What Will the Hong Kong Protests Accomplish?

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Just about nothing. I hate to say it, but there it is.

But what about the waves of protests, the nonstop worldwide media coverage over the course of months, the overwhelming international support? It all amounts to nothing?

Well, probably. But I’m not being a pessimist for the simple sake of it, believe me. I have a handful of reasons why despite our best intentions, little to no change will come of the unrest that has battered Hong Kong.

Let’s start with the relationship between Hong Kong and China. For some time, Hong Kong was a crucial economic tool for China, being a free-trade zone. A free-trade zone is an area where commerce can store and sell cargo with lessened or no tariffs. While China saw less money per sale of merchandise, whatever it may be, the volume of sales made, compensated for this. It’s basic economics. So, Hong Kong is an extremely valuable city for China, no? Well, not since 2013, the year that China passed a law opening 10 more, the largest of which being in Shenzhen and Shanghai. Sure, Hong Kong still hauls in a pretty penny for Beijing and it would be a hit to China’s economy should it distance itself, but it’d be far from earth-shattering for the mainland. However, Beijing still holds a large stake in Hong Kong’s government, which still does not hold free elections. Being between mainland China and the ocean also means that just about any and all food that comes to Hong Kong has to go through China or Chinese waters. All of this summarized means that Hong Kong relies far more on China than China relies on Hong Kong.

Let’s entertain the idea, however, that the situation in Hong Kong escalates beyond the point it has already. Let’s go so far as to say China deploys a significant number of soldiers in the city. Well… what then? NATO invades, effectively igniting a third world war when Russia and the nations within its sphere of influence inevitably form a military alliance against us? Would the American people be willing to support another nation’s war in an age where a foreign policy of interventionism seems to be seen by the average citizen as one of imperialism? Would our allies have our back in a war that would no doubt see fighting extremely close to home? After all, China is acting entirely within its own borders, with Hong Kong still being internationally recognized as a sovereign part of China: This isn’t an external threat, legally speaking. Do we instead hammer China with sanctions and tariffs, running the risk of plunging us into another trade war, just as we’re leaving the one we’re currently in? Do we send foreign aid to prolong the inevitability that Hong Kong couldn’t hope to secede from the mainland through military means? They’re all morbid prospects, make no mistake. It goes to show that the established and accepted doctrines of modern foreign policy and international politics as a whole do not allow for us to take any meaningful action against what could easily be spun as China walking in its own backyard.

Taking a step away from hypotheticals, let’s focus on what’s really happening on the ground. Any casual observer can come to the conclusion that the unrest in Hong Kong has progressed well beyond the label of “peaceful.” Protestors have now begun throwing petrol bombs at riot officers. Live rounds have been fired and have critically injured two. Carrie Lam, the head of Hong Kong’s government, has enacted emergency laws that haven’t been in use since the city was under British rule. The more and more rowdy they get, the more Beijing is pressured to act. This won’t, however, give the protestors any room to negotiate with the mainland or Hong Kong’s government. The longer this goes on, in fact, the more urgent it becomes for Beijing to reassert control over their territory to avoid embarrassing themselves on the international stage. Sure, it may be an abrasive move on an international basis, but at this point the mainland’s government is so far-alienated from the West that it’s hard to imagine they heed America’s or Europe’s criticism as to their methods of peacekeeping. All said, the protestors are unknowingly accelerating their own destruction by giving China an incentive to deal with the situation directly.

It is due to these reasons that I strongly doubt Beijing will budge on any, let alone all, of Hong Kong’s demands. So, where does that leave us? I hesitate to answer. The most likely scenario out of those presented, given the current administration in the US, Europe, and China, is one that would see Chinese troops crack down on the protests once and for all. The US may enact sanctions, but it wouldn’t do much to alter the fate of the protestors. Currently, though, there are far too many variables at play to predict the outcome of an issue that is nowhere near a resolution. No matter the outcome, however, the world will no doubt be watching.