Chinese dictator Xi Jinping, head of the nation’s authoritarian Communist Party, reportedly mentioned the Hong Kong protests in passing during a speech to communist officials-in-training on Tuesday. It marks the first known mention of Hong Kong since the current protest began in June.
Despite styling himself the president of the country and Beijing’s insistence that it has the final word on the goings-on in Hong Kong, Xi has been noticeably absent from Chinese state propaganda and made no indication he is aware of the protests, despite multiple world leaders addressing the issue either in conversation with him directly or publicly.
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement is not asking for secession, or even demanding that its chief executive, Carrie Lam, resign. Instead, the protesters have listed five demands it asked of the government: direct election of all lawmakers, freedom for political prisoners, an investigation into police brutality against protesters, withdrawal of a bill that would allow China to extradite people from Hong Kong, and an apology for calling the peaceful June 12 protest a “riot.”
Lam has rejected all the demands and deployed the Hong Kong police to attack protesters with tear gas, rubber bullets, baton beatings, and water cannons. Dozens of protesters have been severely injured, including an unnamed woman who is believed to have lost her eye after being shot with a bean bag round.
Xi Jinping made an appearance at China’s Central Party School on Tuesday, a training center for future Communist Party cadres. According to Reuters, Xi offered several platitudes about leadership, urging a “resolute struggle” to “achieve victory.”
“At present and in the future, China’s development has entered into a period where risks and challenges continue to increase or are becoming concentrated. The major struggles to be faced will not become less,” Reuters quoted him as saying. He allegedly listed Hong Kong among the struggles, but added no further commentary.
“Cadres in leadership positions must be warriors who dare to struggle and are good at struggle,” he concluded.
China’s state media reported the visit to the school but notably left out that Xi had mentioned Hong Kong. Instead, Xinhua highlighted that Xi “called on officials, particularly young officials, to go through strict ideological, political and practical training and work hard for achieving the two centenary goals and the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation.”
Xi has gone out of his way to not mention the protests. In June, state media began disseminating threats that Xi had made to the people of Hong Kong not to seek to remain a free society and surrended to Chinese communism, but those threats were from 2017. Instead of discussing the largest political crisis in the nation he leads, Xi has spent time haranguing Chinese people to take better care of the elderly and visiting primary schools. Xi even found time to visit North Korea while not at all indicating he is following the Hong Kong protests.
Xi has in part been able to avoid mentioning the protests because the protesters themselves have largely kept him out of them. Instead, they have focused their pressure on Lam and the Hong Kong government, though Hong Kong’s rulers have admitted in private that they have no power outside of what Beijing commands.
Even when confronted with the protests, Xi has reportedly not commented. During last week’s visit to Beijing, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte went on the record supporting “law and order” in Hong Kong, an apparent endorsement of the abuses by Hong Kong police. Chinese media were adept at ensuring that nothing Xi said in that conversation, if anything, was made public. Xi was also confronted with the issue during his visit to Osaka, Japan, in June by his host Prime Minister Abe Shinzo. Reports did not indicate that Xi responded to Abe bringing up potential human rights abuses in Hong Kong.
President Donald Trump has used Twitter to pressure Xi into being present in the Hong Kong dispute. Last month, Trump offered to meet with Xi personally and discuss the protesters’ demands. He later urged Xi to visit Hong Kong himself, adding that he had faith in Xi’s leadership.
“If President Xi would meet directly and personally with the protesters, there would be a happy and enlightened ending to the Hong Kong problem,” Trump said.
Xi ignored the comments, while the Chinese Communist Party apparatus accused Trump of “bullying” for complimenting Xi and suggesting that the protesters would be happy to meet him.
Protests have continued this week. On Monday – the first day of school in Hong Kong – tens of thousands of students refused to attend classes, vowing to skip every Monday in the immediate future. Police have responded to the school protests by raiding playgrounds and attacking students they believe are participating in the protests.