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Bloomberg cable television carried Hong Kong Chief Administrator Carrie Lam in a live press statement, 10 pm ET. Bloomberg repeatedly notes she is speaking in Cantonese, the native regional dialect. This is both normal and notable. The Chinese Communists have made a concerted global effort to promote their dialect to the world as the true tongue, the original lingua franca, if you will. Lam’s words follow some careful, helpful remarks by President Trump.
It seems that both sides in Hong Kong are climbing down a bit, de-escalating. Lam announced her intent to hire international policing experts to beef up the current monitoring group for the Hong Kong police. She talked about building a platform for dialogue. A bit of oil on the troubled waters.
If Hong Kong police lost control, then the current local government would lose credibility. In as much as Beijing does not want to lose that set of facilitators and modulators between Hong Kong and itself, it is still in the Communists’ interest to protect current arrangements. President Trump carefully weighed in on the side of peaceful resolution, tying it to the trade deal during August 18 remarks before Air Force One departure:
THE PRESIDENT: Well, I’ll tell you what I do support: I support liberty. I support democracy. I understand what’s going on very well over there. I’d love to see it worked out in a humane fashion. And I think they have a great chance of doing it.
Look, I put out — and I told you that I really believe — I have a confidence in the — in the talents of President Xi. I think if he met with the protestors, within a very short period of time, they would work something out that’s good for everybody. I really believe that.
He’s a very talented man. I mean, aside from everything, he’s a very talented man. He’s very smart, very talented. And I know him well, probably as well as anybody, And I believe if he sat down with them — now, you know, he’s not — that’s not his deal, sitting down with people. You know, he doesn’t do that. But I think, maybe, the world changes. I really believe if President Xi sat down with representatives of the protestors — and they do have representatives; pretty good representatives, pretty strong representatives. I’ve been watching and seeing them. If he sat down, I think he’d work something out. And I think it would be good for everybody. But it does put pressure on the trade deal. If they do something negative, it puts pressure.
Now, that deal I can sign by myself. It’s structured so I don’t have to go to Congress. But I respect Congress. I respect the views of Congress. And I respect, most importantly, the views of the people of our country. And I think it would be much harder for me to sign a deal if he did something violent in Hong Kong.
Perhaps the protestors will stay cooler after the rains that reportedly dampened demonstrations over the past day or so. Part of wisdom is knowing when to declare partial victory. After all, the horse is still highly unlikely to start singing in the next two decades.
If voicing dissent is ineffective, and loyalty unpalatable, exit becomes more attractive.* With Taiwan and Hong Kong having a common dialect and geographic proximity, Taiwan is a far better exit strategy than America, Canada, or any member of the British Commonwealth. The South China Morning Post reports exit visa applications from Hong Kong to Taiwan are surging. Exit is the obvious option for those who do not wish to be ordinary Communist Chinese subjects. Of course, this is a chance for Taiwan to stick a finger in the Communist Party’s eye, and the communists are not amused.
President Trump confirmed the sale of F-16s to Taiwan. He said that Taiwan would use them responsibly, and pointed out the dollars and American jobs connected to the sale. Sales of any military equipment to Taiwan prompts a noisy protest from Beijing, but they know they will not stop this sale. Making Taiwan more militarily capable, while they talk more of being an outpost for liberty, will be a strong source of irritation to Xi.
In a positive development, Twitter and Facebook felt compelled to announce they had removed a number of fake Chinese accounts aimed at discrediting the Hong Kong protests. This exposed the loose thread of Chinese government disinformation operations, aimed at influencing politics. Can you say 2020 election interference?
Additionally, this report shows China using information operations tools, instead of para-military and military force. So, it reinforces that Beijing is being careful, measured in its response to the challenge to its authority. That is a hopeful sign for the short to medium term.
* See Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: Responses to Decline in Firms, Organizations, and States,
by Albert O. Hirschman.
20 August: This story is significantly updated from 19 August, including assessment of President Trump’s latest comments on Hong Kong and Chinese trade.