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Geopolitics

Hong Kong Crackdown: Xi Prepares For Final Sino-U.S. Showdown

A woman in Hong Kong makes a gesture in front of riot police during a protest.
A woman in Hong Kong makes a gesture in front of riot police during a protest.
Deng Yuwen

HONG KONG — The Beijing authorities have finally decided to set aside the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) Government and its Legislative Council and instead craft themselves a national security law for the former British colony.

According to Wang Chen, deputy chairman of the National People's Congress (NPC), the Chinese government's rubber stamp agency, the reason Beijing decided to bypass Hong Kong legislators to draft a tailor-made security law for Hong Kong is because the existing de facto constitution has been severely "stigmatized" and "demonized." Or to put it in the terms of one pro-China expert, "Beijing is taking this drastic measure via legislation to restore normal social order in Hong Kong."

However, the reasoning of Beijing and Chairman Xi Jinping goes far beyond just taming the disobedient semi-autonomous city. It is to show the world, and in particular the United States, its unyielding determination to enforce the security of the country as well as the regime, in light of a increasingly likely Sino-U.S. confrontation in the future.

In Beijing's view, the demonstrations which occurred in Hong Kong last year have become the latest battleground between China and the United States. From Beijing's position, Washington is the "black hand" behind the Hong Kong issue. The draft national security law is thus designed to cut off the link between Hong Kong and the U.S. so that Hong Kong cannot "become a chess piece and a new battlefield between the two powers."

Judging from Wang Chen's explanation, the Hong Kong National Security Law mainly targets four types of activity: subversion of state power, division of the country, terrorist activities and interference by external forces.

Chinese President Xi Jinping during a plenary meeting. — Photo: Li Gang/Xinhua​/ZUMA

This legislation also stipulates that the central government's agency responsible for national security can set up branches in Hong Kong based on their needs. In other words, Beijing may also set up a national security agency in Hong Kong which will possess certain law enforcement powers.

If these measures are implemented, Beijing will be able to directly arrest those advocating Hong Kong independence or dissidents who have close ties with foreign countries, as well as foreign citizens that Beijing considers to be subverting the Chinese government.

Chinese leaders are counting on the support of local public opinion for its showdown with Washington.

This is, of course, Beijing's blatant destruction of the "One country, Two systems' it promised when the former British colony was handed back to China, even if Beijing is trying its best to deny this reality.

It is highly probable now that the U.S. will cancel Hong Kong's status as an independent custom zone. But Beijing has definitely evaluated these consequences, and is ready to take this risk is because its consideration for the security of their regime has exceeded the benefits of maintaining Hong Kong's social stability and unique economic status.

Even if Beijing's move reignites large-scale protests and even riots in Hong Kong, Beijing and the Hong Kong government have experience in handling such turmoil already. The Chinese leaders are convinced that given a good job of educating and persuading the seven million Hong Kong people, coupled with support from the pro-establishment camp and the business community, they can cope with short-term dissension.

China's earlier stabilization of the coronavirus pandemic and relative efficiency compared to the West in dealing with the pandemic have given Beijing a new confidence. As long as China is stable domestically, Beijing can resist external pressure.

Most of the Chinese public has not supported Hong Kong's protestors, rallying behind the government's tough stance. Now that it has won public esteem for its handling of the pandemic, Beijing is even more motivated to take a hard line against Hong Kong. To a great extent, Chinese leaders are counting on the support of local public opinion for its showdown with Washington.

Last year, many speculated that, after the National Day military parade on Oct. 1, Xi would send armed police to suppress Hong Kong's demonstrations, or ask the Hong Kong government to declare martial law. None of this occurred. Now the reason is revealed: Xi was waiting for the situation to deteriorate further so he possessed greater legitimacy to persuade his high-level peers to push through the high-handed national security bill for the island.

Xi Jinping's handling of the Hong Kong issue is a demonstration to the United States. He is locking down all the loopholes and eliminating weaknesses, one by one, because he understands that with the current Sino-U.S. face-off, sooner or later there will be a decisive battle. We are witnessing his preparations for this final showdown.


*Deng Yuwen is an independent scholar and an observer of Chinese politics

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