TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – As the popular protests in Hong Kong continue into their second month, Beijing is unlikely to use the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to violently crack down on protestors, with the primary reason being public perception in Taiwan, according to a former high-ranking U.S. Navy officer.
Retired U.S. Admiral James Stavridis penned an op-ed published by Bloomberg on Aug. 8 in which he suggests that Beijing is apprehensive of implementing martial law in the Special Administrative Region (SAR) of Hong Kong because of the impact it would have on relations with Taiwan, especially as Taiwan heads towards a national election.
Stavridis recognizes that while Beijing certainly has a red line that, if crossed, would probably trigger a military lock-down, as long as the protestors keep their collective demands limited to issues regarding local governance, such as the controversial extradition bill, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) will likely be content to let the demonstrations persist for the time being.
Stavridis suggests that if protests do not gradually recede on their own, then the CCP will possibly use a “rope-a-dope strategy” and shift criticism onto the local administration under Carrie Lam to placate demonstrators and direct public outrage. Beijing is likely to pursue a widespread campaign of what Starvridis refers to as “grey zone activities," using anonymous Chinese agents online and offline in concert with various criminal elements to harass and defame key organizers before the Chinese government would ever commit PLA troops to occupy the city.
The former admiral and current executive consultant at the Carlyle Group explains that by their own calculations, the impact and optics a military crackdown would have among the Taiwanese public is probably the largest reason for the CCP to display self-restraint.
“China will probably avoid a heavy-handed troop movement into Hong Kong for as long as possible, knowing it would create an even stronger independence movement in Taiwan.”
In light of this situation, despite the fact that the U.S. and allies are unable to substantially influence the situation Hong Kong, Washington can at least increase its support for Taiwan to ensure that Taiwan is capable of defending itself and resisting the efforts of the CCP to marginalize or threaten its sovereignty.
“It is vital that Washington stand strong for Taiwan’s self-determination; cooperate with it militarily through joint exercises, freedom-of-navigation operations through the Taiwan Strait, and sales of sophisticated missile-defense systems and aircraft; and increase commercial activity with its vibrant economy.”
James Stavridis was the NATO Supreme Allied Commander of Europe from July 2009 to May 2013 and was also considered as a potential nominee for Secretary of State in 2016 by then-president-elect Donald Trump. Read the full op-ed by Stavridis at Bloomberg.
James Stavridis (Wikimedia Commons)