Hong Kong

How Will the Hong Kong Protests End?

The brave idealism of the people of Hong Kong is enough to stir the heart of anyone who cherishes freedom.


The mass protests in Hong Kong have been the most thrilling news of 2019: a daring, dramatic movement involving people asserting their fervent support for liberty, democracy, and the rule of law.

On some weekends, a quarter of the territory's 7.4 million people have thronged the streets to demand reform from the Beijing government, which had tried to force through a new law allowing extradition to the mainland. They persisted, sometimes violently, even as police resorted to tear gas, rubber bullets, and arrests.

On Wednesday, they got a major concession from Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who finally agreed to kill the bill. Her hope is that it will douse the discontent. But as is often the case in such crises, it may serve as an accelerant.

Pro-democracy legislator Claudia Mo said Lam's decision was "too little, too late." Adjunct professor Willy Lam of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, told The New York Times it would "not have any impact." But Regina Ip, a pro-Beijing member of the Executive Council warned, "There are no more concessions we can make."

The protesters' demands have long since expanded to include amnesty for the demonstrators, an investigation into police brutality, and democratic reforms. Underlying the movement is a desire to preserve Hong Kong's broad freedom from the tight control the Beijing regime exerts over the rest of China.

When the British colony was returned to Chinese rule in 1997, it was assured substantial autonomy until 2047. But when an overreaching central government put a cloud over its special status, Hong Kongers took to the streets.

That spectacle has inspired admiration and awe. But to anyone who has watched events in China and the world in recent years, the central emotion has to be dread.

The protests represent a direct challenge to the sovereignty and power of the ruling Communist Party. It's a challenge the central government is not likely to endure for long. After Oct. 1, when the party commemorates the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic, it may be less reluctant to crack down.

For China's rulers, the movement brings flashbacks of 1989, when students calling for democracy occupied Tiananmen Square in Beijing. That demonstration arose amid a worldwide surge that brought democracy to places ranging from South Korea to the Soviet Union to Chile. It was natural to expect that China would also make the transition.

It didn't. The government instead chose to crush the opposition with armed troops who killed hundreds if not thousands. The Communist Party held on, and international outrage eventually dissipated. China proceeded to become an economic powerhouse.

It's hard to imagine President Xi Jinping tolerating unending turmoil or accepting the other demands. He is bound to see the unrest as a mortal danger to both China's system of government and its territorial sovereignty.

Letting the protesters win would weaken Beijing's control over its people by signaling that determined, mobilized citizens could defeat the government. Xi did not achieve the most powerful position in China in order to dismantle the system that put him there.

Backing down in Hong Kong would violate what the rulers learned from Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, whose liberalization led to the demise of his government. It would also contradict the lesson they took from the Arab Spring: With sufficient brutality, autocratic regimes can put an end to popular uprisings.

A retreat would also embolden advocates of independence in Hong Kong—and, even more alarming to Beijing, fuel separatist sentiment in Taiwan. Granting demands for autonomy would call into doubt Beijing's professed commitment to prevent Taiwan from declaring its independence at all costs. The Chinese leaders and people are stalwart in their belief that Hong Kong is theirs—a claim accepted by the rest of the world.

China's rulers obviously hope that withdrawing the extradition measure will soon bring an end to the turbulence. But there is no reason to doubt that if Beijing needs to use overwhelming force, it will do so—and ignore the condemnations from abroad.

The brave idealism of the people of Hong Kong is enough to stir the heart of anyone who cherishes freedom. But the harsh reality is that they are unlikely to get more of what they demand. The movement could end because they accept this modest victory and go back to their normal lives. Or it could end in tears and blood.


NEXT: Trump’s Tariffs Fail Again

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. “But the harsh reality is that they are unlikely to get more of what they demand. The movement could end because they accept this modest victory and go back to their normal lives. Or it could end in tears and blood.”
    Pretty stirring words, right up there with “Give me liberty or give me death. “

    1. But realistic. They aren’t separated from the mother country by 3000 miles of ocean, and there’s a much bigger disparity in sizes.

  2. Seems to me that there’s a ton of hypocrisy here in the West re this. When it comes to Arab Spring, ‘color revolutions’, HK/Tienanmen, we look at those as simply trying to get what we have so we approve.

    But it doesn’t affect our own intolerance of protest at all. We have no problem either a)cracking down down on protests that seem to drag on and ‘threaten’ our economic status quo – Occupy, Keystone/Access pipeline, etc or b)letting protest turn into street brawls like Weimar did (alt-right and antifa).

    1. JFree….Nice try. Comparing Arab Spring, Tienanmen Square and their actions/aftermath to Occupy/Keystone actions/aftermath is about as appropriate as stating the economic performance of Trinidad and Tobago will be a good proxy for the US economy. That is, they are not comparable in the slightest.

      At the end of the day, I ask myself: Is defending Hong Kong a vital US national interest? The answer is no.

      WRT Hong Kong, and how this ends. Red China will move on HK, because they will not tolerate political dissent that spreads to the mainland. Red China fears social unrest more than anything else. Why do you think they have a social credit score?! Their rationale will be to kill the HK movement in the cradle. Red China will become increasingly politically and economically isolated as a result, and in all likelihood, then make a move for Taiwan. And why not? The correlation of forces favors Red China in a major way. Taiwan can ‘sting’ Red China badly, but not stop them.

      1. “WRT Hong Kong, and how this ends. Red China will move on HK, because they will not tolerate political dissent that spreads to the mainland. ”

        It would probably be better if you assume that mainlanders view the Hong Kong protestors the same way you view any protestors in the US – feckless, ignorant, spoiled ingrates.

        “Red China will become increasingly politically and economically isolated as a result”

        Just like what happened after the massacre at Tiananmen in 1989…

        1. The difference is the thought was they would change given economic growth, now everyone should know better.

  3. It is still strange that Beijing cave in on this one issue, It make me believe that either there stetting up to protesters to look unreasonable if they do not back down or there are more protest going on in China’s main land that we have not heard about and government resources are becoming stretch.

    1. They just want a short break, so that they can tackle HK on their schedule, not the protesters’ schedule. If they can get the protests to stop, it will be hard to restart them without the Chinese government knowing in advance.

      The challenge in overthrowing an empire like China has never been finding enough people who want it torn down. Such government always have enough enemies to overwhelm them.

      Rather, it’s a coordination problem, getting everybody who hates the government to settle on a particular time to strike, so that the government can’t concentrate its forces to destroy this faction, then that faction, then that faction over there.

      Passing that extradition law accidentally solved the coordination problem, the revolution has begun. They’re trying to stop it before it spreads.

      1. This is a keen insight Brett.

      2. It’s a pity that a free society can be infiltrated by instigators from totalitarian regimes, when it’s so difficult for freedom fighters to infiltrate disruptors into totalitarian countries.

    2. Yeah, fairly certain its the first reason there. They’re gonna stomp on the Hong Kongians, and say its because they refused to disperse after their demand was met

  4. Oh, goody; she withdrew the bill.
    Like there is some magic HK rule that she will never, ever, bring it back?
    Maybe after a few arrests and disappearances?

  5. Has anyone else notice that this Hong Kong protest (April- ongoing) took place almost exactly 30 years after Tiananmen Square (April-June 1989)?

    I knew they were 30 years apart but didnt realize that they both started in April of the relevant year.

  6. “When the British colony was returned to Chinese rule in 1997, it was assured substantial autonomy until 2047.”

    And Britain had to know the chances of that were small. But as long as they got a “promise” from China, they sacrificed those people to them.

    1. It’s almost like they learned from the US exit from Vietnam.

  7. We argue about whether Latinos coming across the border from Mexico are truly refugees or just economic migrants. If China cracks down as they did after Tiananmen – British sources claim 5000 dead – we will be presented with some real political refugees. Probably we can agree to let the Hong Kong protesters in.

    1. “Probably we can agree to let the Hong Kong protesters in.”

      If they have BN(O) (British National (Overseas)) (I like the nested (parentheses)) passports, maybe the British will stretch a point and give them the right of abode.

  8. Just meekly accept the oppression of the world’s new Chinese overlords.

    Reason has become a propaganda arm of the Chinese Communist Party. It is pathetic.

    1. Since when did the world get new overlords?

    2. Libertarians, like Reason, talk a good game when it comes to defending personal liberty. But when push comes to shove, they shrink from using any force to promote it, especially if that force comes from the US government.

      I remember back in the 1980s while Reagan was trying to relegate communism to the ash heap of history, Libertarians were bleating about the dangers of nuclear proliferation and the massive defense budgets. I fully expect that if, or when, China sends in the PLA Boehm will find some way to blame Trump’s tariffs for it and not the fact that communists are generally murderous tyrants.

      Incidentally, the main reason Xi hasn’t gone all Tianamen on the protesters so far is the very real threat of Trump completely destroying the Chinese economy with massive new tariffs, economic sanctions, and international isolation, as well as military confrontation.

      This isn’t 1989, when China was economically isolated enough that they could thumb their nose towards the West and not pay any real consequences, thanks largely to having a pro-China globalist like G. H. W. Bush in the White House.

      The main source of Xi’s power today is the economic growth which has kept his massive peasant population quiet over the past three decades. However, they won’t be so tractable when they are unemployed, hungry, and unable to buy food because of skyrocketing prices due to embargoes and trade restrictions.

      1. Not necessarily a sure thing, how many did Mao starve with no repercussions?

  9. “But the harsh reality is that they are unlikely to get more of what they demand. The movement could end because they accept this modest victory and go back to their normal lives. Or it could end in tears and blood.”

    The reality is that if they settle for this modest victory, it ends in tears and blood, because there is no freaking way the Chinese government doesn’t hunt these people down and kill them. Their only alternative to death are winning a LOT more than just the extradition law being canceled.

    The Chinese government as it currently exists falls, or they die. That’s the position they’re in.

    1. I don’t think any of our Respectable Betters in Washington or the Media or the Reason staff can even conceive of a scenario where the Chinese Communist government falls. In their minds, China is as unchanging as the Soviet Union was in 1990, as permanent as the Berlin Wall was in 1987 when Reagan challenged Gorbachev to tear it down.

      The idea that Xi’s government could collapse due to protests is as foreign and ridiculous to them as the notion that some crass billionaire amateur reality TV star could come out of nowhere to defeat the Most Qualified Candidate Ever for president.

      Important historical events are often missed by the Smart People of the world, because these events do not benefit them or promote their interests. The collapse of Communist China will be no different.

      1. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/hong-kong-students-do-you-hear-the-people-sing_n_5d6f224de4b0110804566fb7?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly9wam1lZGlhLmNvbS9pbnN0YXB1bmRpdC8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAG6_IPYcJhNjujDbCUDf9fyeVXsuaRa9Poaa4r0RrM0X_svCJhBkCW2S72FMje88GLhH3dBkL25FatNfZ5HHuNAvUJq7oL3Nch3aMoGF8bzlG5xF3nP9hJBQUOvvQrIe_IGTacmuS2B84trgcmNBG_ryXOHooC6ojaOuQuP3pLOg

        These protests aren’t going away. They people of Hong Kong have made their choice, and it is not to be docile subjects of the Emperor in Beijing.

        The choice now is for the West. Will they stand with the people of Hong Kong when the tanks go rolling in, or will they make excuses about Chinese sovereignty and economic stability?

        It will be interesting to see with whom the “Free Minds and Free Markets” crowd decides to cast their lot.

        1. I have seen these courageous people singing God Bless America while carrying the Stars and Stripes. Yesterday it was reported that their school children drowned out the Chinese Anthem with, “Can you hear the people sing, singing a song of angry men…” They are exercising the right to revolution proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence, yet I see no hope for them unless these protests spread to China itself and shake the foundations of the modern world.

  10. How will it end? Not with a bang, but with a whimper. (after all it is hard to shout with a boot on your throat).

  11. Knowing the ruling elitist turds in Beijing, they will eventually crush the freedom the people of Hong Kong has enjoyed.
    Knowing the proggies in America as I do, they will cheer on the repression of Hong Kong.

  12. great more chapman, how in the world is Chapman considered a libertarian

  13. Freedom movements catch fire in the hearts and minds of people from time to time, but history shows that most popular efforts to gain freedom fail, often from violent and brutal suppression. Some efforts just lead to new form of oppression, like the French Revolution. Genuine success stories, where real gains in personal and political liberty result, like the American Revolution, are so rare.
    It is hard to imagine how the people of either Hong Kong or Taiwan are going to emancipate themselves from Chinese oppression. We will likely be passive witnesses to their freedom movements being crushed. Still, there are and will be freedom fighting heroes to celebrate and freedom loving people everywhere can speak up to let the champions of freedom know that they are supported and admired. We should freely admit any who escape Chinese oppression and come to America.

    1. “It is hard to imagine how the people of either Hong Kong or Taiwan are going to emancipate themselves from Chinese oppression.”

      Well, Taiwan is doing a pretty darn good job of it so far, thanks to 90 miles of water, a powerful military, and the US Navy.

  14. It will end with blood and brains on the concrete.

    It won’t go like Tiananmen Square though. The Chinese government has learned and they don’t want that iconic picture of a guy in front of a tank repeated.

    Instead, they’ll line up PLA and PAP units about 20 miles out to scare people.

    Then there will be a provocation and the Hong Kong Police will roll in and break heads. The Chinese will want to keep this local and let the Hong Kong Police take the heat.

    That said, don’t be surprised if the Hong Kong Police look suspiciously like PAP units wearing HK Police uniforms.

  15. Thanks admin for giving such valuable information through your article . Your article is much more similar to https://www.creative-diagnostics.com/Anti-Bevacizu-antibody-249157-160.htm word unscramble tool because it also provides a lot of knowledge of vocabulary new words with its meanings.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.