Bloomberg Businessweek USA – August 19, 2019

(Nancy Kaufman) #1
▲ProtestersatHongKong’sinternationalairportonAug. 9

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◼ REMARKS Bloomberg Businessweek August 19, 2019

Protesting L ike It’s 2047


arebeingusedregularlyagainstprotesters.Atonepointon
Aug.11,officersfiredthegasinsidea subwaystation.
Theactivistshavefiveofficialdemands:theformalwith-
drawaloftheextraditionbill;thereleaseofarrestedprotesters;
anindependentinquiryintopolicetactics;theretractionofthe
government’sdescriptionofa Junedemonstrationasa “riot”;
andtheimplementationoffulldemocracy.Buttheprotests
havealsoevolvedintosomethinginchoate,unfocused,and
unpredictable.ConcentratedatfirstinAdmiralty,theunoffi-
cialgovernmentdistrict,they’renowoccurringina widerange
ofneighborhoods,shiftingfrompreplannedmarchestoflash-
mobcivildisobedienceorganizedonsocialmediaplatforms.
Inbusysubwaystations,strangersaresharingpro-democracy
memesandinformationonupcomingmarchesviaAirDrop,
theAppletoolfordevice-to-devicefilesharing.
China’swillingnesstotoleratesuchdissentis wearingthin.
OnAug.6,thedayaftera strikeparalyzedmuchofthecity,
governmentspokesmanYangGuangrefusedtoruleoutmil-
itaryactionandsaidthatBeijingwould“neverallow”unrest
thatwouldthreatennationalsecurity.“Thosewhoplaywith
fire,”hesaid,“willperishbyit.”A weeklater,hewarnedthat
“thefirstsignsofterrorismarestartingtoappear.”
Thatit’stakenmorethantwodecadesformilitaryinter-
ventiontobecomea realriskinHongKongcouldbeviewed
asevidencethat“onecountry,twosystems”wasatleasta
temporarysuccess.Manyinthecityweregenuinelynervous
beforethehandover,fearinganabruptendtocivilliberties,
theruleoflaw,andtheirabilitytomakemoney.Familieswith
themeansboughtpropertyabroad,sendingtheirchildrento
attendschooland,if possible,acquireforeignpassports.In

theyearsbeforethehandover,morethan60,000HongKong
immigrantsarrivedinVancouveralone.
Butasthedeadlineapproachedandthenpassed,thecri-
sisneverarrived.Indeed,anunprecedentedrealestateboom
pushedtheskylineandhousingpriceseverhigher.Emigrés
returnedasstockssoaredandbanksexpandedtheirfoot-
prints,seeinginHongKonga stable,English-speakingbase
fromwhichtotapChina’sgrowth.Forthemostpart,Beijing
wascontenttoleavethecitybe,waryofspookinginvestors
orkillinga goldengoose.(Indeed,manymembersofChina’s
elite,ortheirfamilies,cametoownHongKongassets.)
HongKong’sdefenseswerecertainlytested,butthey
provedrobust.In 2003 activistsorganizedhugeralliesto
opposeBeijing-backedlegislationtoenshrineharshpenal-
tiesfor“sedition”againstthemainland.Thatwaseventually
shelved,aswasa 2012proposaltorequirestudentstoreceive
“patrioticeducation”thatalsoengenderedopposition.
Untilnow,thetensestmomentscameduringthe 2014
Occupyprotests,whichdemandedthereplacementofitspar-
tiallydemocraticelectoralsystemandtookoverpartofHong
Kong’surbancoreformorethantwomonths.Theofficial
responsewas,inretrospect,restrained;policeusedcompar-
ativelymodestvolumesofteargasandmostlygavedemon-
stratorsa wideberth.
Butoverthenextseveralyears,China’stoleranceforopposi-
tiondeclinedmarkedly.Onthemainland,PresidentXiJinping
wasengagedinoneofthebroadestcrackdownsondissent
indecades,detainingthousandsanddrasticallyrestricting
unsanctionedviews.Inthatcontextit wasinevitablethat
thepressurewouldturnupinHongKong,wherethelocal
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