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Will China Listen to Hongkongers? It Matters to America

Xi does have a friend in America, and this is why it matters to us. President Trump is stuck between a rock and a hard place, committed to Xi to finish negotiations on a trade deal, which could fall apart, take down Trump's signature bull market and turn it into a collapse.

It was a landslide.

Democratic candidates secured almost 90% of 452 district council seats in Sunday’s poll, held during a rare weekend lull in clashes with police, despite a strongly resourced and mobilized pro-establishment opposition.

Landslide democratic win puts pressure on leader of Chinese-ruled Hong Kong, Reuters, November 24, 2019

Hongkongers still have hope that democracy is the answer to their fate to become full denizens of their mother country, communist China. They hold on to this hope like they hold on to their liberty, which will be, in the lifetime of the twenty-something generation, absorbed into the monolithic Community Party-run state, controlled by a small number of aging men in Beijing.

The resistance has had its effect on the people. They saw, they listened, and they voted in hope Beijing will listen.

“To me, this election represents what we’ve been fighting for this year: a level playing field for all citizens and a legal way to express our views and know that they will have an impact,” said Maple Yau, a 22-year-old who works in the luxury sector.

Hong Kong Voters Strongly Support Pro-Democracy Candidates, Wall Street Journal, November 24, 2019

If this was simply about the fate of 7.4 million Hongkongers, then China would have to be deaf and brainless to ignore the cry for liberty. But much more is at stake, personally, politically, and diplomatically, for Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Xi’s role in the Politburo, before rising to the top of the party, was the Hong Kong portfolio. He is supposedly “the expert” at handling the island. Xi is also the author of China’s crackdowns and purges of the religious, the extremists, the Uighur and Kazakh nationalists, and others who oppose his particular brand of Communist stimulus-based economic growth.

If Xi bows to the democratic wave, what kind of effect will that have in the mainland? If he cracks down further, he faces a sterner, tougher, more emboldened resistance, which has just heard from the people and received their mandate.

The whole thing, with the extradition bill allowing certain troublemakers to be moved to the mainland, and Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam’s inflexible marching orders to hold the line (even as she withdrew the measure, for now), is Xi’s doing. His rivals in Beijing could make it his undoing.

Xi now also has to worry about his fellow senior leaders in Beijing, who can convincingly argue that, by pushing too far with his extradition bill, he is to blame for the unfolding debacle in Hong Kong.

Xi, during more than a half-decade of relentless purges, has given hundreds of Communist Party members a reason to get even. He has now also given them a means to do so.

Pro-China Forces ‘Annihilated’ in Hong Kong Election, The National Interest, November 24, 2019

It Matters to America

Xi does have a friend in America, and this is why it matters to us. President Trump is stuck between a rock and a hard place, committed to Xi to finish negotiations on a trade deal, which could fall apart, take down Trump’s signature bull market and turn it into a collapse.

But Trump can’t totally ignore Hong Kong either, because Congress highlighted the issue in legislation for him to sign.

“We have to stand with Hong Kong, but I’m also standing with President Xi,” Mr. Trump said of the Chinese leader in response to a question about the bill. “He’s a friend of mine, he’s an incredible guy.”

The president, speaking on Fox News, said he supported Hong Kong, “but we are also in the process of making the largest trade deal in history and if we could do that it would be great.”

Trump Calls Hong Kong Protests ‘Complicating Factor’ in Trade Talks, Wall Street Journal, November 22, 2019

The bill Congress presented to Trump in support of the Hong Kong democracy protestors passed the Senate by unanimous consent, and a 417-1 vote in the House. If Trump vetoes it, he sets up an override, which would send a poor signal to Chinese negotiators of his ability to deliver “the goods” of a tariff rollback should Congress choose to sanction China. If he signs it, he sends a different signal to Xi, who is in many ways counting on Trump to help him through his own political crisis.

Both Xi and Trump are bound together in their need to achieve a trade deal, and to put the Hong Kong issue to bed.

But now the people of Hong Kong have spoken loud and clear. If China listens, Xi and the trade deal could collapse. If Xi responds forcefully, our president will be faced with, once again, siding with a brutal dictator, or supporting the voices of hope abroad he has so often ignored.

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