The Irish Times view on Hong Kong’s crisis: The need for restraint
Beijing should reaffirm its commitment to the “one country, two systems” principle and allow the Hong Kong leadership to sit down with representatives of the protesters
In Hong Kong, what began just over two months ago as a set of impromptu protests driven by relatively limited demands – chiefly the withdrawal of a draft extradition law that would allow people to be sent to China for trial – has morphed into a wide-ranging pro-democracy movement with a broader agenda. That shift is partly a result of the tone-deaf – and at times violent – response of the authorities in the semi-autonomous territory to public anger over the extradition law, which critics fear could be abused by Beijing to seize dissidents for political reasons.
The city’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, dug in, suspending the draft law rather than taking it off the table, then demonising the protesters and sending in the police to do the rest. But the movement has also brought to the surface much wider discontent over the gradual erosion of the rights and freedoms China guaranteed the city when Britain handed it over in 1997.
A strike brought parts of the territory to a standstill on Monday. On the same day, 82 people were arrested, mostly on charges of unlawful assembly and rioting, and the stand-off between police and protesters continued in several districts.
Now the protesters are calling for universal suffrage, an independent inquiry into the handling of the crisis and the resignation of Lam herself. These are reasonable demands. But Lam has dismissed the idea of stepping down and warned that the protests had brought the city to the “verge of a very dangerous situation”. Let there be no illusions: Beijing is dictating the official response in Hong Kong. And President Xi Jinping presumably believes that any concessions to the protesters in Hong Kong would signal weakness, not least to secessionist minorities on the mainland. Yet he must also know that sending Chinese forces into Hong Kong would be a colossal error that would draw international condemnation and undermine Chinese rhetoric about its “peaceful rise”. Instead, Beijing should reaffirm its commitment to the “one country, two systems” principle and allow the Hong Kong leadership to sit down with representatives of the protesters.