Hong Kong ‘on the brink of collapse’

Brutality: Two people are in a critical condition following this week’s violence. © Getty

Does it matter? The streets of Hong Kong are a battlefield between riot police and pro-democracy activists. And the fate of this small tax haven could have implications across the world.

It’s a sparkling, futuristic hub for the world’s wealthy, buzzing with music, food and life. Its eight million are residents stacked on top of each other in towering skyscrapers, in a city state that has regularly been rated the most economically free nation on earth.

But now, after five months of protests and rioting, Hong Kong’s police spokesman says that law and order “is on the brink of collapse”.

Images from the burning streets show students firing petrol bombs at police with longbows and arrows. Yesterday, the Chinese University of Hong Kong was barricaded by activists as police bombarded them with tear gas and rubber bullets.

After long stretches of rumbling discontent, as protesters fight Beijing’s creeping encroachment on their freedoms, violence exploded anew this week after police shot an activist in the torso. On Monday, pro-democracy rioters set a pro-China supporter on fire.

The chaos has been beamed around the world, but not everyone is showing interest in the fate of this tiny tax haven.

“Hong Kong is a part of China,” stated President Donald Trump. “They’ll have to deal with that themselves.”

Since 1997, Hong Kong has operated under the one-country, two-systems policy. But over the last decade, Beijing has shown it is not willing to wait until 2047 (when the arrangement expires) to assert its control over the territory.

Does it matter what happens in Hong Kong?

For the protesters out on the streets, the stakes are terrifyingly high.

“They know that if Xi Jinping merely nods his head, they’re going to be crushed,” wrote Daniel Henninger in The Wall Street Journal yesterday. “Yet day after day, they keep showing up.”

The grappling in Hong Kong represents a much larger clash between two global models: Western liberal democracy and Chinese authoritarianism. And the outcome could determine the world’s direction for the next century.

Almost every non-Western country in the world is in debt to China. Seven countries including Niger, Kyrgyzstan and Cambodia owe more than 25% of their GDP to Beijing. What will happen when the debt collector comes knocking?

Fire and freedom

When China opened up its Communist economy in 1980s, the world watched and waited for democracy to seep in. That didn’t happen and, now, Hong Kong, a cosmopolitan, 21st-century hub, stands as the last bastion of hope for a Chinese model combined with democratic freedom. What happens there will determine not only the futures of Taiwan and Tibet — to which China lays claim — but any country that is falling under Beijing’s economic influence.

But others argue that Hong Kong is small fry when set against a far more significant problem for China’s continuing rise: the country’s stuttering economy. When the next global recession comes — and economists think it is coming soon — China’s strategy of relentless expansion will no longer be tenable. This, more than Hong Kong, will determine the future of China.

You Decide

  1. Should everyone care about what is happening in Hong Kong?
  2. Will China ever be the world’s greatest superpower?

Activities

  1. What is “freedom”? Write your own definition.
  2. Using the BBC link in Become An Expert, write a short, informative news report on the renewed violence in Hong Kong this week.

Some People Say...

“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”

Confucius (551-479 BC), Chinese philosopher

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
On 4 June, one million Hong Kong citizens marched against a proposed extradition treaty, which would allow suspected criminals to be sent to mainland China to face trial. The bill was withdrawn in September, but the anger towards Beijing’s growing influence in Hong Kong has not abated. The scenes reflect the 2014 Umbrella Revolution, when over 100,000 demonstrators seized control of the city after Beijing was granted extra powers to screen political candidates.
What do we not know?
What will happen to Hong Kong when its special status ends in 2047. It seems clear that Beijing intends to bring Hong Kong under its authoritarian rule, but many in Hong Kong have grown up with freedoms unheard of on the mainland. Will they relinquish those freedoms? Will they have a choice?

Word Watch

Economically free
Hong Kong has topped the survey by Canadian think-tank the Fraser Institute since it was introduced in 1970.
Longbows
A large, stringed bow that is almost as tall as its user.
Encroachment
Intruding into a person’s territory or rights.
Shot
On Monday, a protester was shot in the chest from close range by a police officer. The protester is in a critical condition.
One-country, two-systems
Hong Kong is entitled to a “high degree of autonomy”, including its own police and legal system. However, the extradition bill would effectively have removed the buffer between Hong Kong and China’s authoritarian law.
Xi Jinping
President of China. In early 2018, he changed Communist Party rules to allow him to remain as leader for life.
Authoritarianism
When strict obedience is enforced at the expense of personal freedom.
GDP
Gross Domestic Product. A common way of calculating the wealth and economic output of a nation.
Coming soon
In late September, the UN warned that a global recession is a serious threat in 2020. The rate of Chinese growth has fallen dramatically over the last couple of years.

Subjects

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