Beijing's role in directing the Hong Kong government throughout the extradition bill protests has been widely assumed, and following the arrest of three protest leaders Friday morning (local time), as well as the cancellation of Saturday's march, the long-anticipated crackdown (complete with a 'rotation' of PLA forces) appears to have finally started.
But in case there was any doubt left in your mind, Reuters published a lengthy report Friday detailing the extent to which the Chinese Communist Party has directed the Hong Kong government's response to the protests.
Hedge fund manager Kyle Bass noted on twitter that the troop "rotation" in Hong Kong looks more like an "invasion."
Some call a one-way troop movement a “rotation”. I tend to call them “buildups” or simply an “invasion”.— Kyle Bass (@Jkylebass) August 29, 2019
Fortunately for them, the detained protest leaders, a group that included Joshua Wong, the student protest leader who gained notoriety during the 2014 Umbrella movement, have been released.
My arrest shows the government answers our request for a dialogue with batons, tear gas, rubber bullets and mass arrest. Our freedom of assembly and other fundamental rights are eroded.— Joshua Wong 黃之鋒 (@joshuawongcf) August 30, 2019
Earlier this summer, Lam submitted a report to Beijing that analyzed the protesters demands and issued a finding: permanently withdrawing the extradition bill could help placate the people and end the protest movement. But Beijing was, unsurprisingly, firmly opposed to this, or meeting any of the protesters other demands.
The Chinese central government rejected Lam’s proposal to withdraw the extradition bill and ordered her not to yield to any of the protesters’ other demands at that time, three individuals with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
While it comes as no surprise that China would be unwilling to show any weakness in dealing with the HK protesters, the Reuters report for the first time offers "concrete evidence" of the degree to which the Communist Party is calling the shots in Hong Kong. Lam's report was prepared for an Aug. 7 meeting in Shenzhen with the senior Chinese leadership intended to examine the feasibility of the protest movement's demands, and how acceding to some of them might help restore order. Ultimately, the Chinese leadership decided not to take any action on the protesters' demands, particularly when it comes to the withdrawal bill - which Lam has said is 'dead' but not completely 'withdrawn' - or investigations into excessive use of force by police. Instead, they ratcheted up their rhetoric about foreign interference.
Lam's report had been submitted to the Central Co-ordination Group for Hong Kong and Macau Affairs, a group led by the Politburo Standing Committee.
"They said no" to all five demands, said the source. "The situation is far more complicated than most people realize."
As Reuters pointed out, the extent of Beijing's influence "strikes at the heart of Hong Kong's 'one country, two systems' government, which promised the city a high degree of autonomy," particularly at a time when the former British colony is facing its most serious political crisis since it was returned to China in 1997.
Senior pro-Beijing politician Ip Kwok-him, a member of Hong Kong’s ruling executive council, told Reuters that "if the central government won’t allow something, you can’t do it."
A senior businessman who attended the Shenzhen meeting and has met with Lam recently said "her hands are tied" and Beijing wouldn’t let her withdraw the bill. At the meeting, Zhang Xiaoming, the head of the HKMAO, said in public remarks that if the unrest persisted, the central government would intervene. Officials have compared the protests to "terrorism."
With the Oct 1, 70th anniversary of the CCP's founding just one month away, that point appears to be drawing ever-nearer.