“For China, Limited Tools to Quell Unrest in Hong Kong”
Edward Wong and Chris Buckley
September 29, 2014
Ed Wong and Chris Buckley explain how China’s leadership has very little at their disposal to mollify the protesters filling the streets of Hong Kong’s financial districts and shopping neighborhoods. Strategically, Beijing may have backed itself into a corner.
But tactically, Xi Jinping has more, better choices for handling this unrest than his predecessors did a generation ago.
We know precious little about the decisions that led to the People’s Liberation Army retaking Tian’anmen Square from the Chinese people who occupied it 25 years ago. But we do know that one of the reasons that China formed the People’s Armed Police (Wu Jing) in the early 1990s was to ensure that in the case of severe unrest, the government would not have to turn the guns of the Army on the people ever again.
Today, China has at its disposal the Hong Kong Police, who remain one of Asia’s more professional law enforcement agencies. If the local cops can’t handle things, China has Wu Jing units that it can send in to bolster them – and they probably already have. They have the weapons that are appropriate for the containment of demonstrations and riots – tear gas, bean bag shotguns, water cannons, and other non-lethal means – and that are designed to avoid heavy casualties.
The question now comes down to tactics. How will the commanders go about dispersing a protest that is not only peaceful, but polite as well? Because Wong and Buckley make clear that the concessions required to send the people home are not forthcoming, and Beijing’s patience with disruption is not infinite.