Far from Hong Kong being a negative and putting Xi under pressure, as is commonly believed by most foreign commentators, including myself, the ongoing disturbance and violence have achieved two things for the Communist Party: fatal damage within China to democracy’s brand and confirmation of the US’s agenda of regime change within China.
In a discussion with someone who might loosely be described as a “princeling”, and certainly someone from a once powerful and intellectual family, but whom the eddies of China’s elite politics over the past thirty years have pushed to the outer edges of Xi’s court, a quite different view was expressed from what one usually hears on the implications of Hong Kong for China’s domestic politics.
It was said that the “Party never admits to an error but is very good at learning from its mistakes”. It will not repeat a Tiananmen Square in Hong Kong. The military will not be used violently. Instead it will be used cheekily, as we’ve seen in recent days, coming out onto the streets with much publicity to clean up the rubble left by protestors.
This cocks a snook at the West and plays well domestically.
The daily images from Hong Kong of disruption and violence screened into China’s homes strengthens the Party’s narrative. People have concluded that if that is what democracy allows, then they do not want it on the mainland.
The use by demonstrators of US and UK flags and of a Japanese wartime phrase (I didn’t catch it) to describe Chinese show this is foreign orchestrated (helped of course by Beijing’s propaganda). The takeout is that the US can never be trusted and that the US and UK seek nothing short of regime change in China.
When stability is restored, education in Hong Kong will be a major priority for Beijing. It will become much more directly involved in education in Hong Kong. The Party is convinced now that the HK Government failed badly in one of its most important task, to educate the next generation of patriots. Beijing may even “flood” the Universities with mainland students.
Revenge will also be taken on the tycoons who are seen to have let down Beijing for their personal greed. Beijing now realises it was a mistake to think it could run Hong Kong through a small clutch of sycophantic wealthy business people.
Xi apparently is particularly angry at them. He also has a long-standing grudge against Li Ka-shing who reneged on a deal for developing old central Fuzhou and destroyed much of the heritage quarter to Xi’s anger when he was Governor.
There was more, but this gives an insight into Beijing’s thinking from a liberal minded individual having lived for extended periods outside of China but who now lives back in Beijing.
The conversation concluded with a reflection by my friend on an important difference in attitude between the West and China. In the West, politics is argued over some notion of the “truth”, there being one correct path. In China, people are comfortable with many “truths”, even contradictory ones. People want prosperity and the key to that is stability. Hardly anyone in China would view sympathetically the behaviour of people in Hong Kong creating instability and undermining prosperity. Nor could they comprehend how a government could allow it.
Geoff Raby is a former Australian ambassador to Peking