Hong Kong Protests And Xi Jinping's First Big Failure

The Chinese leader may officially defend the idea of 'one country, two systems', but in fact his management of the crisis in the archipelago is in total contradiction with this principle. And the protests continue to grow.

Aug. 18 protests in Hong Kong
Frédéric Lemaître


The demonstrations that have been taking place in Hong Kong for more than two months are Xi Jinping's first major failure since coming to power in 2012. It is difficult to hold the Chinese president responsible for the trade war triggered, for many reasons, by Donald Trump. But Beijing is clearly responsible for the events in the semi-autonomous territory.

At the last Communist Party Congress, in October 2017, the Chinese number one was very clear. "Since Hong Kong and Macao's return to the motherland, the practice of "one country, two systems' in both regions has been a resounding success," he explained. The leader went on to call it "the best solution" to the conundrum and "the best institutional guarantee for the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and Macao after their return."

And yet, less than two years later, it is precisely because they feel that this principle is not being respected that the people of Hong Kong are rebelling against Beijing. How did it come to this?

Clearly, neither Xi Jinping nor his local representatives were able to see the warning signs of this crisis. In March, Han Zheng, first deputy prime minister, expressed confidence: "The political atmosphere in Hong Kong is changing, and for the better." What he meant is that the memory of the 2014 umbrella revolution had faded, or so he thought.

How did it come to this?

In fact, the exact opposite has happened. For the people of Hong Kong, frustration and resentment against power is growing. Not only does Xi Jinping's China not grant them the universal suffrage to which they aspire, but it also curtails their freedoms at every opportunity, not hesitating to use subterfuge to invalidate the election of opposition deputies, abduct opponents in Hong Kong who are then found in Chinese prisons, or expel a British journalist who had the misfortune of chairing a press conference with an independence political leader.

Faced with a Chinese power bent on limiting freedom, and a local executive power that defends Hong Kong's interests less than it carries out Beijing's orders, a spark is enough for anger to explode.

A comedy of errors

The spark, as it turned out, was a controversial extradition bill that was quickly rolled out — an error on top of an error — and would allow extraditions to mainland China not only of Hongkongers, but also foreigners to mainland China.

For the Hong Kong people, this reform calls into question the very foundation of their city's identity: respect for the rule of law, meaning the famous British "rule of law," to which they are so attached. In their view, the proposed reform is the proof that Beijing, despite Xi Jinping's rhetoric, does not intend to wait until 2047 — as China agreed to do when the megalopolis was returned by London in 1997 — to impose its law and put an end to the principle of "one country, two systems'.

July 7 protest in Hong Kong — Photo: Geovien So/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Unless you are cynical and imagine that Xi Jinping caused the current crisis or intends to exploit it to accelerate the recovery of this rebel city, his handling of the crisis has been nothing less than sequence of absurd decisions.

After failing to achieve anything despite its obvious popular success, the protest movement became explicitly anti-Beijing. On top of that, the demand for universal suffrage — which did not appear during the first demonstrations in June — is now one of protestors' five official demands. As a result, in the span of just two months, a minor bill, probably drafted by a handful of short-sighted bureaucrats, turned into a major crisis for the world's second leading power.

Procrastination and propaganda

And it's not over yet. After a month of procrastination, Beijing presented its response the week of Aug. 5: It reiterated its support for Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's chief executive; called on businessmen, "patriots' and local politicians to step into line; green-lighted increased police repression; and issued explicit threats to companies and Hong Kong residents who participate or even simply support the anti-Beijing demonstrations.

Moreover, the propaganda that until then had reduced the protest now amplifies it. Chinese audiovisual media are even starting to produce "fake news' worthy of Russia Today. Above all, the Chinese must not be able to identify with the Hong Kong people. The focus is therefore on the violence (which is in fact minor), on the alleged desire of the Hong Kong people to proclaim independence, and on a supposed Western plot behind it all.

The gap between Beijing and Hong Kong continues to broaden, and quickly.

It doesn't matter that the American president, Donald Trump, has only contempt for those he calls "rioters." While this propaganda seems to be effective among the Chinese population, it only reinforces resentment towards China among the people of Hong Kong.

Not only is the gap between Beijing and Hong Kong wider now that at any point in memory, but it continues to broaden, and quickly. While Xi Jinping claims to want to "build a community of destiny for humanity," the Hong Kong crisis reveals, on the contrary, a leader unable of building bridges even among the Chinese.

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Thousands of Tunisians gathered in the capital of Tunis

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 Laphi!*

Welcome to Monday, where post-Merkel Germany looks set shift to a center-left coalition, San Marino and Switzerland catch up with the rest of Europe on two key social issues, and a turtle slows things down at a Japan airport. Meanwhile, we take an international look at different ways to handle beloved, yet controversial, comic books and graphic novels characters.

[*Aymara, Bolivia]


Social Democrats narrowly win German elections: Germany's center-left party claimed a narrow victory in the federal election, beating the CDU party of outgoing chancellor Angela Merkel by just over 1.5%, according to preliminary results. SPD leader Olaf Scholz has claimed a mandate to form a government with the Greens and Liberals, in what would be Germany's first three-way ruling coalition. Germany's capital city Berlin will also get its first female mayor.

Switzerland says yes to same-sex marriage: Nearly two-thirds of Swiss voters approved the proposal to legalize same-sex marriage in a referendum, making it one of the last countries in Western Europe to do so.

San Marino voters back legal abortion: More than 77% voted in support of legalizing abortion up to 12 weeks of pregnancy in San Marino in a historic referendum for the predominantly Catholic tiny city-state, which was one of the last places in Europe that still criminalized abortion.

COVID update: Australian authorities announced they will gradually reopen lockdowned Sydney, with a system that will give vaccinated citizens more freedom than the unvaccinated. Meanwhile, Thailand will waive its mandatory quarantine requirement in Bangkok and several other regions for vaccinated travellers in November. In Brazil, a fourth member of President Jair Bolsonaro's delegation to the United Nations has tested positive to COVID-19.

Power shortages in China spread: Tight coal supplies and toughening emissions standards have led to power shortages in northeastern China, forcing numerous factories including many supplying Apple and Tesla to halt production.

Strong earthquake hits Crete, at least one killed: An earthquake of magnitude 6 struck the Greek island of Crete, with reports that at least one person was killed and several injured after buildings collapsed.

Turtle causes delays at Tokyo airport: A wandering turtle forced the Tokyo Narita airport to close its runway for twelve minutes, delaying five planes, including an All Nippon Airways plane featuring ... a sea turtle-themed fuselage.


"Neck and neck," titles German daily Augsburger Allgemeine about the tight results of the federal election, which according to preliminary results, is set to be won by the center-left party SPD led by Olaf Sholz by just over 1.5%. It was the country's tightest race in years, and will likely lead to long, complicated negotiations to form a coalition government.



On Sunday, hundreds of thousands of Muslim pilgrims from Senegal, but also from elsewhere in Africa, Europe, and the United States, converged to the great Mosque of Touba, as part of the Grand Magal. The annual pilgrimage, a Wolof word meaning celebration, marks the date French colonial authorities exiled spiritual leader and founder of the Senegalese Mouride Brotherhood Sheikh Amadou Bamba.


Cancel Tintin? Spotting racist imagery in comics around the world

From the anti-Semitic children's books of Nazi Germany to the many racist caricatures of Asian, African or Indigenous people in the 20th century, comics have long contained prejudiced, sexist and xenophobic stereotypes. These publications have been rightfully criticized but some are pushing back, saying that this kind of unwarranted "canceling" threatens freedom of expression. Here are examples from three countries around the world about how people are handling the debate and sketching the future of comics.

🔥📚 The Adventures of Tintin and The Adventures of Asterix both emerged in French-speaking Europe during the 20th century and quickly developed global audiences. But the comic books have also been called out for controversial depictions of certain groups, including North American Indigenous peoples. And as Radio-Canada recently reported, one group of French-speaking schools in Ontario found the texts so offensive that they decided to go ahead and burn the books. The report, not surprisingly, stirred up a pretty fiery debate on the issues of free speech and what some refer to as "cancel culture."

🤠 In a more progressive model for rethinking cartoons with long — and complicated — legacies, Lucky Luke in France is taking a different direction. Telling the story of a cowboy in the Wild West, the series is notably lacking in terms of diversity. But in 2020, well-known French cartoonists Julien Berjeaut (known as Jul) and Hervé Darmenton (known as Achdé) took on the challenge of a more inclusive Lucky Luke. With its 81st album, Un Cow-Boy Dans Le Coton (A Cowboy in High Cotton), they changed the perspective to focus on recently freed Black slaves.

🇯🇵 Outside of France and Belgium, Japan arguably has the largest market for graphic novels, or manga, which first developed in the late 19th century. And like their European counterparts, certain manga titles have been accused of using racist tropes. One example is the character Mr. Popo, a genie from the popular Dragon Ball series who has been cited for having offensive features. In the meantime, more and more mangaka (creators of manga) are expanding beyond these traditional representations, including in their depictions of women, who are over-sexualized in many mangas.

➡️


"Still now, I am terrified."

— In mid-August, Afghan news anchor Beheshta Arghand interviewed Mawlawi Abdulhaq Hemad, a high-ranking Taliban representative, for TOLOnews. A historic moment for the female presenter, just days after the Islamic fundamentalist group took over Afghanistan. Now exiled in Albania, Arghand tells the BBC in a moving testimony why she had to flee to Albania and how she, like many in her country, has lost everything.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin, Clémence Guimier & Bertrand Hauger

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