Hong Kong has a very special relationship with mainland China. The territory was held by the British for over 150 years before it was given back to China in 1997. Once they got a taste of freedom there was no way they Hong Kong citizens were going to give it up.
They have their own currency and a form of constitution, called the Hong Kong Basic Law. That document allows them rights that other Chinese don’t enjoy, including the right to protest, the right to a free press and freedom of speech. They have been exercising those rights heavily in the past ten weeks.
What started out as a demonstration of anger at a controversial new law, that would have allowed Hong Kong citizens to be deported to mainland China for trials, soon became a call for the political leader to resign. Chief Executive Carrie Lam isn’t allowed to quit. Xi Jinping won’t let her.
A major skirmish broke out on Tuesday when two alleged undercover spies from the mainland were assaulted at the airport and restrained with zip-ties. The airport has become a major hub to the protesters because it allows them to hand out fliers to international travelers. Since China has a choke hold on the internet, it is the best way for them to get the word out.
China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office in Beijing issued a statement setting the stage for what could amount to a military invasion. They declare “the behavior at the airport no different to terrorism,” and warned, “it must be severely punished.” Satellite images show a massive buildup of hardware on Hong Kong’s border with China. The Chinese are practicing riot control but insist the exercise was planned months ago.
The protesters have apologized for what happened on Tuesday and many are carrying apology signs around the airport. “We’re deeply sorry about what happened yesterday,” proclaims a banner in the airport arrivals section. “We were desperate and we made imperfect decisions,” it adds.
The official state newspaper People’s Daily reports it’s time “for using the sword of the law.” President Trump sidestepped the issue when asked about it. He’s in tricky trade negotiations with Xi Jinping. It’s “tricky” Trump reflected. “I think it will work out and I hope it works out, for liberty. I hope it works out for everybody, including China.” He didn’t mention the fact that China said no when two of our warships asked for permission to dock in Hong Kong in upcoming weeks.
Beijing is walking a tightrope, which is what Trump was talking about when he said it’s tricky. There will be serious economic consequences.
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“I can assure you that if China comes down hard on the protesters that there will be action in Congress to enforce the autonomy agreements that were entered into that are part of the special recognition of Hong Kong,” Senator Ben Cardin told Reuters. “If China interferes with the autonomy of Hong Kong, then it does affect our agreements in regard to Hong Kong as far as the trade zone is concerned,” Cardin continued.
Republican Senator Cory Gardner backed him up on that. “The voice of the people of Hong Kong must be heard without fear of repression and retaliation. The Hong Kong government must fully guarantee the democratic rights of Hong Kongers, while Beijing must fully respect Hong Kong’s autonomy. The world is watching.”
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