Will China Deploy Troops in Hong Kong ? posits criteria for deployment of the hammer. Two of them have now been met:
- Organizing efforts by civil servants, bringing political form to an amorphous movement.
- Absent overt indications such as the above, concessions by Carrie Lam, that instead of diminishing the protests, result in escalated demands, contain the implied trigger for intervention.
(Reuters) Hong Kong official chides civil servants joining protests, satisfies the first element. In Beijing’s eyes, it risks establishment of a shadow government. A single concession was made, the scrapping of the extradition bill, to no apparent effect. The protestors have coalesced around the Five Demands. From (youngpost) Hong Kong protests: What are the ‘five demands’? What do protesters want?,
- Full withdrawal of the extradition bill.
- A commission of inquiry into alleged police brutality.
- Retracting the classification of protesters as “rioters”.
- Amnesty for arrested protesters.
- Dual universal suffrage, meaning for both the Legislative Council and the Chief Executive.
Other inducements run true to the China foreign policy tradition of a millennia, soft power. Had economic betterment of this highly educated and highly stressed population already occurred, they might have been too complaisant to risk their lives. Beijing may now have reasoned that for economic inducements to be effective, Hong Kong must have conducive public order.
To Beijing, events imply, If we wait, it will get worse, with the defection of civil servants risking a colour revolution. Hence, preparation: (Reuters) China quietly doubles troop levels in Hong Kong, envoys say.
There is one holdup: the plan. How can an action be surgical, when the protestors have themselves applied fairly sophisticated strategies to minimize the concept of “leadership” and replace predictability with randomness? The protestors wear masks, but this is effective only against a normal police state with limited manpower. China has, practically speaking, unlimited manpower.
Somewhere on the mainland, there are rooms with thousands of watchers, staring at video feeds, correlating appearances of masked figures the old way, attempting what AI probably cannot yet do. With infinite patience, they catalog what they watch, aided by custom database programming and a little AI spice.
An historical example illuminates. In 1939, Ukraine harbored a pro-West and rather fascist insurgency led by Stepan Bandera. Like Hezbollah today, the insurgency had its own counterintelligence operation. It successfully identified Soviet NKVD safe houses, where informants to the NKVD could meet with their handlers. How did they do it?
There were no surveillance cameras back then. Soviet NKVD agents wore standard issue high boots when in uniform. Western Ukrainians wore short boots. The Soviets forgot to change into short boots when they donned plain clothes. Sudoplatov, page 105.
They were given away by their shoes. Cataloging shoes and other articles of clothing, matching these to other biometrics and places of residence, reducing errors by cross-correlation — all this takes time. But Beijing figures they have only one chance to do it right. Space for the detained is not a problem. There is plenty of that in Xinjiang.
I feel sorry for the protestors. With so much idealism, dignity, and intelligence, they would honor the Athens of Pericles.