Hong Kong Protests: Suspension of Extradition Bill an embarrassment for Xi Jinping

Hong Kong Protests: Suspension of Extradition Bill an embarrassment for Xi Jinping 

China’s seemingly indomitable Dragon, Xi Jinping, was the Communist Party’s leader in a district of Ningde in Fujian Province in 1989 when tanks rolled out in Tiananmen Square in Beijing to silence peaceful demonstrators seeking democratic reforms. Far away from the capital then, Xi was a silent spectator to the tragic event that saw thousands die.

Today, Xi Jinping is China’s most powerful modern leader and could end up being the country’s mightiest ever! In 2018, Forbes named him as the most powerful person on the planet after he removed presidential term limits in the constitution.

But with great power comes greater responsibility. Will Xi follow on the footsteps of Deng Xiaoping, who was China’s paramount leader in ’89, or will he take a more restrained and statesman-like view to the palpitating nerves in Hong Kong?

An estimated 1.03 million people have taken to streets to protest an amendment to extradition laws near Government headquarters in Hong Kong SAR. The amendment would allow the transfer of fugitives to Mainland China without legislative oversight where fair trials are not a certainty and raises concerns about the future of rule of law in Hong Kong.

Although the unpopular legislation was suspended on June 15, the fear of the hanging sword is keeping the semi-autonomous State on the edge. Until the Bill is withdrawn, the protests will continue. They are also calling for the resignation of the territory’s pro-Beijing leader, Carrie Lam.

A rare blow

Xi is not used to being challenged, and the suspension of the Bill is a huge setback for him. But this is 2019 and Xi cannot possibly do what Deng Xiaoping did 30 years ago. As was expected, Beijing has distanced itself from the entire affair and says the Bill was the creation of Lam. But experts believe she couldn’t have acted on her own and had been prompted by her masters in the Mainland. Beijing also typically laid the blame on foreign forces for inciting unrest.

Xi has personally been out of the picture and has greater concerns at the moment. His bruising trade war with the US and a slowing economy is keeping him busy and frayed. Although it is very unlikely that China will come down heavily, it will surely apply subtler tactics to squeeze Hong Kong. Analysts fear Beijing could arrest protest leaders, a tactic it adopted following the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement that shook the city in 2014.

Remember Joshua Wong?

Hong Kong pro-democracy activist, Joshua Wong, has been released from prison and will add strength to the ongoing struggle. He was jailed in 2016 for his role in the 2014 Umbrella Movement – to reform Hong Kong’s electoral system to push for universal suffrage, under one country, two systems rule.

Wong is battle-hardened and his arrival to the scene will only give strength to the growing belief that Hong Kongers will not bow down to the authoritarian regime.

Savour the victory, but beware!

The suspension of the Bill was no small achievement for the just over 7-million strong Hong Kong residents. It was accomplished through sheer resilience. But the road ahead is long and daunting and China will likely bite back. It is already straying from what was agreed back in 1997, when Hong Kong was handed over to China by the British.

Under the agreement, Beijing has no right to take absolute charge of the territory until 2047. But by the looks of it, it is already taking small bites at it. There have been numerous cases where Beijing has been seen infringing on Hong Kong’s basic freedom and human rights.

But Hong Kongers have been known to be courageous, never mind how formidable the challenge.

It is clearly a case of David against Goliath.

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