say Xi Jinping has won in Hong Kong. I doubt if that's how he sees it.
As he watches pictures of traffic
flowing through the heart of Admiralty today, he will certainly feel relieved
that he didn't lose. But he is fighting a multi-level multi-player game. He has
merely survived a level.
This is not to say he didn't play
By leaving the protests to burn out
amidst their own divisions and the weariness of the wider Hong Kong public, he
deprived the umbrella movement of the oxygen of repression and demonstrated that
Beijing's tool kit for dealing with citizen defiance runs beyond tanks or
What's more, he made no concessions.
The lesson that Beijing does not bow to pressure was delivered not just to Hong
Kong but to the world.
But the only real victory Beijing
can claim in the entire episode is not in Hong Kong but at home on the mainland
where, barring a few brave souls who raised their voices on behalf of Hong Kong
democracy, little stirred.
This is an important victory for the
propaganda machine, which successfully presented the protesters as a mix of
spoilt children narrowly pursuing their own interests at the expense of the
public good, and cunning enemies of the state in league with foreign forces.
"Any person who cares about
Hong Kong and about the people of Hong Kong should say 'NO' to this hijacking
of the general public will for personal objectives," said the Communist
Party flagship newspaper, the People's Daily.
Champions of democracy everywhere
take note - the aspirations of the young protesters of Hong Kong did not
immediately resonate with their counterparts on the mainland.
Despite being beneficiaries of
globalisation and despite having ever greater contact with the West through
university education and holidays abroad, many young Chinese are suspicious of
idealistic political messages.
Since childhood, they have been
exposed to a historical narrative which dwells on China's humiliation at the
hands of foreigners.
Many now echo their government's
suspicion of street protests, social chaos and foreign ideas peddled by people
whose hidden agenda may be to divide China and keep it down.
According to China's best known
military theorist, Sun Tzu (writing two-and-a-half thousand years ago), the
best kind of victory is won without fighting.
Seeing the mainland stable
throughout two-and-a-half months of street protest in Hong Kong is just such a
But provoking thousands of citizens
onto the streets in the first place is, by the same token, no kind of victory
at all. Beijing brought the umbrella movement on itself.
With its white paper in June and
electoral arrangements in August, it made clear that it would not only draw up
a narrower political board game in Hong Kong but control the pieces too.
Hong Kong citizens were already
resentful of the scale of mainland tourism and immigration, and the young
alienated by a growing list of frustrations including impossible property
In this combustible mix, Beijing's
announcements were the proverbial sparks that lit the prairie fire.
Sun Tzu would have called this
self-inflicted injury. The electoral arrangements were intended to avoid future
challenges from an elected Hong Kong leader. But instead they provoked a very
present challenge from at least 100,000 citizens.
For a government which likes to reinforce
the impression that it is in charge of not just the staging but the script,
Hong Kong was an uncomfortable discovery that the props can get up and
Ever since Chairman Mao's
ideological experiments resulted in the deaths of countless millions in the
1950s and 1960s, China's Communist leaders have insisted that they believe in
"seeking truth from facts".
The sobering fact in relation to the
Umbrella Movement is that a generation of young people in Hong Kong is
increasingly politicised and alienated from China.
With their demand for democratic
rights, the members of the umbrella movement effectively rebranded themselves
The same is true in Taiwan.
Despite all of Beijing's efforts to
coax the island towards reunification, the message from recent local elections
as well as from the Sunflower Movement in the spring is that the Taiwanese
public and especially its young people, are moving in the opposite direction.
Far from assimilating easily to an
increasingly wealthy China, Hong Kong and Taiwan are growing more defiant. And
adding to the list of troublesome peripheries whose citizens can't be trusted
to behave like true Chinese patriots, let's not forget Xinjiang.
So while Xi Jinping will go on
talking up his China Dream and urging the young people of China to unite behind
it, he must have realised by now that his message is struggling with key
Hong Kong has seen a generation of
young people devote energy, passion and sacrifice into a competing dream. These
are people he needs on his side. Xi Jinping may not have lost in Hong Kong, but
he needs to do much, much more if he is going to win.