At first, the Hong Kong protesters wanted the shelving of an extradition bill that gave China courts a say in criminal cases there. That bill was shelved and put through the paper shredder.
They said they wanted universal suffrage, a term that means voting age adults from any socioeconomic and political background can pick their leaders. Hong Kongers are often given a list of candidates agreed to by Beijing, depending on the level of election. On November 24, pro-democracy politicians won in 17 out of 18 districts in representative races, handing pro-Beijing officials their hats.
Three days later, President Trump signed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019. It amends the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, which granted the autonomous zone of China post-British handover a special trading status. That status is now under threat of being revoked. Hong Kong stocks, like China stocks, were all underperforming the MSCI Emerging Markets Index on Monday.
Activists thanked Trump for signing the Act, waving American flags in the city streets of Hong Kong on Thanksgiving Day.
Protesters set fire at an entrance gate of a Whampoa public transit station in Hong Kong on Sunday.
AP Photo/Ng Han Guan
This Sunday, activists took to the streets yet again, only this time it wasn’t to signal their appreciate for Washington. Instead, it was more of the same, with mobs smashing up stores like they were Antifa anarchist units on an anti-Trump rampage.
Among the shops targeted were Japanese restaurant Yoshinoya, snack chain Best Mart 360 and a China Mobile store.
The activists that do speak to the local press often say that they want Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam to revoke calling the arrested activists “rioters” on the official police record. They also want an investigation into police brutality, which infamously began after a student lost an eye this summer. Freedom for incarcerated activists is also on their wish list, along with universal suffrage, which means voting rights. Given how they just voted on Sunday, this past weekend’s protest shows that the district elections are not exactly what they are talking about here.
At this point, Carrie Lam should scrap the rioter label, open up an inquiry into police abuse of civilians, and release the prisoners—call it a day. If she did that, the voting rights issue would remain, and clearly district and legislative elections are not enough. Hong Kongers want to pick their leaders without mainland China’s blessing.
This is highly problematic because in 2047 China totally absorbs Hong Kong. So either voting rights are given fully and then rescinded, or Hong Kong remains completely autonomous to China, potentially forever. Hong Kong would be free to enact policies that cater to those downmarket who feel their fortunes are now tied to the mainland.
What they really want is a clean break from China.
The South China Morning Post is losing its patience with the protesters now. Their editorial staff have increasingly used words like “rioters” and “radicals” in their coverage.
The Post reported on Sunday that, “radicals resorted to those all-too-familiar tactics, which the city had not seen in the days leading up to and in the aftermath of last Sunday’s historic district council elections.” Those tactics include pushing back against police or provoking fights with them.
Former Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying, at a Foreign Correspondent Club lunch event in Hong Kong, … [+] on November 28, 2019. Leung says U.S. legislation supporting protest movement in the Chinese territory is targeted at containing China’s growth and warns it could seriously damage U.S.-China relations.
AP Photo/Vincent Thian
In a story published November 28, the Post quoted former chief executive Leung Chun-ying as saying China will not give up on the One Country, Two Systems policy. Nor will it relinquish control of Hong Kong.
“I think it’s extremely senseless and irresponsible … to think that by bringing hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets of Hong Kong, somehow China’s hand can be forced, so that we can have full autonomy without China’s involvement, that we can have a local democracy that has all the hallmarks of a sovereign (nation),” he reportedly said.
“If we want to have our cake and eat it, by changing to universal suffrage as the method of selecting the chief executive without Beijing’s approval, or electing and then installing the chief executive without giving Beijing the right (to reject), that for all intents and purposes is secession,” he said.
Which seems to be what some activists are striving for.
In one viral interview with a tearful Hong Konger, the young male protester said that he and his friends were fighting for “our lives,” adding that their freedoms would be totally revoked when they are in their 40s and Hong Kong becomes just another China city, no different from Shanghai.
Protesters hold American flags stage a rally outside the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong on December 1. … [+] Xi Jinping believes Washington is getting too involved in its domestic matters, likely causing a stalemate in trade talks.
AP Photo/Vincent Thian
Hong Kong protests have been a variable in the trade war for months. Taking sides with the pro-democracy camp is sure to irk Beijing. The phase one China deal, often touted by Trump as an example of his team’s tireless efforts to exact concessions from Beijing, hangs in the balance as a result.
In an interview that aired Monday morning on FOX Business Network’s Varney & Co.,Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told host Stuart Varney that they were “making progress, but it’s one step forward, one step backward” and “you have a logical deadline December 15,” he said about the phase one mini-deal.
That’s the date Trump planned to raise tariffs on consumer goods imported from China. To date, there have been no tariffs on retail consumer items like apparel and home kitchen appliances.
“If nothing happens between now and then, the president has made quite clear he will put the tariffs in (or) increase tariffs,” Ross said, adding that December 15 was a “real hammer.”
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross warns the market: Get ready for more tariffs.
AP Photo/Patrick Semansky
Markets would crash on a tariff hike before Christmas unless the Fed came in and cut rates. Trump took to Twitter on Monday to lambast the Fed for not being dovish enough.
Meanwhile, China has chastised the U.S. for the Hong Kong Act, saying Washington is meddling in her domestic affairs. China has threatened to retaliate if additional tariffs are implemented.
It is hard to see how the Washington-Beijing relationship does not sour further after Trump’s signing of the amended Hong Kong rules.
“The increasingly clear message from (China) is that, confronted with six months of protests, the central authorities insist even more than before on having the last word on how Hong Kong is run,” TS Lombard analysts led by chief economist and chief China analyst Bo Zhuang wrote in a report from Singapore dated November 28.
For Beijing, the National People’s Congress is the boss. Not really Carrie Lam. And definitely not Washington. “One country” over rules “two systems” as a matter of fundamental doctrine, says Zhuang.
China didn’t get Hong Kong back from colonial Britain in order to watch it remain a de facto Western outpost, with increasingly anti-China values and disgruntled locals waving the flag of a country that is not only known for overthrowing governments, but also officially considers China its biggest geopolitical rival. This cannot possibly sit well with Chinese leader Xi Jinping. Why would he give Trump a trade victory, no matter how small?
The promised “high degree of autonomy” for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is a matter for Beijing to determine. Foreign expressions of concern may only strengthen Beijing’s resolve to stay the course. Beijing and the Hong Kong government remain deeply opposed to the demands advanced by the protestors, something Washington now states is needed for the special status relationship to remain in place.