Riot police fire tear gas, after a march to call for democratic reforms in Hong Kong
Edgar Su | Reuters
Beijing is set to deliver a formal response to ongoing Hong Kong protests at 3 pm
Demonstrations have begun eight weeks ago in the city against a legislative push to allow people in Hong Kong to be extradited to Mainland China, but they have snowballed into a movement for full democracy and autonomy from Beijing. 1
As tensions escalate, China watchers are waiting to see how Beijing will respond. According to Ben Bland, director of the Southeast Asia Project at the Sydney-based think tank, the Lowy Institute, there are three possible scenarios of how demonstrations could flow out of here.
Three directions Hong Kong could head from here:
- Authorities wait out protesters
- Beijing intervenes directly, imposes martial law
- Authorities make meaningful concessions
The most likely outcome, said Bland, is that Beijing and Hong Kong will try to wait out the protests, "It is unlikely, but possible, that the mainland authorities would directly intervene," Bland said, explaining that Beijing could exercise martial law but that would be the end of the " one country, two systems "principle.
If Beijing was to send the People's Liberation Army out into Hong Kong's streets to " stabilize the situation ", which would have a" big negative impact "on markets, according to Jackson Wong, asset manager at Amber Hill Capital. Such a move would "break a lot of beliefs that Hong Kong is autonomous," he explained, adding that "investors would probably flee initially."
Wong echoed the Bland's assessment, saying "the situation in Hong Kong is not good. "
On the other hand, Chinese authorities could give" real concessions "and allow Hong Kongers full democracy – the right to unrestricted vote for their own parliament and leader – which is what many protestors demand, Bland said.
A day after protesters stormed the legislative building, demonstration leaders released a statement making five demands: a full withdrawal of the proposed extradition bill; and the withdrawal of the characterization of the movement as a "riot", and the withdrawal of the charges against anti-extradition protestors, the establishment of an independent committee to investigate the use of force by the Hong Kong Police Force and the implementation of universal suffrage for
Some experts have pointed out that there has not been a singular protest leader with whom authorities could negotiate, but Bland said that is not the issue. At the end of the day, he explained, the Mainland Chinese government has not shown interest in negotiating a resolution.
"There is no sign yet from Beijing or the Hong Kong government that they are willing to make any meaningful concessions beyond the suspension of the extradition bill that started this," said Bland.
Sean King, senior vice president of public policy and Business development strategy firm Park Strategies offered similar analysis to Bland.
Citing the mass killing of pro-democracy student protestors at Tiananmen Square 30 years ago, King said, "Beijing will have no moral concerns about bringing the military to intervene . But such an act would totally lose the Hong Kong population once and for all, "said King.
He said he expects the protests to continue for weeks or even months before any settlement could be reached. As for why Hong Kong Chief Executive Officer Carrie Lam has yet to step down, King said if she resigns then it would symbolize Beijing admitting defeat
"That would be giving in the masses," said King. He added that, if the mainland authorities give Hong Kong what they demand, which is a full fledged democracy, then it is conceivable that the citizens of Beijing, Shanghai and other mainland cities will ask for the same
Signals from Beijing
protests have drawn hundreds of thousands of supporters within the city and abroad. What started off as a peaceful demonstration hit a turning point after a small group of extreme protestors stormed the Hong Kong Legislative Building.
Beijing is increasingly signaling displeasure about the situation in Hong Kong. Last week, protests vandalized the National Emblem at the Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong and Beijing responded with the charge that the acts were a "blatant challenge to the central government" that would not be tolerated
"The problem has indeed been the pressure on Hong Kong's freedoms and autonomy," said Bland. He added that there has been "relentless and concerted pressure over the last five or 10 years, and that's really driven backlash because people feel they're not just their rights, but their identity, their very way of life."
Bland added, the anger in Hong Kongers towards Lam, stems from the feeling that the Hong Kong government is not on the people's side. Under the current system, the city's leader is elected from a pre-approved list.
Beijing, meanwhile, has pointed fingers at hostile outside forces and blamed the U.S. and the European politicians for interfering in China's "internal affairs." The country more recently accused the CIA of involvement in the unrest, according to China Daily, Beijing's English-language state newspaper
In another article, "illegal assemblies," and "clear demonstration of the protestors' total defiance of the law." It suggests that the political uproar in Hong Kong is similar to what has been "instigated in the Middle East and North Africa – local anti-government elements colluding with external forces to topple governments using modern communication technology to spread rumors, distrust and fear."
Bland, for his part, said such claims "are not very convincing but the Chinese government has been sticking with this line." Still, he added, Beijing is not giving "any strong indications that they want direct intervention."
He added that the lack of explicit intervention from the mainland "is partly because it suits Beijing to have the Hong Kong government and  – Reuters and CNBC's Weizhen Tan and Vivian Kam have contributed to this report