Special Briefing: Can Hong Kong’s Protesters Turn the Trade War?
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Hong Kong has risen up against a controversial extradition bill … and that could mean a lot in economic struggles between the U.S. and China.
This is an OZY Special Briefing, an extension of the Presidential Daily Brief. The Special Briefing tells you what you need to know about an important issue, individual or story that is making news. Each one serves up an interesting selection of facts, opinions, images and videos in order to catch you up and vault you ahead.
WHAT TO KNOW
What’s happening? Yesterday, Hong Kong saw what’s estimated to be its largest-ever demonstration as peaceful protesters clogged the streets to oppose a controversial extradition bill. The twist? The bill had already been suspended the day before by the city’s chief executive, Carrie Lam (pictured), 62. But the 2 million estimated protesters who took to the streets — more demonstrations are taking place today — want the bill scrapped altogether, and many want Lam’s resignation. If Lam steps down, as some predict, there’s no consensus over who might replace her, and Hong Kongers have little say over who serves as their own chief executive.
Why does it matter? Beijing has been struggling on a number of fronts, notably in an ongoing trade war with the United States. Now Chinese President Xi Jinping — who celebrated his 66th birthday on Saturday in the company of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a box of ice cream treats — could see the Hong Kong protests work against him in those negotiations. With a G-20 summit set for the end of June, President Donald Trump is expected to use the protests, and international condemnation of the bill, to push his advantage against Xi on trade and threaten Hong Kong’s economic stability.
HOW TO THINK ABOUT IT
Bill of goods. The latest wave of demonstrations erupted a little over a week ago in response to a Beijing-backed draft law that would allow residents and visitors in Hong Kong to be extradited to mainland China. Now that Lam’s suspended it, it’s not expected back on the docket this year. But it is expected to return — an unacceptable outcome to protesters, who say the law will undermine the independence of the semi-autonomous region. Both the U.S. and U.K. have backed the protesters, saying the law goes against the “one country, two systems” deal struck when China took control of Hong Kong from the British 22 years ago.
International outcry. Hong Kong has long enjoyed a special legal status with regards to U.S. policy, including economic freedoms not afforded the rest of China that have led Western businesses to flock there. Now U.S. officials say the protests could jeopardize that special treatment — lawmakers from both parties have introduced legislation that would place it on shakier ground — and intimated last week that sanctions could be on the table depending on how Beijing responds. President Trump, meanwhile, has said he hopes China and the protesters will “work it out.” But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says Trump and Xi will be discussing the matter at the upcoming G-20 summit, though a private meeting between the two has yet to be confirmed.
Violence in the streets. After one of the protests last week saw 94 injured and 11 arrested, Lam reportedly had an emergency meeting with Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng on Thursday … and on Saturday, she unexpectedly backed down on the bill. Some analysts saw that as a bid from Beijing to avoid further escalation and thus more embarrassment, though China reiterated today that it still stands behind Lam.
Who’s that woman? A devout Catholic, Lam became Hong Kong’s first female chief executive in 2017 after telling voters she’d received a calling from God to run the city. She was Beijing’s favored candidate — though not that of Hong Kong’s population, who were skeptical. Since then, her approval ratings have sunk to record lows. Often described as a workaholic, Lam earned the nickname “The Nanny” in her previous job as the city’s deputy leader … because she was known for cleaning up other people’s messes. Now that reputation has given way to one of a politician beholden to Beijing. Still, Lam has said that opposition to the controversial extradition bill is just a misunderstanding on the part of the protesters — and that she won’t be resigning anytime soon.
Jailbird. Protesters got a powerful ally Monday when 22-year-old Joshua Wong, renowned as one of the leaders of 2014’s Umbrella Movement, was released from prison. He immediately joined the protests, calling for Lam’s resignation and linking the current demonstrations to the protests five years ago, saying, “It’s lucky that Beijing and Carrie Lam transformed a whole generation of youngsters from normal citizens to dissidents.”
WHAT TO READ
Why Hong Kong Matters, by the Editorial Board of The Wall Street Journal
“Speaking the truth about Hong Kong won’t jeopardize a trade deal with Mr. Xi, who will only sign something in his own interests. Mr. Trump might even improve the chances of a good deal by calling out China’s failure to keep its commitment to Britain and Hong Kong.”
Trump May Raise Hong Kong Protests With Xi as City Remains a Thorn in Beijing’s Side, by Ben Westcott on CNN
“Debate around the law appears to have revived Hong Kong’s nascent protest movement at the worst possible time for Beijing, amid the US trade war and just months before the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China.”
WHAT TO WATCH
Hong Kong Protest: Joshua Wong Weighs In on Carrie Lam
“The Hong Kong people, we will not keep silent under the suppression of President Xi.”
Watch on Deutsche Welle on YouTube:
Why Opposition to Hong Kong’s Extradition Law Runs Deep
“You never know if what you wrote will intimidate the Chinese authorities and it’s that fear that draws me out to the street today.”
Watch on the Financial Times on YouTube:
WHAT TO SAY AT THE WATERCOOLER
Unexpected ally. Last week, multiple porn sites in Hong Kong joined the protest, urging users to get out and join the demonstrations. Adult site AV01 temporarily shut down — as did some other businesses in support of the protests — while ThisAV posted a message on its landing page that users should go out and rally instead of staying in and using their services.