By Alejandro A. Tagliavini *
The attempt to organize a protest in Macau, a Chinese territory that theoretically enjoys the same autonomy as Hong Kong, was quickly stifled by the arrest of seven people and the deployment of dozens of police officers. The truth is that Macau is subject to strict control of Beijing, with less freedom and, consequently, with less economic development.
The Hong Kong crisis continues unstoppable, even after the head of the local government said that the demonstration on Sunday, August 18, which was characterized by a total absence of violent incidents, may be “the beginning of the return to peace”.
In the previous demonstrations there was violence partly due to ‘provocative agents’, police officers dressed in demonstrators, which creates uncertainty since “now we don’t know who the friend is and who the enemy” as a protester assures.
Beijing, which fears a Hong Kong too “wayward” to serve as an example to the citizens of mainland China, has used all possible tactics: police brutality, sending troops to the border city of Shenzhen to intimidate, allusion to the massacre at Tiananmen and others.
Facebook says that China used its services to discredit protesters and Twitter suspended 986 accounts that “are coordinated within the framework of a Chinese-backed state-supported operation.” They always try with fear to intimidate, and to overcome fear is already an important beginning.
Now, the “Umbrella Revolution”, demonstrations that lasted for 79 days during 2014, ended in nothing, it was considered a failure, and many fell into despair and others emigrated. Why these new manifestations would be successful?
Unlike Macau, Hong Kong keeps a certain level of freedom because it still has real power. Li Ka-shing, 91, the richest man in Hong Kong whose fortune – according to Forbes – is around 27 billion dollars, published several announcements in the local press calling for “violence and anger to stop in the name of love. ”
Sincere or not, since it could well be defending its interests, the truth is that, if the economy continues to fall as in the second quarter when it registered a contraction of 0.3%, Hong Kong will lose influence. According to Capital Economics, the altercations have caused a decline in the influx of tourists, especially continental Chinese – representing 40% of visitors and 80% of their retail sales – whose purchases have been reduced between 30 and 50 %.
In 1997, Hong Kong’s GDP accounted for one fifth of all that accumulated in the Asian country, but now it does not exceed 3%. In any case, it is the gateway to most of the foreign direct investments China receives – 71.5% in 2018 – and here lies its strength.
In my opinion, as the problems of freedom are exclusively solved with more freedom, instead of these mass demonstrations that could be counterproductive when provoking the repression of Beijing, citizens should seek ways to strengthen their economic power and thus strengthen and even increase their freedom. They should, wisely and without arousing Beijing’s fears, ensure that the State decreases its presence in the economy, deregulating and lowering taxes, so that the private sector, the people, enrich themselves and gain power.
* Member of the Advisory Board of the Center on Global Prosperity, of Oakland, California