He Qinglian: ‘The Second Return’ Would Be Nightmarish for Both Hong Kong and China

September 15, 2019 Updated: September 17, 2019

Whatever happens next, said Claudia Rosett, the millions of protesters in Hong Kong have been demonstrating heroic qualities to the world, just as when their predecessors in Tiananmen Square exposed the brutality of the Beijing regime on the world stage 30 years earlier.

The hard work and sacrifice of the Hong Kong protesters have won them widespread support and respect outside China, but they feel helpless. I remember that after the Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong in 2014, Beijing planned to draft the “second return” plan. I looked it up, and it’s true.

Authorities Are Waiting for the Right Moment to ‘Scrape the Poison Off the Bone’

Before Aug. 31, Beijing sent a signal that to “stop violence and control chaos” is the correct way to resolve the Hong Kong issue, followed by “scraping the poison off the bone,” and then a “second return” of Hong Kong to China.

On August. 27, dwnews.com published an article saying that at the same time of “stopping violence and controlling riot,” in the long run Hong Kong needs to thoroughly “scrape the poison off its bones.” The so-called “poison” refers to those Hong Kong youth who advocate resolute resistance. Although the protesters have long declared this round of protests is leaderless, Hong Kong police have admitted to sending undercover agents to try to figure out the backbones of the demonstrations, which are said to number more than 1,000 people including pro-democracy legislators and activists. A number of them have now been arrested.

Reuters released exclusive information on Aug. 30 that Beijing has ordered to reject the five demands of Hong Kong protesters and specifically to refrain from investigating excessive use of force by police. Chinese officials publicly denounced the news as fake, but on Sept. 2, Reuters again exposed a recording of Lam’s meeting with business leaders last week in which she said she would resign if given the choice, and that dealing with the crisis in Hong Kong now is beyond her ability. Lam’s remarks are a major political offense in China. When former CCP leader Zhao Ziyang met with his Soviet counterpart Mikhail Gorbachev on the eve of June 4, 1989, he said Deng Xiaoping was the actual political leader of China. Zhao’s speech was regarded as “treason” at the time, so Lam’s willingness to publicly express her true position is considered as a euphemistic showdown of her position.

Beijing is waiting for the right time to “stop violence and curb riots.” On Aug. 31, a journalist of France’s Le Monde found some strange phenomenon while interviewing at the scene. Hong Kong police let protesters get close to the symbolic Legislative Council and the Central Government Office, then threw tear bombs to water horses (isolation piers) that protect the police, and let some demonstrators get near and cross the water horses set up by the police. The journalist believed that the police intentionally goaded protesters to behave unreasonably. Of course, this journalist didn’t know that the CCP inherited Mao Zedong’s teachings in handling protests. On Feb. 18, 1959, Mao issued an instruction to Liu Shaoqi, Zhou Enlai, Chen Yi, Deng Xiaoping, Peng Dehuai and others in the Brief Report on the Situation of Armed Rebellion in Tibet, “The more chaos there is in Tibet, the better. It can train the army and the basic masses, as well as providing sufficient reasons for counterinsurgency and reform in the future.” After Aug. 31, the CCP’s propaganda of the Hong Kong demonstrations had both video and texts. The “rioters” in Hong Kong set fire to the city and attacked the police… but it didn’t mention that the police used tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets at all, showing the Chinese people a completely different version of the “Hong Kong riot.”

The news clearly suggest that Chinese authorities will be aggressive in bringing the three-month uprising to an end. The end will not come in the manner of a Tiananmen Square-like massacre, but in another way. The actions of the Hong Kong police on Aug. 31 was just a precursor.

CCP Foments Hate Against Hong Kong

After “stopping violence and curbing riots,” the CCP will then take revenge, that is, the so-called “scraping the poison off the bone.” What is the “poison”? In the eyes of Chinese authorities, all Hong Kongers who disagree with the totalitarian regime and speak out against it are considered “poison.”

After the Hong Kong protests broke out, a speech by Maj. Gen. Xu Yan, professor at China’s National Defense University Teaching and Research Department, was circulated online. His main point was that Hong Kong’s social base is worse than Taiwan’s. A third of the Hong Kong population are natives who received British education; a third were descendants of those swept out by CCP’s political campaigns in 1949–50 (they bitterly hate the CCP); another third escaped during the Great Chinese Famine in the 1950s–1960s.

Such rhetoric sounds ridiculous to third party observers, but I believe it’s the same argument made by the CCP to mobilize its internal members for a “second return” of Hong Kong. It’s no different than the CCP’s argument to create class enemies domestically during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976) when class struggle was Mao’s guiding principle.

Xi Jinping’s July 1, 2017 Hong Kong Speech

There has always been a view that if the Hong Kong protests were not so fierce, would Hong Kong continue to maintain “one country, two systems” policy? If you read Xi Jinping’s speech in Hong Kong on July 1, 2017 to mark the 20th anniversary of the British handover, you will see that the guiding ideology of “the second return” had been systematized at that time.

Xi’s political thinking was honed in totalitarian politics. Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun, had witnessed the exodus to Hong Kong and knew the city well. Xi has been to Hong Kong twice after becoming the CCP regime leader, once as vice president in July 2008 and another time in July 2017. Before his first visit to Hong Kong, the conflict between Hong Kong and the mainland was on and continued to date: including events such as the Hong Kong Basic Law Article 23 controversy, Moral and National Education controversy, anti-parallel traders from the mainland, 2014–15 Hong Kong electoral reform, the Umbrella Movement, 2016 Mong Kok civil unrest, Hong Kong Legislative Council oath-taking controversy, the survey of People’s Ethnic Identity by Public Opinion Programme, The University of Hong Kong, the successive emergence of radical localist groups and even Hong Kong Independence proposition, all suggesting that Hong Kongers’ separation tendency has strengthened. 

Those who truly know Hong Kong will understand that such phenomena are only manifestation of dissatisfactions and rejections of totalitarian rule by Hong Kongers who are accustomed to freedom. However, with its grand unification thinking and habit of controlling all aspects of society, the CCP will inevitably interpret this as a rebellion against the motherland and a challenge to its centralization of power.

Under the influence of such totalitarian thinking, the policy of a “second return” gradually took shape. The Umbrella Movement in 2014 further strengthened the CCP’s determination to strengthen its grip on governance. At that time, Xi Jinping was busy with the CCP’s internal consolidation and was focused on military reform, so he had to put aside Hong Kong at the time. 

On July 1, 2017, Xi toured Hong Kong and attended the celebration of the handover’s 20th anniversary. In his relatively blunt speech, in addition to criticizing the “pan-politicalization” of Hong Kong, Xi also made a very direct reference to problems encountered in the practice of “one country, two systems.” The major implication was that the Beijing government would not give more opportunities if riots continued.

The Decolonization Purpose of ‘Second Return’

China’s Xinhua News Agency published the July 1 speech in full with analysis, but it was far less blunt than dwnews.com’s July 2 editorial, “To Complete the Second Return of Hong Kong.” According to the article, the reason why “one country” made unprincipled concessions to “two systems” was that “a necessary transitional justice process of decolonization was not carried out in time.” It includes three levels:

First, at the legislative level, the failure to advance Article 23 in time led to a legal vacuum of national security governance in Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s core value system has failed to incorporate anti-separatist content.

Second, at the “soft” education level, efforts to promote awareness of “one country” were not enough. The means were clumsy. Not only did they achieve little, they had even backfired.

Third, the mode of co-governance by officials and businessmen in colonial times failed to be corrected in a timely manner. On the contrary, this structure was strengthened intentionally or unintentionally in the subsequent governance of Hong Kong, allowing Hong Kong officials and businesspeople to monopolize most of the central government’s benefits to Hong Kong and economic development achievements, thus making “Hong Kongers governing Hong Kong” become “officials and business elites governing Hong Kong” to some extent. As a result, the rich got richer while the poor got poorer, and social conflicts became increasingly intensified. As a result the Hong Kong-mainland relationship and the central government also became scapegoats and punching bags.

Of the three, only the third makes some sense. This phenomenon was widely ridiculed by Hong Kong media before the handover of sovereignty. It was said that the CCP, which took eliminating bourgeoisie and capitalism as its mission, became closely connected to capitalists in Hong Kong. China’s official account of the “second return” came much later than dwnews.com. Due to the specific characteristic of dwnews.com as an online media, I believe the so-called “second return” had been planned long ago. The “second return” has only taken a slow pace due to fears of Tiananmen Square massacre-like retribution and experience in dealing with Hong Kong’s Occupy Central movement. The extradition bill is just one part of the process to change Hong Kong’s legal system.

Preserving Hong Kong’s ‘One Country, Two Systems’ Policy Leaves a Lifeline for Beijing

The realization of a “second return” is a heavy and dark nightmare for both sides. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Hong Kong has been a positive influence to Beijing in its opening up to the outside world. It was Hong Kongers taking the lead in investing in China that helped China take the first step towards financial and economic development. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the subsequent crisis, there was a popular belief among Russian scholars that capital from ethnic Chinese in Hong Kong and Taiwan helped China achieving prosperity. For its own sake, preserving Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” policy is leaving a lifeline for China.

When Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam aired her stance at the chamber of commerce, she was actually making a showdown of the last resort, hoping that the central government, which is in charge of the situation in Hong Kong would come to the front, directly talking to Hong Kongers and seriously considering their general wishes before the situation worsens.

Beijing’s understanding of the so-called “Hong Kongers governing Hong Kong” has always been superficial. When it signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration, it thought that “horse races go on and night clubs stay open” only refers to not changing Hong Kongers’ lifestyles. 

After China joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, they thought it was enough to develop Hong Kong’s tourism and give residents a new source of income. What Beijing didn’t expect is that people are born free. The mainland people have been domesticated by autocratic politics for a long time to reach this miserable state. However, Hong Kongers who once had freedom could not accept the repression and domestication of such totalitarian politics of the mainland. 

The message Hong Kongers are sending is very clear: they want to preserve Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” policy and keep the city’s old model of governance while respecting national sovereignty. It is precisely because Hong Kongers still had a glimmer of hope for the central government that they are targeting the puppet Carrie Lam. 

When Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan visited Guangdong Province in August, it was widely assumed that Xi wanted to hear from someone other than the Hong Kong and Macao Office of the State Council and Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government. It was just because they still had a glimmer of hope in Beijing that Xi would handle Hong Kong affairs wisely and not ruin the Oriental pearl with the “second return.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

He Qinglian
He Qinglian
He Qinglian is a prominent Chinese author and economist. Currently based in the United States, she authored “China’s Pitfalls,” which concerns corruption in China’s economic reform of the 1990s, and “The Fog of Censorship: Media Control in China,” which addresses the manipulation and restriction of the press. She regularly writes on contemporary Chinese social and economic issues.