International Pressure Shapes Political Decisions — the case of the HK Be-water Movement

One of the most commonly referred slogans in the recent Hong Kong social movement is “Be Water, My Friend”, which is said to be quoted from Bruce Lee, the Kung Fu Master of Hong Kong. It implies a leaderless and formless social movement. This Be-water Movement has been lasting for more than 2 months now, and there is one big lesson that I learned from it, that is, international pressure is critical in shaping the government’s political decisions.

First of all, it is intriguing that even though the Be-water Movement was triggered by the government’s proposed Extradition Amendment Bill, and the protestors are Hongkongers, the Chinese Government insists that it is incited or instigated by the US government and its allies. The evidence that the spokespersons provided was that many government officials and politicians from these foreign countries made a lot of comments on the events. Since the Extradition Law would affect all foreigners coming to Hong Kong, it is quite reasonable for other countries’ governments to show concerns on the proposed amendments, but unfortunately, they are regarded as inciting the social movement, it shows the weight of international pressure on the Chinese Government.

When the HK Government decided to resume the Second Reading of the Bill in the Legislative Council in early June disregarding the public opposition, it triggered the first wave of international pressure against the HK Government, including

With such strong global opposition, the CE of HK finally suspended the Bill on June 15, after the 1.03 million people’s rally on June 9, and the protest on June 12 which blocked the roads leading to the Legislative Council and rendered the meeting canceled.

The second event is even more dramatic, though it is still a rumor pending for more evidence. It is a story about how the international pressure stopped the Tiananmen-like crackdown incident on Aug 18.

Referring to the US President’s statement on Aug 2, his stance on the HK social movement was an observer. He told the reporters in Washington “That (the Be-water Movement) is between HK and China, because HK is part of China.” It implies that the US govt would be silent on China’s actions taking against the protestors in HK.

The tension had been escalating though, before Aug 14, international pressure on this matter was still mild and was confined to an urge of setting up an independent investigation for the incident. For example, on Aug 10, the UK Foreign Minister urged the CE of HK to set up an independent investigation. Then, on Aug 13, the UN Human Rights Office released a statement urging HK government to investigate the incidents immediately, etc.

But then, something very serious must have happened on or before Aug 13 (China time) in China that aroused international attention and their unprecedented strong responses in the coming few days, probably something related to a plan of a violent crackdown on the protest.

For example, the Canadian Prime Minister said: “he was very worried about events in HK, and are extremely concerned about the situation in HK, and urged Chinese authorities to handle the protests there with tact.” Almost at the same time, US Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell warned China that any violent crackdown on protests in the city would be ‘completely unacceptable’, while Trump administration officials urged all sides to refrain from violence.”[1]

The US President tweeted on Aug 14 that: “Our Intelligence has informed us that the Chinese Government is moving troops to the Border with Hong Kong. Everyone should be calm and safe!” [2] And it was confirmed by Reuters that China’s People’s Armed Police have assembled in Shenzhen for exercises. [1]

The reason why only China and the US knew what was happening, but HK people knew nothing at all is revealed later that China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi had made an unexpected trip to New York for talks with his US counterpart Mike Pompeo about the protests in HK on Aug 13, probably about the crackdown plan.

But the meeting must end badly. It is reported that US Congressmen called for actions from the US and warned Beijing of serious consequences if it cracked down on peaceful protestors. [3]

One day after, the US President changed his stance dramatically. For example, on Aug 14, he tweeted: “I have ZERO doubt that if President Xi wants to quickly and humanely solve the Hong Kong problem, he can do it.” [4]

On Aug 15, he further tweeted: “ If President Xi would meet directly and personally with the protesters, there would be a happy and enlightened ending to the Hong Kong problem. I have no doubt!” [5]

He even linked HK matters with the US-China trade talks. He told reporters in New Jersey that: “I think it would be very hard to deal [in Trade talks] if they do violence. If it’s another Tiananmen Square …” If such a situation was repeated in Hong Kong, “I think there’d be … tremendous political sentiment not to do something” [6]

Besides the firm responses from the US government, it is also reported that strong statements from the UK, Canada, Australia, Germany, and France governments have been issued openly and to HK government urging restraint and dialogue over HK anti-extradition law clashes. [7]

There is also some supporting evidence of the crackdown plan. For example, two mainlanders and a HKer were caught red-handed of possessing seven petrol bombs. [8] Groups of men from mainland China wearing white clothes and with same colored rubber wristbands were reported to be crossing the border on Aug 16. [9] It is believed that they are coming to disguise as protestors and incite violence actions on the Aug 18 rally to trigger the crackdown plot.

It is rumored that the crackdown plan was stopped by the strong international pressure. It may require more evidence to confirm it though, if it is true then it shows that the government’s political decisions are dominantly shaped by international pressure on this case.

On Aug 18, we had a peaceful but huge "flowing rally” of about 1.7 million participants in HK.

[Chinese version: 姚松炎 (2019) 國際壓力主導政治決策 — 從香港若水運動中領略的學問,方格子,8月23日。]

Figure 1 The 1.7m ppl Rally on Aug 18 in HK. Source: Citizen News


[1] Reuters (2019) Canada’s Justin Trudeau extremely concerned about Hong Kong, urges China to be careful, SCMP, Aug 14.

[2] Trump, D.(2019a) Twitter Message, Aug 13.

[3] Zheng, S. (2019) US Congress Support Hong Kong Protests Adds Pressure White House to take firmer stance towards Chinese government, SCMP, Aug 16.

[4] Trump, D. (2019b) Twitter Message, Aug 14.

[5] Trump, D. (2019b) Twitter Message, Aug 15.

[6] Stein, C. (2019) ‘Another Tiananmen Square’ crackdown in Hong Kong would harm trade deal, Trump warns, Japan Times, Aug 19.

[7] Creery, J. (2019) Foreign gov’ts and politicians urge restraint and dialogue over Hong Kong anti-extradition law clashes, HKFP, Aug 14.

[8] Chung, K. (2019) Hongkonger and mainland man charged after arrest on suspicion of possessing seven petrol bombs, SCMP, Aug 17.

[9] Lo, C. (2019) Several intercepted and refused entry to Hong Kong through border points as groups of men arrive from mainland China, government source says, SCMP, Aug 18.



News and ideas worthy of discourse. Fundamentally informative and intelligently analytical.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store

ecyY (Edward Yiu) — easy to understand why, easy to study why. Finding the truths scientifically is the theme.