The so-called “Umbrella Revolution” of Hong Kong appears be heating up despite a softening of police tactics used against protesters. That said, the news is no longer on the actual protests or the Chinese reforms that sought to undermine Hong Kong’s political independence. What the world needs to focus on is the ripple effects of the protests.
With China attempting to block news of the protests from reaching mainland China, the world is watching while the Chinese People will eventually learn about what is taking place in Hong Kong. For this reason, it is wise for the leadership of Hong Kong to avoid using further violence against peaceful protestors, especially since resistance only seems to fuel their fire. When it comes down to it, the Chinese government will determine the outcome of these growing protests.
Although Asian Countries like Thailand have seen ongoing protests against their government with little regional impact, the Hong Kong protests may well be different. Hong Kong is a place where freedom and economic opportunity are deeply entrenched. Meanwhile, the fact any disruptions due to political instability would affect the world’s second largest economy means the world needs to pay particularly close attention to the situation. Just as the Arab Spring Revolutions were sparked by the protest of a single man unable to live a life free of oppression and poverty in a country and region ripe with unresponsive governance, Hong Kong could well be the beginning of an Asian Fall.
Should China choose to suppress the protests in Hong Kong with military might as Syria and Libya did, they will likely be sowing the seeds for a much longer, much more volatile rebellion. While crackdowns on behalf of Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Myanmar ended well for those in power, all of these countries have had to make reforms to better address the interests of their Peoples. In the case of Hong Kong, the reality that protesters want true democracy means China could well be facing a scenario more akin to either Syria or Myanmar.
Should the Chinese leadership, however, choose to make a deal with protesters that essentially reverses their initial decision on who can run for elected office in Hong Kong, their concern would be such concessions can make the Communist party look weak. In turn, people in China may well start doing more to demand the same rights and privileges as those enjoyed by the People of Hong Kong. In essence, the Chinese leadership has made a critical error that could easily result in a mass movement favoring democratization and they need find the least destabilizing option to address that error.
Although the democratization process does not necessarily result in absolute chaos, it does increase the likelihood of catastrophic political instability. As China is the world’s second largest economy, a major trade partner for the developed world, a major nuclear military power, and the world’s most populous country, a political unstable China would be devastating to the global economy and the stability of the International Community.
Just as the Ukraine Crisis demanded the world divert its attention away from the spread of the Islamic State, the Hong Kong Umbrella Revolution is likely going to require the same level of scrutiny as a destabilized China is a far greater threat than almost any terrorist plot. Unfortunately, the Ukraine Crisis and the developing situation in Hong Kong serve as examples of why the US cannot fully commit resources to President Obama’s emerging war on terrorism. They also demonstrate the reason why Middle Eastern nations much root out terrorism and stabilize heir region. Quite frankly, the US and the West cannot afford to over commit in the Middle East, especially now that it appears Hong Kong is on its way to giving Obama the pivot to Asia he has long sought.
Furthermore, China has long been a country that seeks balanced solutions in order to avoid instability. In that spirit, it would be wise for the Chinese leadership to proactively embrace long overdue reforms that allow for governance that is far more responsive and affords greater political freedoms to all Chinese citizens.
Looking at Saudi Arabia, which has a ruling monarchy that inherently conflicts with the democratization process seen in the Middle East, the Chinese have a model that can help them find ways to address the concerns of their Peoples in a peaceful, responsible manner in the long run without undermining the rule of the Communist Party. Of course, they could also choose to finally embrace the democratization process as doing so would be a way of avoiding long-term civil unrest.
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