Thursday, October 02, 2014

Rhetoric & Reframing

In Larry Diamond's TIME magazine article about the peaceful demonstrations in Hong Kong, he notes that:
"The mammoth protests that have gripped Hong Kong for the past several days have implications far beyond this Special Administrative Region of more than 7 million people ... the youth-led demonstrators have posed the most serious challenge to the authority of the Chinese Communist Party since the massacre in Tiananmen Square 25 years ago."
As momentous and unprecedented as these events are, if the goal is to create a framework for negotiations that helps to reach a democratic resolution without the use of force, I wonder if it is helpful to be using cataclysmic terms that presage the end of the Communist Party. (Maybe that fear is precisely why they don't want Hong Kong to be free?)

Is it possible to reach a more desirable outcome if we lower the stakes and start calling this a "local issue" or a "small thing" with few implications for the CCP? If Hong Kong's fate—in this particular pitched battle, or in general—is seen as "not such a big deal," not an existential threat, then it will be easier for Xi to back down. He will not have to take a hard line because it's ostensibly small potatoes—something on the margin that people shouldn't pay too much attention to.

Of course, the outcome in Hong Kong is a deeply meaningful issue, and there will obviously be implications for liberalization on the Mainland. But could there be some utility to backing off the rhetoric of "make-or-break", "pivot-point", "history in the making" and reframing this as a kind of "business as usual"? Then Xi Jinping will have more space to maneuver. He can grant concessions without seeming weak. He can back down and negotiate without seeming to capitulate to a fundamental threat to the CCP.

On the other hand, diminishing or removing the spotlight from Hong Kong could simply be an invitation for the Beijing (and its HK proxies) to crush the demonstrations by force. Beyond the immense courage, determined conviction, and sheer decency shown by the protestors, there is an additional protective halo of international media coverage, which will amplify the business and economic costs for Beijing should it resort violence.

Finally, another random thought is that while the CCP and its shock troops People's Armed Police may have practiced intensely for Tiananmen-style demonstrations in China itself, all that preparation and war-gaming goes out the window when the massive protests are taking place in Hong Kong—a society with free speech and free press, and importantly, people used to regularly taking to the streets,to assemble in an orderly fashion and express their dissatisfaction with poor governance.


Also check out Prof. Diamond's video remarks about the democracy movement, including messages directly addressed to the people of Hong Kong and to democrats worldwide:

Remarks on Hong Kong's Pro-Democracy Movement (source)

(Excerpt) Message to People in Hong Kong and Democrats Worldwide (source)

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