Coercion : The red dragon pushes the boundaries
Updated: Jan 19, 2020
For some people both Hong Kong (HK) and China are places full of promise and fascination. Though things have changed lately, this means that in some quarters China has a powerful attraction, an influence over others that Harvard professor Joseph Nye in the 1980s called "soft power". The appeal of Chinese culture, benign foreign policies and political values under the influence of this soft power is enough to persuade many to do what the Chinese government wants without force or coercion. We can see that as a nation China has certainly been able to incentivise close working relationships with other countries, such as those involved in the belt and road initiative.
However, there are many people and whole nations unaffected by China's soft power who offer criticism and dissent instead. Examples of these include the abducted HK booksellers, the Taiwanese government of Tsai Ing-wen, practitioners from the Falun Gong, troubled human rights lawyers from mainland China, and foreign activist organisations such as Amnesty International.
For China's ruling elite any signs of disharmony are a cause of consternation, so much so that their response has been to find other ways to swing favour in their direction. "Sharp power" is about the use of coercive tactics to gain influence over others. [See our blog with further details about CCP and coercion as a form of torture]. One writer (Economist, December 2017) said it was about “subversion, bullying and pressure, which combine to promote self-censorship”. The Chinese authorities, especially the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), wants to control the narrative of whatever is said or written about itself both at home and abroad. Self-censorship in relation to the China narrative has been has been in the limelight internationally given global concern for HK's plight under an authoritarian Beijing.
In HK even as far back as 2012 journalists were making note of self-censorship. This means fundamental rights HK citizens have under no less than 15 United Nations human rights treaties, and the Basic Law which acts as a mini constitution, are being undermined. On the one hand we have reinterpretations of HK law, plus dictates and edicts cast upon us by the CCP. They apparently forget that HK is supposed to enjoy a high degree of autonomy under both the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed in 1984 and the "One country, two systems" formula which China espouses. On the other hand, we have actions and media announcements of the HK Police force against people lawfully taking part in protests, and the war of words spread by Chief Executive (CE) Carrie Lam, and a range of other pro-government minions acting as proxy on their behalf. Adding to the coercion, Beijing's liaison office on HK and Macau affairs has begun making pronouncements for the first time since it was established in 1997.
Apparently even China's own citizens were confused when mainland media delivered a stream of news about HK protesters being reckless “thugs” who have been led astray by the CIA in order to throw the SAR into chaos using opposition to an extradition bill. Things just did not add up when HK's chief executive, Carrie Lam, finally announced on 4th September, 2019 that she would completely withdraw the bill that would have legally allowed people to be sent to the mainland to face trial.
Since June 2019 there has been coercion of regular HK citizens in an extraordinary range of areas. It's time to document some of these, to work harder to challenge what is happening, to take control of the narrative and push back! Thee points below are not an exclusive list and each one of these is deserving of a blog all of its own. It is acknowledged that the links provided in events 1-16 do not tell the whole story of the coercion. Check back here from time to time and we'll provide links to other blogs with more details!
1. Teachers and Principals are being undermined in their schools. They are variously being blamed, silenced, threatened and investigated by the HK Education Bureau and others. [See our blogs on pressures students are feeling in Hong Kong, and how Education is at the frontline of conflict with the CCP]
2. Patient privacy has been compromised in hospitals, and injured demonstrators are scared to use emergency services. Medical staff have been warned, others report they are being bullied, and some have left their civil service employer. [See our blog "Havoc in the hospitals" for more details]
3. Some potential candidates for District Council and Legislative Council by-elections were disqualified from standing after autocratic decisions made by the electoral returning officer.
4. Some elected legislators were removed from their positions and others were not allowed to take up their positions, effectively denying electors their chosen representation.
5. Following pressure from Beijing a number of Cathay Pacific airline workers were fired for expressing their anti-government or pro-democracy opinions in social media.
6. The HK judiciary has repeatedly been told to punish protesters severely to act as a deterrent to other demonstrators.
7. After university campuses suffered damage in protest-related clashes with HK police, funding was withdrawn for some courses, research, and building developments.
8. Large numbers of citizens have been arrested by HK police who act indiscriminately, but many are being released later without charge, or with charges pending.
9. March organisers frequently have difficulty negotiating with police to obtain the necessary "Letter of no objection" so demonstrations can proceed lawfully, however, sometimes protests have been unreasonably cut short by police.
10. The CE unilaterally passed emergency legislation which temporarily made it illegal for people to assemble in groups and wear any form of face mask or covering.
11. The police and others have taken to name calling and verbal intimidation of protesters. The earliest term "rioters" was given to peaceful protesters, and this has been followed with "cockroaches", "yellow objects", and "enemies of the state".
12. In the early days of the current unrest there were threats of a PLA invasion, with video of the PLA troupe movements near the border.
13. Those involved in the social movement have been blamed for the economic woes of the SAR, when signs of a downturn pre-dated the first of the pro-democracy and anti-government protests.
14. A large sum of money donated through crowd funding to provide legal support and welfare assistance to those arrested is locked up in a bank account, frozen by the police and pending an investigation.
15. Beijing authorities have made various statements supporting HK Police and Carrie Lam, telling all HK government agencies to make quashing civil unrest a high priority.
16. The Police, the PLA garrison in HK, criminal groups acting as vigilantes and busloads of mainlanders have acted in concert to counter anti-government protest action like Lennon walls, singing in shopping malls or street barricades set up by protesters. A group of unknown attackers stormed the newspaper offices of Epoch Times (run by members of Falun Gong) and set fire to printing equipment.
Just as the "soft power" approach has failed in HK, it also seems that the "sharp power" approach is failing - or at least having some negative consequences. The use of sharp power is making HK citizens ever more distrustful of the CCP, the HKPF, and the SAR government. Pro-democracy fighters have shown their ability to control the narrative through social media, while those on the opposing camp keep to their tired and lame rhetoric, showing they are simply out-of-touch with common perceptions of reality and the thoughts and feelings of ordinary HK people.
The CCP shenanigans have been exposed abroad, and HK has remained in the international spotlight for months. While it was hoped the pro-democracy protests would fizzle out naturally, they have instead kept up momentum and enjoyed success in the District Council elections which ousted many pro-Beijing, pro-government councillors from their constituency seats.
Surely now it can be seen by the CCP, that compromise is a better option than continuing with the strategy of coercion. First and foremost it is a non-violent option. Wethepeopleofhk recommend conciliatory dialogue between government and protesters, and a referendum in which the people of HK get to express their wishes. These are the best options for the Government of HK, for the HKPF, and for citizens of the SAR. Authorities in Beijing must better understand and uphold the legal arrangements their predecessors were signatories to. It is foolish to keep on ignoring the wishes of the populous, and arrogant to think it is possible to suppress and oppress millions of your own people without any consequence in return.
Agreeing to a referendum would portray Xi Jinping as magnanimous rather than authoritarian and brutish, helping to mend the damage that has undermined any prospect of harmonious relationships between the SAR and mainlanders. This is an accommodation which the CCP can manage, and it needs to going forward. Finding a political solution through a referendum would also allow HK to keep on serving the interests of China as a whole, while preserving rights and freedoms, the hope of citizens now and beyond 2047.
See also this report : Chinese Communist Party’s Media Influence Expands Worldwide