Author and war correspondent Michael Yon reports that one can feel the collective political and emotional change on Hong Kong's streets — change that may have dire consequences.
At the end of August, I emailed Yon a couple of questions based on an observation he made in a videocast shot some 10 days prior. (See michaelyon-online.com. He livestreams via Facebook.) In the video, Yon said Hong Kong's populace showed signs of moving from protest to civil unrest. My questions: What's the current situation? And will communist China crack down (i.e. armed intervention)?
Yon is a former U.S. Army Green Beret and schooled in judging what political scientists call the "collective human dynamics" of social, political and economic stress in a society. Detectives, shoe-leather reporters and military vets call that a "feel for the streets."
East Germany provides a historical example of the stages of resistance, the escalating trend (or gradient) Yon noticed. In 1989, East Germans moved from secret police-enforced silence to public protests to civil disobedience involving the vast majority of East German citizens. To employ a buzz term, East Germans were "collectively mobilized" in bitter opposition to their communist jailers. The Berlin Wall cracked; mass civil disobedience toppled the regime. Did that make it a bloodless insurgency? I'd remind a pinhead making that argument that the long siege called the Cold War wasn't bloodless.
Responding on Sept. 1 to my sitrep request, Yon's email began: "I've been in more than 40 protests so far and can say with certainty that the mood becomes more violent week by week."
What started as protests aimed at specific government actions had become "general civil unrest." Protests during the first month (June) were mostly "about specific items that were severable and solvable if the leaders were wise," Yon wrote. But "they were unwise."
Yon was referring to Hong Kong's government (led by Carrie Lam) and Beijing's central communist dictatorship. (Beijing administers Hong Kong through its Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.) The government leaders unwisely employed police to forcefully confront protestors.
Police overreaction and treating protestors as criminals enraged Hong Kongers (the name many prefer). The escalation process began as protests "drifted into general civil unrest where the obvious majority of people were just sick of the police and government in totality. The general population seems to view the government as illegitimate." Yon cited the July 1 incident as an early indicator of this sentiment. On that date, protestors broke into Hong Kong's legislative council offices. He witnessed the event firsthand.
Let me interject a point here, one I made in a column written this summer. Yon referenced that column in a videocast as historical context for Hong Kong's hot summer. Beijing's bouts of ham-handed authoritarian bullying and the regime's 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre of political dissenters have led many Hong Kongers to conclude the communists are slowly reneging on the Sino-British Declaration of 1984 that assured Hong Kong's autonomy until 2047. This deep distrust of Beijing's dictatorship seeds fear, a volatile emotion, especially when several million people share it. Distrust also motivates people to respond politically.
Civil unrest is a political response. We can speculate on others. The city's citizens could kowtow (an apt Chinese word) to Beijing's demands, or continue to resist, in this case resisting to protect Hong Kong's treaty-guaranteed freedom.
Or has their cause gone beyond autonomy? Yon considered that. Sometime during the past three weeks, he mused, the situation went beyond civil unrest. "It is clear that a growing number want to overthrow the HK government," he said. Though he had yet to hear anyone say it, he bet that "within just a week or so they will be saying it." He speculated an insurgency could erupt because "clearly many protestors would rather see the city burn than just surrender."
That's an informed reporter's dire impression. What would ignite this insurgency? I fear my second question is the likely answer: Beijing's army or the Peoples Armed Police attacking Hong Kong's citizens.
Beijing must de-escalate the Hong Kong crisis. If the regime resorts to force and kills hundreds, if not thousands, of Hong Kong citizens, President Donald Trump will use that heinous act to unite the world against communist China.
To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com. His latest book, "Cocktails from Hell: Five Wars Shaping the 21st Century" (Bombardier Books), is available now.