First Hong Kong, now Xinjiang. With unclear episodes linked to leaks and spies. Although Donald Trump, at the end of the NATO summit, declared that the trade war negotiations are continuing "very well", the United States is raising the pressure on the internal issues that worry China on high (in some ways unprecedented) levels.
After the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, the US House of Representatives approved a measure to ask the Trump administration for sanctions against the persecution of Uyghurs, the Muslim-minority of Xinjiang's Turkic ethnicity, the northwestern outpost of the immense Chinese territory. A measure that has yet to pass for the Senate but which, as expected, immediately triggered Beijing's reaction that has feared repercussions in "important areas" of cooperation with Washington, in particular on the dialogues currently underway on the trade war, and has convened a representative of the US embassy in China. And in the coming months, the Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative Act could also arrive, proposing a strengthening of relations between Washington in Taipei.
It is very difficult to take a neutral position on what is happening in Hong Kong and on the Xinjiang affair. On the one hand, Beijing claims that Washington is directly involved in the protests of the former British colony. On the other hand, the United States speaks of democratic values and human rights and take sides in support of the protesters. The feeling is that, within the geopolitical challenge in place that someone dares to call "second cold war", everything and its opposite is worth.
The fact that some young people from Hong Kong parade in front of the US Consulate or waving the flags of the former British ruler (which certainly did not allow the universal suffrage they now requested) is not enough to say that Washington is really directly involved in the protests. Likewise, it is not enough to pass a law or issue a couple of statements about human rights to dispel the strong impression that the crisis is being exploited for geopolitical purposes.
It is right to keep in mind fundamental values and principles of no violence (reminding that protesters used that too), but we can't pretend to discover only today that China has a monolithic government whose concern is the maintenance of internal stability. Just as it cannot be discovered today that Hong Kong returned in 1997 under the sovereignty of Beijing, of which it is a special administrative region. One thing is to ask for respect for rights and the transition phase towards 2047, another thing is to think that we can export a democratic model that, among other things, the western world seems to have lost along the way. And everytime we should wonder what would happen in our country in case of a protest of this magnitude, often resulting in episodes of violence.
When we speak about Hong Kong, we tend to exaggerate the extent of a democratic tension that does not exist within mainland China or has very different characteristics from western one. At the same time, the social issues underlying the initial phase of the protest are forgotten. That is a fundamental component of the crisis that has been largely lost on the way. Partly because of the inability of the movement to channel them into a programmatic claim and partly due to the shift on the identity theme, more easily used by Washington as a destabilizing factor.
At the moment China has not intervened directly in Hong Kong and, according to many analysts, it will try not to do it, for as long as possible, trying to settle the protests and waiting for the increase in the disaffection of the most peaceful protesters, perhaps even pushed by the continuously worsening economic data of the former British colony. To directly intervene in Hong Kong would mean for Beijing to put in danger the "one country, two systems" model and to put the European partners back to the wall in front of a choice of field that China has greater interest than Washington to delay as much as possible.