Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Keep Your Eyes On Hong Kong

I have been watching the protests in Hong Kong with a great deal of interest.

The last two days have seen the protestors encamping at the airport causing the cancellation of all flights in and out of Hong Kong.

The prime lesson it should teach us is how difficult it is to take something away from the people.

Hong Kong was a British colony or dependent territory for over 150 years. The people of Hong Kong got used to the freedom they had under the British and the thriving economy that they built was in stark contrast to what was occurring in Communist China.

In fact, without the economic success of Hong Kong as evidence, you have to wonder whether the Communist Chinese would have ever introduced the market reforms which has led to the transformation of the Chinese economy.

The British ceded control of Hong Kong to China after obtaining guarantees to preserve its systems, freedoms and way of life for at least 50 years. This has become what is known as the "one nation, two systems" policy that makes Hong Kong part of China but allows its economy and freedoms to continue as before.

The current Hong Kong protests began when China backed a provision that would have allowed extradition of those accused of a crime in Hong Kong to mainland China.

Protestors saw this as an erosion of the "one country, two systems" policy and protests are continuing even though China has suspended support for the provision for now.

Research in behavioral economics shows that people feel twice the pain in losing something as the joy they get in gaining something of equal value.

You definitely see that playing out in Hong Kong.

All of this puts the Chinese communists in a most difficult predicament.

Do they put down the "rebellion" with force?

This is the way authoritarian governments and dictators limit dissent and keep the populace in line.

Dictatorships end when the leaders (or their military leaders) lose the will to kill large numbers of their own people to quell rebellion. I have seen this in my lifetime in Poland, East Germany and the Soviet Union.

When there is no fear of retribution or consequences, the natural impulse of the people is going to be to seek the light of freedom. Once that flame is lit it is difficult to put out.

China's leaders have to understand that and they must know that their power and prestige rests on how they respond to the protests in Hong Kong.

Do they stand back and let the protests play out and hope the flame dies out?  However, what if the flame keeps burning and carries over to the Mainland?  If that occurs the ruling Communist leaders risk losing their hold on power. This situation would not be dissimilar to what started in Poland and Eastern Europe and eventually carried over to Mother Russia a generation ago.

Do they use significant force and quell the disturbance?  This solves the short-term issue but this response risks widespread global condemnation. It also comes at a terrible time for the Chinese as their economy is already weakening. It would also provide President Trump with an enormous political gift in his trade war with China. Who is going to be on China's side anywhere in the developed world if the Chinese start using tanks against the people of Hong Kong?

Who can forget this iconic image during the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989? As many as 10,000 pro-democracy student protestors were killed when 200,000 government Chinese troops were brought in to bring the protests to an end.

Credit: The Independent.co.uk

We are talking high risk/high stakes scenarios for the Chinese on what is going on in Hong Kong. China is much more connected to the world community and economy than it was 30 years ago. This means that there will be much more scrutiny and greater economic harm for China should it resort to forcefully ending the protests.

What is also interesting is that the protestors have been carrying U.S. flags and singing the National Anthem as part of their protests.

Credit: AP Photo/Vincent Yu via Deseret News

What a world we live in.

People in Hong Kong waving the Stars and Stripes, standing and singing the National Anthem.

At the same time, we see another American athlete kneeling with bowed head while the National Anthem is played in an award ceremony at the Pan American Games.

Race Imbdoden of USA Fencing team kneels during playing of National Anthem after he and teammates won the
Men's Team Foil Gold Medal at Pan Am Games in Lima, Peru last week.
Credit: Lima 2019 News Services

Who really understands and appreciates freedom?

What I thought was really interesting about the image above is that the fencers from second place Brazil are saluting the American flag while the United States national anthem is played while Race Imboden of the gold medal USA team is kneeling.

I guess there are some that have to lose freedom before they appreciate what freedom really is.

Keep your eyes on Hong Kong.

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