China Dares Trump to Hit Back With Hong Kong Power Grab
On the first day of China’s biggest political event of the year, Xi Jinping sent a clear message to Donald Trump: We’re going to do what we want in Hong Kong, and we’re not scared of the consequences.
China confirmed on Friday that it would effectively bypass the city’s legislature to implement national security laws, which have long been resisted by residents who fear they will erode freedoms of speech, assembly and the press.
The announcement, which came on the same day China refrained from setting an economic growth target for the first time in decades, triggered immediate calls for fresh protests and sent the MSCI Hong Kong index to its worst loss since 2008.
For Xi, the move allows Beijing to reassert dominance over a piece of Chinese territory where his government was rendered impotent during sometimes-violent protests last year.
Facing rising unemployment in the mainland due to the Covid-19 outbreak and the potential for a big loss in Hong Kong legislative elections set for September, the Communist Party decided it had more to gain by acting decisively to stem any potential threats.
“Xi feels threatened, the leadership feels threatened — this is a crisis,” said David Zweig, an emeritus professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology and director of Transnational China Consulting Ltd.
“This is, ‘We’re not going to give an inch, we’re going to tighten up, and Hong Kong’s national security as a potential subversive center is greater than its economic value.’”
The move risks triggering yet another round of tit-for-tat escalation between the U.S. and China, which have seen ties spiral to their worst in decades since Covid-19 began spreading around the world.
From supply chains and visas to cyberspace and Taiwan, the world’s two largest economies are poised for confrontation on a number of fronts as both Xi and Trump seek to win over domestic constituencies looking for someone to blame for a deterioration in living standards.
The unease within the party leadership was on display at the opening of the National People’s Congress in Beijing, where Premier Li Keqiang announced China would abandon its decades-long practice of setting an annual target for economic growth due to “great uncertainty” in the world economy.
While rolling out only moderate stimulus, the government nevertheless made clear that stabilizing employment had become the top priority. Defense spending this year was set to grow at the slowest pace since 1991.
“We will strive to keep existing jobs secure, work actively to create new ones, and help unemployed people find work,” Li said.