Despite the news cycle focus on impeachment inquiries of President Trump, and sanctions against Iran for its role in bombing of Saudi Arabian oil fields, the greatest threat to the future of the West is in Hong Kong…right now! Unless the United States and the rest of the West intervenes wisely, Beijing’s response to Hong Kong’s growing violence may very well presage global conflict that could overwhelm the forces for peace, prosperity, and order for the next twenty years, or more. Can the West help avoid a train wreck of epic proportions when the People’s Republic of China (PRC) cracks down on Hong Kong?
Increasingly aggressive and determined demonstrators and now rioters indicate they are not going to go quietly into the night. An intransigent Beijing fears any show of weakness in its attempts to integrate Hong Kong into a new Chinese all-encompassing realm. No matter that Beijing promised hands-off for fifty years from 1997 in Hong Kong’s internal affairs. With the police shooting of a protester at close range Tuesday night, who was in critical condition at last report, the bet is that certain factions in Hong Kong will push Beijing to a breaking point in the near future.
Veteran China observers are not surprised by recent events. Many watched with fascination and horror the “Handover” to China on July 1st, 1997, noting that the ‘Crown Jewel’ of the British Empire would be forever altered. Yet, the speed of the breakdown of law and order over the last four months in Hong Kong over basic human rights was not predicted, nor can the Communist response be predicted as well.
The demands of the protesters have changed, initially from rights of freedom of assembly, genuine due process before extradition to Beijing for alleged crimes, suffrage of real choices in representation, and a democratic framework of “one country, two systems.” Now after seemingly being ignored for months, the protesters have upped the ante; they now want full democracy, and many, not all, are using violence to confront their oppressors.
Beijing has increasingly warned Hong Kongers the violence has to stop. It amassed over 12,000 soldiers and armored vehicles at the border of Shenzhen a month ago in a thinly-veiled training exercise. And lately police in Hong Kong have acknowledged that existing law enforcement may need help with controlling the growing hostility, despite the use of warning shots. Beijing has indicated they have the right to intervene at any time. Watch out!
Perhaps in this ‘Age of Unraveling’, the siblings and cousins of Hong Kong (Canada, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, and even the U.S.) along with its Mother, Great Britain, together with the EU can act as a coalition, united to find a creative way out of this box.
Frankly, what happens in Hong Kong is everybody’s concern. It is the world’s most services-oriented economy, the 4th largest foreign exchange market, fifth largest stock market in market capitalization, the most important banking financial center after New York and London, and often rated the freest economy on the planet. A rapid demise of HKSAR may be the event that will tip the world into a long-anticipated recession, worse than 2007-09, due to the extreme vulnerability of the PRC now, in a trade war with the US.
The Trump administration has for several years looked for an opportunity for colossal, lasting impact in global leadership. This is it. Hong Kongers proposed British citizenship for those that were living in Hong Kong when the handover occurred. Although the world now seems to seethe with xenophobia, the complete and utter repudiation of such would be for Trump to find a way for the world to resettle those freedom-loving, conscientious objectors that Beijing wants to eliminate. Hong Kong citizens (the ones that could afford it) moved by the thousands to other former British Empire countries with weighty effects — Australia has become a model multi-cultural country with enormous Asian capacities in the last twenty years, and Vancouver is now typified as ‘Hongcouver’, a shining light for Canadian social, political, and economic stimulus. A second, coordinated emigration to the West might help avoid impending global chaos.
The Western values of entrepreneurship, hard work, and assimilation from the courageous lineage of the ‘Doyenne of the Four Dragons’ should be retained and redirected in some way, short of looming destruction. Long after the ruminations on impeachment, Iran, et al, have passed, the real tragedy of overlooking Hong Kong’s imminent downfall will be the historical event we’ll all rue for decades.
Dr. Kyle Usrey, Vice President of Academic Affairs at Colorado Christian University, specializes in international law, business, and ethics, having worked in Hong Kong and taught in China.