‘Risks still too big’ for China to send in troops to quell Hong Kong unrest

Jun Mai

The unrest in Hong Kong does not yet warrant direct intervention by Beijing despite hardening public sentiment and calls for tougher action in mainland China, according to Chinese government advisers.

Shi Yinhong, an international relations expert at Renmin University and an adviser to the State Council – China’s cabinet – said China would risk damaging its ties with the United States and other major foreign powers, upsetting its own development and losing Hong Kong’s special status if it took the matter directly into its hands.

“I don’t think we need to use troops. Hong Kong police will gradually escalate their action and they haven’t exhausted their means,” Shi said, expressing a view shared by other mainland government advisers and academics.

But he warned that if the violence and chaos continued, it “won’t be too far away from reaching that point”.

A US State Department spokeswoman said the United States was “deeply concerned” about reports of paramilitary movements along the Hong Kong border and reiterated a US call for all sides to refrain from violence.

She said it was important for the Hong Kong government to respect “freedoms of speech and peaceful assembly” and for Beijing to adhere to its commitments to allow a high degree of autonomy for Hong Kong.

She said the protests reflected “broad and legitimate concerns about the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy”.

“The continued erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy puts at risk its long-established special status in international affairs,” she said.

It comes after massive anti-government protests at Hong Kong International Airport brought the city’s air traffic to a halt and triggered a huge backlash on the mainland, where the public feel they have been wrongly targeted by the increasingly violent protesters. Many demanded the central government take action to end the chaos.

The tension deepened after US President Donald Trump, citing intelligence sources, tweeted that the Chinese government was moving troops to the border with Hong Kong. Trump described the situation in the city as “tricky” and called on all sides to remain “calm and safe”.

Footage of trucks from the paramilitary People’s Armed Police rolling into Shenzhen began circulating online on Saturday.

Beijing ‘unlikely to intervene’ in Hong Kong as pressure mounts on police

But Shi and others said direct intervention would be too costly to China and would only be used when all other methods had been exhausted.

“As the trade war with the US goes on, Hong Kong’s importance to our financial system is getting bigger,” Shi said. “If Beijing intervenes with too much assertiveness, the US might revoke the preferential status of Hong Kong.”

He was referring to the US’ 1992 Hong Kong Policy Act which gives the city a special status. In June, American lawmakers introduced a bipartisan bill requiring the US government to examine Hong Kong’s autonomy annually to decide whether to extend the arrangement.

Losing that status could cripple the operations of many businesses based in Hong Kong, said Shen Dingli, a Shanghai-based international affairs expert.

A satellite image appears to show a close-up of Chinese military vehicles at Shenzhen Bay Sports Centre in Shenzhen. Photo: Maxar Technologies

Wang Yong, another specialist on international political economy with Peking University, agreed.

“There would be a lot of opposition from interest groups in the US. Hong Kong is the bridgehead for many multinational corporations and investors from Wall Street to get into the Chinese market,” said Wang, who also teaches at an academy affiliated with China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“Hong Kong and the Chinese government will need to handle this with extra care, so as not to give any ammunition to hawks in the United States.

“If Hong Kong is not handled properly, it could add tensions to the bilateral ties and ruin any prospect of a trade deal.”

China rejects requests for US warships to visit Hong Kong amid protests

Pang Zhongying, an international relations specialist at Ocean University of China in Qingdao, said direct intervention could also damage China’s ties with other countries.

“The whole world is watching. Beijing has exercised restraint for two months and still hasn’t taken any clear action because this is not an easy choice,” said Pang, who is also a member of the Beijing-based Pangoal Institution, a think tank that advises several ministerial offices.

While some observers said Beijing was under political pressure to end the protests in Hong Kong before October 1 – the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, Shi said the central government would not lose patience so easily.

“National Day [on October 1] is an important time, but the Chinese government is not naive to believe there has to be peace under all heaven then,” he said.

“It’s only a bit more than a month from now, we can almost say for sure the trade war will still be on by then and a major turning point in Hong Kong is not likely to happen. But the celebration must go on.”

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