Since the Hong Kong demonstrations began, the readership of this blog has soared in Hong Kong. For that, I’m very grateful. At the same time, I am exceedingly worried about the outcome of the latest confrontations with police and the Chinese military. I know that you are fighting for your democratic rights; for the right of self-determination. And you should know that the vast majority of the free world supports you!
But I must also offer a warning:
For most of modern history, fundamental change has come more from non-violent demonstrations and civil disobedience than from violent conflict. That includes the women’s suffrage movement in the US, the Gandhi-led Salt March that led to the independence of India, the Martin Luther King-led movement for civil rights for African-Americans, the voting rights movement for African-Americans, the anti-Vietnam War protests in the US, the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, the Singing Revolution in the Balkans, the Monday demonstrations in East Germany, the forced resignation of President Mubarak in Egypt, and the impeachment of Park Geun-hye in South Korea.
Certainly, there have been cataclysmic failures: In Tibet, in Syria, in Iran, in Turkey and in Tiananmen Square. Nevertheless, the success of non-violent change has far outweighed the use of violence. Violent responses by the masses tend to be met with even greater violence from dictators.
So, Hongkongers, I want you to know that I, too, stand by your side. I was in Lhasa and Shanghai when Hong Kong was returned to China. I witnessed the joy and the hope of the Chinese people and the paranoia of the Chinese government. I, and many others, hoped that Hong Kong would change China more than China changed Hong Kong. But I beg you not to give the autocrats of China a reason to apply their military superiority against you.
As the financial center of China – indeed of Asia – you have unique power. You are not Tibet. You are not Xinjiang. China needs you. It can’t hide its violent police actions. It can’t merely claim that it is an internal matter as with the democracy movement in Tiananmen Square. Its leaders dare not destroy the golden goose that is Hong Kong and damage its standing in the world by viciously attacking you.
Similarly, you dare not give China’s leaders cover by pushing too far too quickly. You dare not be seen as too unreasonable, too violent. That will only give China’s autocrats cover. It will permit them to hide behind the violent and destructive actions of a few demonstrators to violently crackdown on your movement. It will allow China to say that it had no choice but to act. And other world leaders, and the world’s news media, might believe it to be true.
So here’s hoping that cooler heads prevail; that you show your power in your numbers and in your determination to live free. And that Xi Jinping sees the wisdom in restraint,
The whole world is watching!