China’s signalling it’s prepared to send in security forces to suppress the uprising in Hong Kong.
The question now is what President Xi Jinping will do.
State-run media have posted videos of the People’s Armed Police assembling across the border in Shenzhen, while Chinese officials describe the protests as a “color revolution” and “terrorism” — a term used to justify the repression of minority Muslims in Xinjiang.
The demonstrators too have raised the stakes, with actions to inflict economic pain as they push for leader Carrie Lam’s resignation and other demands to loosen Beijing’s grip on the city. Yet Xi has good reasons to sit tight and hope the unrest runs out of steam.
Hong Kong serves as a crucial centre for Chinese state-run companies to raise funds and store the wealth of powerful figures on the mainland. Military action could not only wreck its reputation as a reliable commercial hub, it might invite international sanctions that would slow China’s economic growth at a time when Hong Kong’s economy is headed for a recession and a trade deal with Donald Trump looks increasingly unlikely.
If Xi wanted, he could quickly do away with Hong Kong’s autonomy and send in troops overnight.