(Picture source: SCMP)

What is happening in Hong Kong now is of great concern for the people of Southeast Asia. The years-long, pent-up frustration against the PRC has manifested into episodic violence unleashed both by and against the Hong Kong Police Force and the citizens of Hong Kong. Underpinning the violence is, in one end, the PRC’s primacy to maintain political order and stability for China, whereas the other, the Hong Kong people’s longing for freedom and democracy and the need for the government to meet its five demands.

None of these two factions are willing to meet each other’s demands halfway, let alone wanting to give reconciliation a chance. Not Beijing-appointed Carrie Lam, not the protestors, and certainly not Chinese President Xi Jinping. With the PRC celebrating the 70thof the founding of the People’s Republic of the October 1st2019, President Xi Jinping and the party is hellbent in maintaining the status quo and to ensure his iron rule is obeyed and unquestioned. To the protestors, whose options are getting limited and their freedom gradually eroded amid the violence inflicted on them, they may find October 1 as a day of the beginning of the end for both sides.

The developing world has long admired the development of China and looks forward to its harmonious and peaceful rise in the world stage, but what the PRC is doing now to the youths of Hong Kong is counter-productive to the country’s image. It will certainly make a big mistake if it tries to enact a Tiananmen Square 2.0. It is in China’s interest to give a degree of freedom and democracy to these students by meeting a part of their demands. It is not a sign of weakness to compromise and bargain. Winning them softly over the long-run would be a better strategy for its national security.

If the country takes a hundred or three hundred years to win over the Hong Kong people under its rule, then so be it. China has survived for the past 5,000 years. It has all the time in the world to be patient. To force change against the wishes of a people, especially now when they are being observed by the world at large, brings nothing but long-term damage to the country and its strategic interest in Southeast Asia and beyond. The peaceful and harmonious rise rhetoric will fall apart before the eyes of the global community.

Similarly, the protestors should either pack up their bags and leave the city for good, bringing along with them their family and loved ones. With Hong Kong’s economic inequality on the rise and with its political future uncertain, it would bid well for them to start migrating elsewhere. Those who stay should instead cooperate with China in a non-confrontational manner, or as Lee Kuan Yew once advised Hong Kong what to do. To ramp up the violence to achieve an unattainable utopia (of achieving independence) can only get themselves hurt (or even killed) in the end. There is no logical outcome in a protracted protests other than further wanton violence.

The faster these protestors realize and accept the reality of the “One Country, Two System”, the better the Hong Kong-ers and the PRC would be. It is not a cowardly move to accept reality as is. It would certainly be cowardly to move if these youths’ actions get themselves, their friends or family members killed. That noted both are in the wrong in this point of time, and they both are now being swayed by Hong Kong radical leaders and right-wing Chinese nationalist who are bent in sharpening the divide of both factions. The silent majority will be squashed.

Any wrong move made against these students can easily turn the episode into one of the darkest episodes of China’s modern history. The event can easily turn into a Thermopyle-ian last stand that could be forever be inscribed into the minds of non-Chinese young people all over the world of the violence China can unleash to other people. Once these non-Chinese young leaders, in turn, assume power in their respective nations, China will only find itself isolated, detested, and seen with extreme suspicion.

At the same time, political leaders across the region are looking close to the situation in Hong Kong are already ramping up its defense capabilities. The nationalist, anti-China political factions in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Vietnam and more will be more glad to use the Hong Kong story as a way to shore up majority support to enhance their military capabilities in the event of a war. The rapid military escalation can easily destabilize the entire Southeast Asian region. It will be a geopolitical disaster for everyone.

In the meantime, anti-China foreign agents may have already been dispatched to further polarize the internal politics in Hong Kong. They can do this by going undercover, as either a protestor or the police force, to intensify extremist behaviors. Foreign money will also pour into the pockets of the protestors to prolong the instability. Nefarious foreign may be waiting with bated breath for when the breaking point can be reached. Only with a weak China can these foreign powers maintain the “balance of power” in the region, and they are using Hong Kong as a weak point to eroding China’s political order and, hence, hegemony in the region.

The global media, particularly from the West, being hungry for controversial news as always, will further frame the rallies and violent incidents as reaching its end-stage. With just the right persons to interview, “social proof” can be used to easily sway the protestors and police force into wrongheaded action. The Isobel Yeung interview of youth who said that it is a “do or die” moment may as well be a fabrication, but its effect will be powerful and inspiring to the Hong Kong youth for all the wrong reasons.

(Isobel Yeung of Vice interviewing an HK youth giving out a chilling message)

At home, the young and educated unemployed in China is observing the story very closely. If a violent incident does eventually happen, they are going to use it as a flame to champion and push for their own political revolution. Whereas China once held a strong centralized state, the “Hong Kong Incident” will pave way for great instability from within its peoples. This instability can push back China to its warring states period, with China breaking up into a million pieces, if not this century then in the centuries to come.

It is Southeast Asia’s interest to have a strong and prosperous China, but it should be in keeping with its harmonious and peaceful rise in the global order. How the PRC will treat the Hong Kong protestors will have a lasting effect on the people’s impression of the country and its political leaders. A rapid de-escalation should be pursued before a Tiananmen 2.0 occurs. As the youth interviewed by Vice said, it will take one murder to set off an ugly chain of events. This breaking point may initiate the fall of China in the 21stCentury.

It very much better to win over Hong Kong by giving them what they need now, if not halfway, namely the five demands. If not all, then they should be invited to bargain and compromise, so as to reach a situation where de-escalation should be the order of the day. Conversely, the Hong Kong demonstrators should tone themselves down by giving reconciliation a chance.

Young people do not know that they cannot change the government easily. To go up against a regime that has paid the price of forty-five million people in the mid-20th century to create the Chinese modern state as we know it is foolish and naïve. Unfortunately, the idealistic ambition to attain an unattainable utopia is atypical of the attitude and worldview of young people. It will be when the first guns are shot that they will find what the PRC is very much capable of. It is a price that neither party desires to pay, especially in the modern age.

Peace and order should be the primary goal to be achieved by both the protestors and the PRC now. Time will eventually win Hong Kong back, but not anytime soon and certainly not before the “One Country, Two System” is set to expire in 2047. Again, China has a lot of time to absorb Hong Kong. China is a great civilization that has survived for 5,000 years. It would be a strategic error of the highest order if it makes the mistake of carrying out a Tiananmen Square 2.0.