Here we are again with the usual suspects — some well-meaning, others devious and some just brain cell-challenged — floundering around, suggesting ways in which the current political tension could be eased.

What they don’t – or won’t – understand is the simple fact that the Chinese Communist Party is not looking for ways of lowering the temperature but is bent on defeating and humiliating the protesters.

As for Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive in Name Only (CENO), her role is to tinker on the sidelines and await orders.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam. File Photo: Carrie Lam, via Facebook.

So, the obvious ways of relieving the tension, such as declaring the withdrawal of the extradition bill and the launch of an independent inquiry into the events surrounding the protests, are not going to happen because, in the Party’s eyes, this would amount to bowing under pressure.

The Party gave the green light to the suspension of the legislative process for the extradition bill alongside a carefully orchestrated narrative of blaming the CENO for introducing it in the first place, with the obvious implication that a concession could be made because it did not involve the Party having to back down.

However, as the protests have grown and morphed into what Beijing sees as a challenge to the authority of the entire state, the line has hardened. The Party’s mindset is one shared by all dictatorships who prefer fear over popular consent. This means that bowing to public opinion is ruled out because it is viewed as weakness.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

And, because dictatorships are inherently paranoid, they always exaggerate the challenges to their authority on one hand, while trumpeting the futility of daring to question the dictatorships’ supremacy on the other.

Although the hapless idiots cluck around suggesting ways in which the tension can be defused, the reality is there for all to see. It consists of an escalation of threats. The police are being given a free hand to do more or less anything to put down the protests. Bigger and better weaponry is being employed to keep citizens at bay.

Meanwhile, very large and ominous displays of force by the People’s Liberation Army and the People’s Armed Police are now being launched on a more or less weekly basis to provide a vivid reminder of the firepower that resides in the hands of the state.

The images and reality of brute force run alongside what can only be described as a Cultural Revolution-style campaign of denouncing individuals and coercing both those individuals and big organisations into toeing the line. One day teachers are the target, another day it’s accountants, then the mass transit system, then, and more forcibly, Cathay Pacific, Hong Kong’s de-facto flag carrier airline. As, one by one, the targets of bullying fall into line, new targets are unearthed because nothing encourages a bully more than success.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

Now the CENO is apparently pacing around her impressively large office waiting to see whether her bosses will issue orders to enforce a state of emergency, giving her the dictatorial powers to exercise in a puppet-like fashion on their behalf.

The only line of resistance has come from the protestors and this must be causing a lot of head shaking in Beijing because their pathetically tame “advisors” in Hong Kong had reliably informed them that this protest movement had no stamina, that it would wither once it had witnessed the strength of the state and that, as the “defeat” of the Umbrella Movement had shown, exhaustion would set in and the protests would weaken and collapse. Not one element of this sage advice has been accurate.

And to rub in the loyalist’s hopelessness they are stuck with the charmless and charisma-challenged CENO who busies herself organising dialogues with “all sections of society,” and ends up talking to the representatives of the Hong Kong Playgrounds Association and a junior chamber of commerce, who, unbelievably, are portrayed as somehow being a proxy for the youth of Hong Kong. Lam is clearly bent on giving irony a bad name.

So, where in all of this is there a scintilla of evidence that the government and the Party that controls it, actually want some kind of compromise?

Photo: May James/HKFP.

The Chinese Communist Party is not to be confused with the Beijing Cuddly Toys Federation. It has been forged in revolution, is fluent in the languages of coercion and violence and is hardly likely to be shifted by timorous calls for compromise.

But the hard men who run the Party also understand when the costs of what they are intent on doing are outweighed by the unfavourable consequences. That’s why they will be thinking very hard before deploying ultimate force, not because they lack the resources but because the reverberations will be horrifying and although the protests can be crushed, it is becoming increasingly clear that the Hong Kong people cannot so easily be cowed.

So, something is going to have to give. The doomsters are busy forecasting that this means a violent solution but others are wise enough to realise that there are other alternatives — alternatives that will only work when both sides recognise their relative strengths. The most dangerous of the suggestions coming from the usual suspects is that the protest movement should dissolve itself as a precondition for negotiation.

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Stephen Vines

Stephen Vines is a journalist, writer and broadcaster and ran companies in the food sector. He left Hong Kong with great reluctance in July 2021 following the crackdown on freedom of expression. Prior to departure he had been the host of the RTHK television current affairs programme ‘The Pulse’, a columnist for ‘Apple Daily’ and a contributor to other outlets. He continues to be a columnist for ‘HKFP’. Vines was the founding editor of 'Eastern Express' and founding publisher of 'Spike'. In London he was an editor at The Observer and in Asia has worked for international publications including, the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, BBC, Asia Times and The Independent and, during Hong Kong’s 2019/20 protests, for the Sunday Times. Vines is the author of several books, the latest being Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and Worlds’ Biggest Dictatorship