want an elected leader instead of one effectively appointed by Beijing which has so far been unacceptable to the PRC. Xi is clearly authoritarian and does not want to lose face but he is caught between the devil and the deep blue sea. If he does intervene there could be bloodshed which would be bad for the international reputation of the PRC although Tian An Mien Square and memories of the Red Guards amongst Chinese leaders suggest that this is possible. Intervention would also send a message to Taiwan about one country two systems with all that implies.

However, if the situation is not controlled Xi appears weak and the PRC faces considerable embarrassment both domestically and internationally. Richard McGregor and others have argued that Xi faces a “backlash” within the Party and if true this could help his enemies. He is however likely to be pushed to be tough by hard-liners as well as to go softly by the more moderate factions.

Beijing could use the PLA on the grounds that the protesters are terrorists or send “volunteers” from the mainland to oppose the demonstrations either violently or to push up the numbers of the PRC camp. Direct intervention would be a last resort and Beijing will probably prefer to work through its supporters in Hong Kong and the Hong Kong Government. Employment of the Triads and other “loyal citizens” of Hong Kong could be stepped up. The domestic PRC media claims that the CIA is stirring it all up so this would be a fig leaf on which to hang intervention to protect Hong Kong from foreign interference. Of course in the long run, come what may, Hong Kong returns to the PRC in 2047 and it’s pounds to peanuts that no nonsense about democracy will be tolerated then.

Sermons by European countries are not going to have much effect on a nation which had over a hundred years experience of European concern for human rights beginning with the Opium Wars. Also, Xi has made it clear that the Chinese model is an alternative to the Western one. Lectures by the USA, Australia and others will also fall on deaf ears. Finally, China’s approach to the Uigurs does not suggest a conciliatory approach. Hong Kong remains a significant economy but does not have its earlier importance with the rise of Shanghai and other centres.

Much remains unclear but is hard to see the PRC backing down and no sign of the more radical protesters backing down. What the PRC does will be of interest to the people of Hong Kong and to Australia but we must face the certainty that the protesters will not win.


Cavan Hogue is a former Australian diplomat with extensive experience in Asia including as head of the Asia Division in DFAT.


Cavan Hogue is a former diplomat who has worked in Asia, Europe and the Americas as well as at the UN. He also worked at ANU and Macquarie universities.

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7 Responses to CAVAN HOGUE. Where is Hong Kong going?

  1. Avatar Anthony Pun says:

    On 20Jun2019, I wrote an answer to the question on ‘What the overseas Chinese think about Hong Kong protesting against the China extradition act. (see More than a month has passed and more answers came into light and the most widely read answer was provided by Sendy Filemen, an Indonesian born of Chinese ancestry.
    The author. Sendy Filemen, further elaborated that Hong Kong people must be suffering from housing affordability. Many analyses in the past weeks have come up with the same conclusion that the true underlying cause is economics, the gap between the rich and the poor has widened!

    The author further added “It’s cute to see foreign flags in the Hong Kong protest. These locals love them? Who in the 99 years holding colonial control over the locals didn’t bother giving the locals citizenship? Or even the courtesy to offer full citizenship before the transfer? Have these locals forgotten what kind of citizenry they were being treated as during those years? Were they being treated as equals?”
    “This brings new meaning to unrequited love. Or perhaps some of them are saying “we rather be subjects to these old masters than equals to people next to us?”, if so, then such people are no better in terms of appreciation for human live and dignity than their old masters.”
    Over several weeks, we witnessed violence and property damage on our television screen and whatever legitimate reasons for protest have lost ground and “anarchists & violence” is the order of the day. Business on the groud has dropped 30% and with the protest extending to the Hong Kong airport, the tourist will be frightened off. Very soon, the silent majority in Hong Kong will speak up when it begins to affect their hip pocket.
    In the Chinese civilization, forget about political ideology. The government that can provide the citizens equal opportunity, prosperity and peaceful living, can rule Hong Kong. Hong Kongers must decide for themselves what is best under the conditions of “one country two systems”. Democracy may be preserved in Hong Kong but the real red line drawn by Beijing is “independence”. So, don’t poke the tiger in the cage on independence to a point of no return.
    It is unfortunate that the local Ryde City Council saw fit to pass resolution to support Hong Kong demonstrators (not reported in the mainstream media) and that has one unintended consequence of creating community disharmony among residents from PRC and Hong Kong (5:1) among the wide Chinese diaspora and generated an animosity between Koreans and Chinese, living in the Ryde Council LGA.
    (see: and
    One week later, the resultant noisy debate in Council’s chambers from both sides may sound like democracy at work, but underneath, are cross currents of animosity emerging in a place where there was community harmony between Chinese and Koreans.

    As a rule, the ECC NSW does not permit the debate on “motherland politics” or politics of of migrants from two “warring” countries; as this constitute to divisiveness in the community.
    The intended “consequence” of Ryde City Council’s action has allowed China to be critical of Australia interfering with Chinese domestic politics and further strained the Australia-China relations.
    History will judge whether the action by the Ryde City Council is proper and wise and whether their rationale was a correct one.

  2. Avatar Hal Duell says:

    A quick look at any map will show that Hong Kong is part of China. Taiwan is arguably so, but Hong Kong is.
    The Anglo/Americans are losing (have lost) their last toehold on the Asian mainland.
    The Opium Wars are over. China won.

  3. Avatar Dennis Argall says:

    for Jim Kable.
    US flags, large US flags, waved by demonstrators. Involvement of CIA associated National Endowment for Democracy. Evangelical church people making the demonstrations theirs, chasing their objectives, probably with US church backing. Pelosi hoeing in on the demonstrators’ side… while Trump backs Xi.

    • Avatar Jim KABLE says:

      Thanks Dennis – and thanks too, to Michael. And the response of Australian media to a Chinese Naval vessel hovering far out to sea from Queensland while the US Forces invade Indigenous country on the Queensland coast in their make-believe but seriously ugly war games – shrill anti-Chinese headlines. But our provocative posturing in the South China seas urged on by that same US – it is suddenly “our right of way being protected”! Imagine the Chinese just off-shore from the Washington State San Juan islands – or holding “exercises” a mere thousand or two kms from Hawai’i – the sky would be falling – right? So of course the protests in Hong Kong must be being stirred and shaken by the CIA or other US agencies. False flag stuff – even blatant US flags fluttering amongst the marchers – as you say.

  4. Avatar Dennis Argall says:

    This is a useful commentary from former undersecretary of Singapore foreign ministry

    Most news coverage is misleading, to say the least, full of chardonnay angst.
    Given powers of endurance watching, the live coverage of events on Youtube are informative primary sources as to the pattern of quiet demonstration followed by diehards’ organisation of confrontation with police.

    The South China Morning Post and the Singapore news source Channel News Asia are valuable for local opinion and twin citystate perspectives.

    It is indeed a precarious situation, with the unrealistic in pursuit of the unattainable, and a chief minister with administration history, but politically naive, a patrician of the Hong Kong entitled who wanted to retire to the south of France…

    So many factors now obliging Xi to be tough on all fronts.

  5. Avatar michael lacey says:

    The story of Hong Kong is one of territory violently seized by the British Empire from China in 1841, being controlled as a colony for nearly 150 years, and begrudgingly handed over to China in 1997.

    The “One Country, Two Systems” conditions imposed by the British were a means of returning Hong Kong to China in theory, but in practice maintaining Hong Kong as an enduring outpost of Western influence within Chinese territory. The West’s economic and military power in 1997 left Beijing little choice but to agree to the terms.

    What is not only omitted – but actively denied – is the fact that the opposition’s core leaders, parties, organizations, and media operations are all tied directly to Washington DC via the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and corporate foundations like Open Society Foundation.

    The New York Times article itself admits that:
    …the National Endowment for Democracy, a nonprofit directly supported by Washington, distributed $755,000 in grants in Hong Kong in 2012, and an additional $695,000 last year, to encourage the development of democratic institutions. Some of that money was earmarked “to develop the capacity of citizens — particularly university students — to more effectively participate in the public debate on political reform.”

  6. Avatar Jim KABLE says:

    I had an interesting conversation on a train journey the other day in which my seat companion suggested that the protests in Hong Kong – protests against China and Xi Jin PING – significantly – were being fomented by the US – as in Cuba, as in Venezuela as in most countries where the US finds its interests served by destabilisation. Are there any thoughts out there on this particular assessment?

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