Xi Jinping Stays Silent on Hong Kong, Forcing China to Reprint 2017 Threats

Mark Schiefelbein, AP
Mark Schiefelbein, AP

Communist Party leader Xi Jinping continues to remain silent on the nearly three-month-old Hong Kong pro-democracy movement, but the People’s Daily government newspaper reminded protesters Tuesday that, to Xi, any threat to China’s supremacy in the city is “absolutely impermissible.”

Xi made the remarks in 2017 during an event observing the 20th anniversary of the United Kingdom handing control of Hong Kong back to China with the caveat that Beijing could not impose communist law onto the city – a policy China has repeatedly attempted to violate. In its latest attempt, Beijing pushed Hong Kong’s unelected leadership to pass a law that would allow the Chinese regime to extradite anyone present in Hong Kong for violating communist law, making that law viable on Hong Kong soil and thus violating the policy known as “One Country, Two Systems.” The extradition law campaign triggered the ongoing protest movement, which shut down Hong Kong International Airport for a second day on Tuesday.

Xi Jinping has refused to publicly comment on the event occurring in Hong Kong.

In lieu of the nation’s authoritarian ruler remarking on a protest movement that has attracted as many as 2 million of the city’s 7 million residents at a time, the People’s Daily published threats to pro-democracy protesters on Tuesday based on Xi’s comments two years ago.

“Any attempt to endanger national sovereignty and security, challenge the power of the central government and the authority of the Basic Law of the HKSAR [Hong Kong Special Administrative Region] or use Hong Kong to carry out infiltration and sabotage activities against the mainland is an act that crosses the red line, and is absolutely impermissible,” the People’s Daily paraphrased Xi as saying.

The Communist Party newspaper article goes on to brand the Hong Kong protesters as “ultra-radicals” seeking a “color revolution” – a term for the peaceful, pro-democracy protests of the turn of the century in Eastern Europe that China and Russia use derisively – and accuse them of terrorism.

The newspaper claimed the protesters “assaulted police officers” and generally engaged in violence against civilians, contradicting the widely available video and photo evidence of police attacking protesters with tear gas and shooting pellets and bean bags at them. Officers have also allowed attacks on protesters by masked, white-clad mobs brandishing metal rods; the first such attack resulted in 45 people being hospitalized after police took over half an hour to respond to emergency calls.

“These violent acts [by the protesters] have been well-organized and planned. The rioters make waves, create ‘black terror’ which targets the masses, and daydream of dragging Hong Kong down,” the People’s Daily alleged. “Rules are rules. Any attempt to cross or break the red line must be prohibited. Strict law enforcement from the police force is the first step, and harsh justice from judges in Hong Kong is the second step.”

“In the future, there will be no violence in the city of peace and prosperity, as long as the police forces do their best to protect Hong Kong and judges show the sword of justice against these rioters,” the Communist Party newspaper concluded. “Justice prevails over evil, and rioters will be placed in the hall of shame of Hong Kong.”

The People’s Daily had to dig down two years into the Xi Jinping statement archive for his remarks on the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China in 2017. On that occasion, Xi, recalling the pro-democracy movement of 2014, insisted that the city “cannot afford to be torn apart by reckless moves or internal rift.”

“Hong Kong is a plural society. So it comes as no surprise that there are different views and even major differences on some specific issues,” he said. “However, making everything political or deliberately creating differences and provoking confrontation will not resolve the problems. Bear in mind the larger interests, communicate in a sensible way and build more consensus: this is the best way to find ­solutions to issues over time.”

As the state newspaper noted this week, Xi called any attempt to pursue freedom and democracy in Hong Kong “is an act that crosses the red line and is absolutely impermissible.”

Xi weighed in on Hong Kong more recently in December, meeting with Chief Executive Carrie Lam and praising her for “being courageous in taking up [Hong Kong’s] responsibilities, getting things done proactively, and firmly safeguarding” Chinese control of Hong Kong. At the time, the Communist Party had just debuted a project it called the Hong Kong-Macau “Bay Area,” an attempt to mimic the technological industry that developed around San Francisco, largely through stealing San Francisco’s intellectual property.

Beijing has done little to promote the Hong Kong “Bay Area” since protests began in June.

While the Chinese state apparatus, through both its formal agencies like the foreign ministry and its propaganda outlets, has heavily condemned the protests, Xi himself has remained silent. Alongside headlines accusing the peaceful pro-democracy movement of sedition and terrorism, state media has highlighted Xi’s calls “to improve the management and service quality of elderly care” and stress the “importance of carrying on the spirit of arduous struggle by the Chinese youth.”

\Xi’s personal distance from China’s crisis in Hong Kong may be a sign the Communist Party Politburo fears that Xi’s unpopularity in communist China may result in Hong Kong’s protests spreading deeper into the country. Xi endured widespread protests against his incompetent government in 2018 from all walks of life in China: parents outraged that Chinese medical companies knowingly used expired vaccines on their children; retired veterans denied their pensions for no good reason; Maoists unconvinced that Xi respects workers’ rights. Xi has become so unpopular within China that a man arrested in January for criticizing him publicly said he did so because he thought the Party would allow it.

Notably, one of the biggest protest movements within China attacking Xi from the left was a revolt of workers at the Jasic Technology factory in Shenzhen, across the border from Hong Kong.

Beijing deployed a full armored convoy into Shenzhen on Monday.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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