Opinion: Chinese military intervention in Hong Kong would be costly
Threats without impact
A dictatorship is built on the principle of fear. The rulers are scared of the people and in turn see to it that the people are scared of them. China has perfected this system of deterrence. The government has countless ways of reminding citizens that it is able and willing to use force: a phone call from China’s domestic intelligence agency to an individual’s employer, a ban on leaving the country, or even arbitrary arrest and torture.
Yet China’s rulers are currently witnessing that their usual threats are not having any effect on the predominantly young Hong Kong protesters, who have been taking to the streets for ten weeks now. Neither police brutality nor mass arrests have deterred them. Not even the threat of ten years in prison for those convicted of “rioting” has had any impact. And China’s increasingly thinly veiled threat of sending in the army isn’t scaring them off.
China’s rulers must be rather perplexed at this stage. After all, these are not empty threats. Thirty years ago, the Communist leadership brutally suppressed the Tiananmen Square protests, making clear it has no scruples against shooting its own citizens if its feels its grip on power is in jeopardy.