Wall Street Journal on September 29, 2014, reported that massive democracy rallies in Hong Kong have offered Chinese President Xi Jinping stark choices between concession and crackdown, either of which poses problems for his government—and his own political standing. Excerpts below:
Throughout the weekend…, protesters, mostly students, confronted police and halted business activity in parts of Hong Kong. Crowds thinned in the early morning hours Tuesday but were expected to grow again during the day.
Police fired tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the thousands of students gathered outside government headquarters, but the protesters regrouped and re-emerged in greater numbers, choking off roadways in the heart of the city.
As the protests swelled, Mr. Xi stayed in Beijing and made no public comments on the events. Instead, lower-level government spokesmen called the unrest illegal and warned foreigners not to get involved in a domestic issue.
The Hong Kong demonstrations—in which protesters are resisting Beijing’s proposed limitations on how the city’s leader is elected—bring to the fore sensitive issues for the Chinese government.
The leadership is always concerned that protests in one part of China, if left unchallenged, might encourage people in other parts to rise up. Hong Kong, which was given limited autonomy and freedoms upon its return to China from British colonial rule 17 years ago, was supposed to be a showcase for Beijing’s ability to manage a cosmopolitan financial hub with a minimum of intervention.
Now, President Xi faces tough choices: Modify the proposed formula for Hong Kong’s election system and appear weak, or dislodge the protesters with force and risk conjuring memories of Beijing’s bloody 1989 pro-democracy crackdown in Tiananmen Square.