Thursday, 12 September 2019

Singaporeans, the Hong Kong situation, and Taiwan's

On FaceBook, whenever there is a story on the Hong Kong protests, there will be Singaporeans commenting about the protests. Or riots as some may prefer.

And they are not very sympathetic.

Because they are not very empathetic.

And they are rather parochial Singaporeans, who sees things from a Singaporean perspective, and do not understand the HK situation:

Law professor Eugene Tan of the Singapore Management University suggested that the violence and disruptions of recent weeks may have been the turning point.
... Singaporean... did not support actions such as stopping trains and blockading roads.
Tan said Singaporeans were generally conditioned to be averse to civil disobedience, violence and disruptions...
Many Singaporeans do not see protests as a legitimate form of political struggle, said Stephan Ortmann, an assistant professor... City University of Hong Kong.
“These Singaporeans primarily think from a materialist perspective and cannot understand Hong Kong’s struggle for freedom and democracy or against growing encroachment from the mainland,” said Ortmann...
Reuben Wong, associate professor of political science, National University of Singapore said real differences between the two cities also contribute to the [mis]understanding.
Singapore is an independent country, whereas Hong Kong is part of China but operating under the principle of “one country, two systems”... Hongkongers guard their freedoms jealously, while fearing that Beijing might step in and make its presence felt.
These are issues that Singapore never has to contend with,” Wong said. “We do not have that situation, so Singaporeans do not know how it feels.”
He added that unlike Hongkongers, Singaporeans are also “law-and-order people” who have accepted that gaining economic progress means giving up some rights.
Ortmann said Singaporeans were “taught from school that it is best to follow orders”.
“The government has promoted the idea that any opposition or challenge could pose a risk to the very survival of Singapore, and thus must be avoided,” he said.
No surprise then, if Singaporeans appear unsympathetic to Hongkongers.

From the comments online, the description of Singaporeans above ("law & order people", "taught it is best to follow orders") is apropos.

Singaporeans have generally been supportive of the authorities, and see the HK protesters are troublemakers and malcontents intent on disrupting the orderly running of the city.

I had rather presumptuously posted a blogpiece in mid-June, just as the protests were gaining traction, providing some sympathy, but also some pragmatic concerns for the final outcome of the protests.

I was curious as to why the police were cracking down so hard on their fellow HKers.

Then recently, there was this news article, with this bit of information:
... the Hong Kong police. Once regarded as “Asia’s finest,” the force has in recent years become increasingly dominated by senior officers who received training in the mainland, reinforced by mainland Chinese who acquired Hong Kong residency and then joined the force.
This explains why they are not acting like HKers.

The violence and animus between the HK police and the protesters is thus a proxy battle between China and HK.

The reality is that HK is on the clock. Their freedoms run out in 2047, 50 years after the British handed HK back to China. For 50 years China promised to allow HK to operate under "One Country, Two Systems". In 1997, the emphasis was on the "two systems". However as 2047 approaches, China will want to shift emphasis to the "one country" part of the approach.

The reality is that HK cannot expect to operate with freedoms and rights, and then in 2047, become communist China. That culture shock will be traumatic, to say the least.

China's prägmatic approach is to gradually shape HK to be similar to China, and to gradually erase or blur the differences between the "two system", to gradually absorb HK into China.

And it is understandable why the HKers would resist.

And resist as violently as they have.

Of course the sad thing is that theirs is a lost cause.

In 1997, HK's economy was 20% of the Chinese economy. In 2017, it was less than 3%. If HK was still 20% of the Chinese economy, HKers would still have some leverage. At 3%, and as the city with the most billionaires, they might still have some leverage, but not as much.

Of course, China is not without constraints and concerns (From "When will China move on HK?").
The downsides are obvious — massive damage both to China’s international reputation and Hong Kong’s status as Asia’s premier financial centre, the flight of capital and people, and exacerbation of tensions with the US in the midst of a trade war.
Carrie Lam was also recorded saying:
... they know that the price would be too huge to pay. Maybe they don't care about Hong Kong, but they care about 'one country, two systems.' They care about the country's international profile. It has taken China a long time to build up to that sort of international profile and to have some say, not only being a big economy but a responsible big economy, so to forsake all those positive developments is clearly not on their agenda. But they're willing to play long, they are willing to play long, so you have no short-term solution.
So there is some acknowledgement that if China were to go "Tiananmen Square" on HK, there would be a cost and there would be repercussions.

Taiwan would be one such repercussion.

China has been trying to woo Taiwan into returning to China, and their offer was the "One Country, Two Systems" approach. Ostensibly, if Taiwan were to re-unite with China, Taiwan would have the same autonomy, democracy, and independence as they do now. The "One Country, Two Systems" would allow that.

But if China were to move against HK, it would show Taiwan that this assurance of "One Country, Two Systems" was at most a convenient lie that China would use to persuade, but drop all pretence of it when it suits China.

So China needs to weigh the costs of their "invasion" of HK.

Because the costs of that invasion, may be a more costly invasion. Of Taiwan.

[The Chinese Invasion of Taiwan scenario will cost the Chinese. A lot. Video.]

I think China "values" reunification with Taiwan more than their need to "tame" HK. HK also offers them a whipping boy or a bogeyman for their people: "This is what unbridled democracy does to a people. Democracy is not that great an idea. Best for China to proceed cautiously, carefully, measuredly with the guidance of the Chinese Communist Party."

And they can leave HK to burn.

Which is not to say I am unsympathetic to HKers.

I am.

I am sad for them because (from a Facebook comment):
When nothing you do matters, all that matters is what you do. 
When there is no hope, when victory is just the wisp of a dream, all you can do is scream. 
Anyone can fight, when there is a path to victory 
Who fights on when there are no paths, no way, no chance? 
When there is only disaster to meet your best efforts, who carries on? 
Only the hopeless, only the bravest, only those who know that what they fight for is too important, more important than victory or success. Because the struggle is as important as the outcome. Because to roll over and accept what fate, destiny has written for you, is to lose yourself, to invite the enemy into your heart, and let him win. 
Anyone can fight with hope in their hearts.Who fights on knowing that it is hopeless? 
When there is no hope, all that is left is heart.
The HK struggle has no happy ending. At least none I can see.

Even if China makes some concession (and I REALLY do not see them doing that), and HK calms down and goes back to business as usual, in 28 years, in 2047, China's promise to respect HK's "One Country, Two Systems" expires.

And China can then systematically dismantle any and all democratic, independent, and rule of law institutions. It would be the Second Handover.

The HK protesters understand that.

The more realistic of them, simply wants their 28 years of freedom.

The younger, more idealistic ones (who may live longer than 28 years) want more. But it is unrealistic and impossible.

And that's why I feel for them. Imagine growing up in freedom, and then knowing that it would be take away from you.

Some HKers have petitioned the US consulate to "liberate HK". I don't think the US would go to war with China for HK. They would have no moral or legal basis to "liberate" HK. China did not invade or occupy HK. HK is a Chinese city, returned to China by the British in 1997.

Liberate HK from what?

The situation as I see it is hopeless for HKers.

HK can't declare independence or secede from China. Or rather, they can try, but China won't let it, and if it tried to, China now has a legitimate right to move on HK. Militarily.

HKers can ask for autonomy or an indefinite extension of the "One Country, Two Systems" arrangement that would continue to leave HK SAR a Special Administrative Region. But what would HK offer China for that privilege? And would China even agree to it? China has no reason to agree to it, and has no moral or legal pressure to do so.

HK may well end up like Tibet or Xinjiang. Forever fighting for independence, but never really making any real progress.

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