OPINION: Implications of change in China

Edmund Tayao

Posted at Sep 02 2019 08:38 PM

It’s been a waiting game, that’s how it’s been if we make sense of the way authorities have been handling the Hong Kong protests. Of course, it cannot be overemphasized as we have noted in the previous writings and summing up the news on the drawn-out protest in the premier island city, that there is just no clear and clean way out of what is now a quandary. Something’s gotta give. It’s a fix no doubt, but it has to be resolved, no one gains anything in a stalemate. Well perhaps either one side may be thinking they’re gaining by stalling, perhaps, but only up to some time. Time is a non-renewable resource. Most often, you think you are using it only to find out that you are actually getting used up.

Quite interesting that China is clearly taking a different tact. There had been a wave of arrests a few days back; prominent democracy activists and protesters were taken and charged but were released on bail. This is a different playbook if previous approaches to similar incidents of the Chinese government are any reference. It is a demonstration that the rule of law remains the standard, a way of showing they can speak the same language as the people of Hong Kong.

How that language was to be understood or expected, even calculated to be understood, is something else entirely. The arrests were supposed to preempt the plan for more protests over the weekend, but the protests went on anyway and it keeps on escalating and getting violent. The plan was to put the airport to a standstill Sunday. Still, police only gave warning shots even as they noted “serious threats” to their lives.

It is a good plan to wear out the protesters and hope that in time they will give up. A back-up plan should come in handy, on the other hand; perhaps, that is the reason why protesters were allowed to post bail after being arrested and formally charged. This could be a confidence-building measure, an effort to suggest that authorities could be trusted, that they remain guided by the rule of law, that due process is religiously being followed, and that they are willing to listen. This is, after all, what started the protests: the impression that Hong Kong’s rule of law is being undermined if the extradition law is introduced.

This notable change in handling protests can only be an effort to conjecture that some negotiation could be considered. After all, no matter how we look at it, there are already clear losses as the protests continue. A quick resolution would be good for both Hongkongers and the government. If some compromise is possible without any side losing face, it will not only end the impasse, it will also show that the “one country two systems” constitutional principle introduced by Deng Xiaoping in the 1980s actually works.

If the impasse is resolved and the utility of this constitutional principle is demonstrated, it does not only show the success of Deng’s work before, it actually puts in full display the integrity of the Chinese system, a viable alternative to the Western capitalist democratic way. It is stable and could be as open and democratic as that of the West. The point in all these is, the outcome cannot just be in favor of one side. It is definitely a lot more difficult, but it is just fundamental that the resolution is win-win.

This is the very reason why it is not only the Chinese government that has been very careful in addressing the issue. In a connected, virtually barrier-free world we have now, almost everyone keeps track of what’s happening not only in Hong Kong but in many parts of the world, without even really trying and not be concerned. Corollary to that, it is but expected for governments to react and for leaders to express what they think of important incidents in any country. Take for example the attention gathered by the election and presidency of President Duterte.

Then again, the Philippines is not China. Any government, any leader around the world can express what she or he thinks and not lose anything, at least compared to China. Of course, not China, no developed country can afford to antagonize China, not one country that one way or the other trades with China. Then again, which country doesn’t?

It is entirely a different story in the case of President Donald Trump. From the time he expressed interest in running for office, it seemed the whole world was concerned. Perhaps it is really a disturbing thought that a character like Trump would be at the helm of the “still” most powerful country in the world, at least militarily. Or perhaps, leaders around the world no longer look at the US in the same way many did before.

The point in all these is that there is just going to be a lot of disruption if the Hong Kong protests are not ended in a way that all parties gain in some way and not just lose. The waiting game is not only true in China but also with the international community. One wrong move or statement will go a very long way for any country or any leader for that matter.

Any observer and any serious leader in other countries for sure already asked and tried to make sense of the implications of a different China, one that has given up to the demands of Hongkongers. There are some who may be thinking, and this is understandable, that perhaps the usual suspects--international political operatives--are responsible for instigating, if not supporting and sustaining the protests and the objective is to bring down China. Any good thinking observer should ask, however, how will a weakened China impact the whole world? Who or which country stands to gain if China’s standing economically and politically, internationally is substantially cut down? Try to make sense of the implications and it could not be the US, nor can it be Europe.

Perhaps one should ask, why do we even have to bother here in the Philippines? The answer is, what happens in China, or anywhere in the world, will have a significant impact on our politics, the future of our democracy, and governance. Many countries know this already and have shown the significance of fending for themselves. Question is, have we?

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(The author is a professor of Modern Local Governance at the Ateneo School of Government.)

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.