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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Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Asham!*

Welcome to Tuesday, where Pyongyang test fires a suspected submarine-launched missile, Colin Powell is remembered, Poland-EU tensions rise, and yay (or yeesh): it's officially Ye. Meanwhile, our latest edition of Work → In Progress takes the pulse of the new professional demands in a recovering economy.

[*Oromo - Ethiopia and Kenya]

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• North Korea fires missile off Japan coast: South Korea military reports that North Korea has fired a ballistic missile into the waters off the coast of Japan. The rocket, thought to have been launched from a submarine, is the latest test in a series of provocations in recent weeks.

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• Colin Powell remembered: Tributes are pouring for former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, after his death yesterday at age 84. Although fully vaccinated, Powell died from complications from COVID-19 as he was battling blood cancer. A trailblazing soldier, he then helped shape U.S. foreign policy, as national security adviser to President Ronald Reagan, then chairman of the Joint Chiefs under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, and served as the nation's top diplomat for George W. Bush. Powell's legacy is, by his own admission, "blotted" by his faulty claims of weapons of mass destruction to justify the U.S. war in Iraq.

• Russia to suspend NATO diplomatic mission amid tension: Russia is suspending its diplomatic mission to NATO and closing the alliance's offices in Moscow as relations with the Western military block have plunged to a new low. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov announced the move after NATO expelled eight diplomats from Russia's mission for alleged spying. Relations between NATO and Russia have been strained since Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

• Ecuador state of emergency to battle drug crime: President Guillermo Lasso declared a state of emergency amid Ecuador's surge in drug-related violence. He announced the mobilization of police and the military to patrol the streets, provide security, and confront drug trafficking and other crimes.

• Taliban agrees to house-to-house polio vaccine drive: The WHO and Unicef campaign will resume nationwide polio vaccinations after more than three years, as the new Taliban government agreed to support the campaign and to allow women to participate as frontline health workers. Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan are the last countries in the world with endemic polio, an incurable and infectious disease

• Kanye West officially changes name: Some say yay, some say yeesh, but it's official: The-artist-formerly-known-as-Kanye-West has legally changed his name to Ye, citing "personal reasons."

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

The Washington Post pays tribute to Colin Powell, the first Black U.S. Secretary of State, who died at 84 years old from complications from COVID-19.


💬  LEXICON

Jashn-e Riwaaz

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Work → In Progress: Where have all the workers gone?

After the economic slowdown brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, companies all over the world are taking advantage of loosened lockdowns and progress on the vaccine front to ramp up operations and make up for lost productivity. But the frenetic spurts of the recovery are getting serious pushback. This edition of Work → In Progress looks not only at the coming changes in our post-COVID economy, but also the ways our world is re-evaluating professional obligations.

🗓️ Hail the 4-day week Across the planet, the shorter work week trend is spreading like wildfire. Four is the new five. Spain began experimenting with the concept earlier this year. New Zealand launched a similar trial run in 2020. And in Iceland, efforts to curb working hours date all the way back to 2015, with significant results: 86% of the country's workforce gained the right to reduce work hours with no change in pay.

🚚 Empty seats In the United States, meanwhile, a severe lack of truck drivers has the country's transportation industry looking to hire from abroad. The only problem is … the shortage is happening worldwide, in part because of the e-commerce boom in the wake of worldwide quarantines. The Italian daily Il Fatto Quotidiano reports that companies will be scrambling to fill the jobs of 17,000 truck drivers in the next two years. The article blames low wages and the dangerous nature of the job, stating that Italian companies are making moves to employ foreign workers.

💼 Key help wanted It's all well and good to question current working conditions. But what about 20 years from now? Will we be working at all? A recent article in the French daily Les Echos posed just that question, and posits that by 2041 — and with the exception of a few select jobs — automation and digitalization will decimate employment. The piece refers to the lucky few as "essential workers," a concept that originated with COVID lockdowns when almost all labor halted and only a minority of workers capable of performing society's most crucial in-person tasks were allowed to carry on.

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📣 VERBATIM

I'm worried for my Afghan sisters.

— Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai Nobel Prize tells the BBC that despite the Taliban's announcement that they would soon lift the ban on girls' education in Afghanistan, she worries it "might last for years."

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