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Hong Kong

The Triumph Of China's Hong Kong Strategy, A Lesson For The World

Hong Kong's umbrella protesters have all but conceded defeat, and China is taking a victory lap. The showdown offers a glimpse of Beijing's new use of smart power, and its deeper weaknesses.

Police dismantling the Occupy Central HQ in Hong Kong on Dec. 11
Police dismantling the Occupy Central HQ in Hong Kong on Dec. 11
Gabriel Grésillon

-Analysis-

BEIJINGHong Kong's pro-democracy protests are in their death throes. The Occupy Central movement that has been paralyzing part of the former British colony since late September is ending. Encouraged by the population's weariness, the government played the legal card to clear the main protest sites.

Even Joshua Wong, one of the die-hard leaders of the student democracy movement, ended his hunger strike on medical advice 108 hours after it began. Without jumping to conclusions regarding the future of the fight for democracy, the vast majority of protesters are now bitterly acknowledging that they've lost the first battle.

It's now time for the rest of us to draw a few conclusions. Keeping in mind that Hong Kong authorities have been agents of Beijing in this affair, the uprising is very instructive for China observers. Indeed, if part of Hong Kong's population is clashing with China's political system, the world's democracies must learn to deal with it. The more China continues to grow in power, the more crucial it becomes for our countries to know how to maneuver against this giant, which regards any form of outside opposition an intolerable interference.

Beijing has, first of all, demonstrated exactly what the Chinese strategy is. Instead of wasting its energy against the enemy, it waited for the protestors to make a mistake and grow tired. The real strategy was in not fighting back. Or rather, in carefully picking the right moment to win the battle without a sweat. This implies not doing anything, which is not always easy to do.

The Hong Kong government learned that the hard way. For a time, heavy-handed police intervention only reinforced the protesters' determination and galvanized the democracy movement. But when police became more passive, they won the support of the rest of the population. And when the students lost their cool over the past few weeks, they alienated those who still sympathized with their cause.

Beijing's let-it-rot tactic was beautifully played. The students should have retired quickly from the streets, ending on a high note with a symbolic victory. But instead they fell into a subtle trap.

True, China could only dare to use this strategy because it was certain to be the stronger side. It knew the protestors wouldn't tire unless faced with a rigorous, unwavering opponent. And for China, rigor is never demonstrative. Everything that is slightly too outspoken is suspicious. To prove its strength, Beijing prefers to show an unshakeable serenity, something that President Xi Jinping perfectly embodies.

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Geopolitics

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Anti-nuclear bomb activists protest during Hiroshima Day Action in Amsterdam, Netherlands, in 2020.

Peter Huth

-Analysis-

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