Veteran journalist and political commentator Willy Lam spoke to RFA's Cantonese Service on Tuesday about why the ruling Chinese Communist Party hasn't cracked down on Hong Kong yet, in spite of escalating protests against amendments to the city's extradition law that could see alleged criminal suspects sent to face trial in mainland Chinese courts:
RFA: So will Beijing send in the People's Liberation Army (PLA) to control unrest in Hong Kong?
Lam: I can say for certain that Xi Jinping isn't even going to consider sending in the PLA before the Oct. 1 National Day celebrations. The reason is very simple: On Oct. 1, they will be celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China, and President Xi has already arranged for the biggest ever display of military strength on Tiananmen Square. Any deployment of the PLA in Hong Kong before that date would spoil the festive atmosphere, because it would signal the end of the framework of one country, two systems. It would also diminish China in the eyes of the world, and be a loss of face for President Xi.
The entire state machinery for maintaining stability, that's to say the machinery of the police state, began under [former presidents] Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, but it has become much more powerful since Xi Jinping took power. It now incorporates high-tech features, like artificial intelligence and big data, and the social credit system. So there are many ways in which we can say that the machinery of the police state has already crossed the Shenzhen River into Hong Kong. The clearest example of that is the deployment of a large number of mainland police officers in Hong Kong, after Beijing decided the protests were a color revolution at the beginning of June. The ranks of the Hong Kong riot police now include anti-riot police from the north, who are wearing the uniforms of the Hong Kong police.
RFA: So what about the people in white shirts who attacked the protesters in black shirts in North Point, where people were surrounding the police station?
Lam: Cooperation between the Chinese police and triad organizations goes back many decades, and the mainland Chinese police and armed police forces have always used them to deal with problems that can't be allowed to see the light of day. For example, the use of violence to take land from farmers. This allows them to evade legal responsibility. But we haven't seen this kind of large-scale collusion between police and triad gangs in Hong Kong to target ordinary citizens in more than a century.
The anti-extradition movement in Hong Kong has become a black swan incident for mainland China. Ever since a million people took to the streets on June 9, the whole of Hong Kong society, at every level and in every sector, has been united against the government. Now the movement has broadened into a demand for fully democratic elections. Xi Jinping's main worry right now is how to deploy the machinery of stability maintenance to bring Hong Kong to heel.
RFA: But now the Chinese economy is having problems, isn't it?
Lam: China is facing a serious financial crisis and it is basically insolvent, so Hong Kong's status as an international financial center is more important to China than ever. The Chinese government may also start to demand a "public-private partnership" with the Hong Kong economy. But Hong Kong people won't just demand genuine universal suffrage; they will also extend this struggle to economic and financial activity. More and more middle class businesspeople will be breaking their silence.
And even though the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party keeps suppressing them, there are more and more civil organizations springing up in mainland China all the time. For example, the number of Protestants and Catholics may exceed the number of communists nationwide. Then you have the groups of veterans who often demonstrate, you have a large number of grievances at home, and then there is resistance in Hong Kong. This isn't something that can be solved in the long term using the machinery of stability maintenance. The greater the pressure, the greater the resistance will be.
The continued struggle of the people of Hong Kong over the past few weeks has inspired civil society in mainland China, Taiwan, Southeast Asia, and the rest of the world. I predict that the stability maintenance regime of the Chinese Communist Party dictatorship won't stay effective for very long.
Reported by Carol Lai and Jack Lee for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.