Beijing's threats not intimidating Hong Kong

Despite Beijing's menacing posture and torrential rain, hundreds of thousands of protesters once again took to the streets in Hong Kong on the weekend. Organisers talked of 1.7 million participants. According to media reports the Chinese central government stationed troops on the border with Hong Kong in advance of the demonstrations. Europe's press looks on enthusiastically.

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Helsingin Sanomat (FI) /

Negotiating means showing weakness

Helsingin Sanomat explains what could be stopping Xi from negotiating with the demonstrators:

“From the point of view of the Chinese leadership, the situation in Hong Kong is reminiscent of the student demonstrations on Tiananmen Square in the spring of 1989. Back then the general secretary of the Communist Party, Zhao Ziyang, went to the square, spoke with the students and called for a peaceful end to the demonstrations. In the eyes of the Chinese leadership that was a sign of weakness, and Zhao's disempowerment was just a matter of time. Prime Minister Li Peng and the leader behind the scenes, Deng Xiaoping, decided to crush the protests. Today's leadership sees them as heroes who consolidated the position of the Communist Party. If Xi now tried to negotiate with the demonstrators, he'd be choosing a role that is regarded as weak.”

Phileleftheros (CY) /

Tough stance as a survival tactic

Beijing will stop at nothing, columnist Xenia Tourki explains in Phileleftheros:

“There can be no doubt that Beijing will make good on its threats. For decades that has been the Chinese government's tried and tested survival method. All opposition is silenced, all resistance is crushed, all disputes are expunged. People disappear and no one hears anything more about them, the prisons are filled with opposition members. ... By the looks of it crushing the protests in Hong Kong would not be Beijing's first choice because it fears the reactions. But if a military intervention is necessary it will come no matter what the cost.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

The demonstrators in the East have understood

The citizens of the West should follow the example of the demonstrators in China and Russia, writes historian Anne Applebaum in Gazeta Wyborcza:

“We are used to the West influencing the East politically - but does this still apply? An entire generation of dissidents in the East has put more serious thought than we have into how we should behave in a world that is ruled by kleptocratic elites who do everything they can to demotivate us and make us apathetic. ... Perhaps we in the West simply haven't thought about what tactics normal people should use in a world in which the money is far away in other countries, power is invisible and apathy is universal. Perhaps we should learn from those who have thought carefully about it.” (DE) /

Beijing will never yield

Tagesschau's China correspondent Steffen Wurzel sees two potential outcomes:

“Either China's leadership will make real concessions and for example introduce democracy in Hong Kong. That would be the end of the Lam government and immediately appease critics. Or China's leadership will bring the obstreperous city fully under its control. In the short term both scenarios are highly unlikely. In the long term, however, everything points to the second outcome. Because firstly, Hong Kong will lose its autonomous status in 28 years' time anyway. And secondly and far more crucially, it's part and parcel of the political logic of the Chinese Communist Party to meet opposition with crackdowns. ... An open society, political participation and liberal democracy have no place in the logic of the communist leadership.”

Helsingin Sanomat (FI) /

Better to lose money than power

It's increasingly likely that China will crack down on Hong Kong, Helsingin Sanomat fears:

“Hong Kong is wealthy, but its relative stake in the Chinese economy has declined. Nevertheless the territory is the financial centre of Asia, so a crackdown would both rapidly weaken Hong Kong's status and further worsen China's economic prospects. But those in power in China think long-term. China's leaders are allergic to the possibility of political rights being won through demonstrations. So it seems increasingly likely that China will be willing to risk economic losses and foreign protests in exchange for an end to the demonstrations that are threatening its grip on power.”

De Telegraaf (NL) /

Demonstrators playing with fire

The situation in Hong Kong could explode any moment, De Telegraaf fears:

“Beijing is still all bark and no bite because it is keen to avoid a propaganda gaffe on a par with the suppression of the Tiananmen Square uprising (Tienanmen 2.0). What's more, it doesn't want to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs (Hong Kong) and block its access to international trade. But Hong Kong has become less relevant in recent years, ceding its place to Shanghai. The desire for more freedom is laudable, but the demonstrators are playing with fire and could well lose what privileges they have. Nor can they rely on support from abroad. China is too important for that.”

La Stampa (IT) /

Europe burying its head in the sand

Ex-diplomat Stefano Stefanini explains in La Stampa why Europe's passiveness is so dangerous:

“Faced with a looming tragedy, Europe appears to want to take the supposedly safest path. It is sticking its head in the sand. In remaining silent, Brussels is as guilty as it is short-sighted. Because if China resorts to military action on the territory the consequences will have a negative impact not only on the precarious balance in Asia and the Pacific, where there are already plenty of flash points just waiting to explode (Taiwan, North Korea, the South Chinese Sea). ... Beijing would also jeopardise its status as a serious and responsible international player on whom the entire New Silk Road project depends.”

Gazeta Wyborcza (PL) /

Mainland Chinese despise Hong Kong

Hong Kong can't expect much solidarity from the citizens on the Chinese mainland, Gazeta Wyborcza believes:

“From when the protests started it was clear that Beijing wouldn't have to worry about the Chinese following Hong Kong's example. If you look at what they write on social networks you can see that they sincerely hate the former British colony, which they accuse of lacking patriotism. The inhabitants of the Middle Kingdom believe that Hong Kong - endowed with privileges enjoyed nowhere else in China - is biting the hand that feeds it.”

Dilema Veche (RO) /

Social problems also play a role

There's no indication that the situation will calm down any time soon, the weekly paper Dilema Veche believes:

“Even if China promised in 1997, when Hong Kong was returned, that it would leave the territory 'unchanged' until 2047, residents now fear forced integration and re-colonisation. Even if Hong Kong is efficient from an economic perspective and has remained a key trading hub and global financial centre in the region, social disparities have markedly increased. The sky-high rents are a source of huge frustration - above all among the young. They exacerbate feelings of uncertainty and political powerlessness - and thus provide additional fuel for the mass demonstrations. It's hard to believe that this wave of protests can be stopped.”

Pravda (SK) /

Beijing encouraging protest beyond Hong Kong

With its tough stance on Hong Kong Beijing could be creating problems for itself elsewhere in China, Pravda notes:

“When Hong Kong returned to China in 1997 after a century of British rule, Beijing committed to managing the transition according to the motto: one country, two systems. This was also to be the model for Macao and Taiwan. Demonstrators and local authorities are now accusing each other of undermining this model. ... Two systems can co-exist side by side in a country as long as one side doesn't try to win against the other at all costs. Beijing is right: what is going on in Hong Kong could encourage separatists across China. But Beijing should ask itself to what extent this is its own fault.”

Berlingske (DK) /

The West must make its voice heard

The US and the EU must take a clear stance vis-à-vis China, Berlingske urges:

“The people of Hong Kong are fighting for democracy, and we must not leave them in the lurch. We must do all we can to persuade China and not be deterred merely because it has become a major economic power. Under the aegis of the World Trade Organisation, Hong Kong enjoys special rights that other parts of China don't enjoy. This is where the Western countries can apply pressure if Beijing tries to get Hong Kong under its thumb like any other Chinese city. The EU and the US must make it crystal clear to China that they will not accept the brutal suppression of the protests in Hong Kong.”