Hong Kong: Surrender or Tactical Retreat?

Hong Kong: Surrender or Tactical Retreat?

Hong Kong's democracy movement scored a big win over the weekend by forcing the territory's chief executive to suspend plans to enact a law that would allow for the extradition of Hong Kongers to the Chinese mainland. Carrie Lam, Hong Kong's chief executive, has apologized in hopes that the swelling crowds, estimated at more than two million people, might go home.

But the worst political crisis to hit Hong Kong since the United Kingdom handed it back to China in 1997 is far from over. The protesters believe more action is needed to protect the independence of Hong Kong's political and court systems and to safeguard the basic rights of the territory's citizens.

The crucial next questions:

How will Beijing respond to this setback? By all indications, Beijing wanted this law to be passed as part of President Xi Jinping's goal of bringing Hong Kong – as well as self-governing Taiwan – under greater control from Beijing.

But the protesters' victory sets a dangerous precedent by showing that a big-enough mobilization of people can deny China something it wants. So far, Beijing's response has been to blame Lam for mismanagement and to suggest that foreigners are stoking the protests.

Mr. Xi arguably has bigger fish to fry at the moment (the deepening trade war with the United States and a potential upcoming meeting with Donald Trump at the G20 summit in Osaka next week). And since tight state control of Chinese media means that most people on the mainland have no idea that millions of protesters faced down the government, he can probably afford to make a tactical retreat on the extradition law -- for now.

But will the protesters force Beijing to act sooner rather than later? The intoxication of success sometimes encourages protesters to make new and tougher demands. For many in Hong Kong, suspending the law isn't enough; they want it dead. What's more, far from accepting Lam's apology, the streets are now calling for her resignation.

That's a more serious and immediate problem for China's leadership. Postponing the law to try to quiet the crowd is one thing. Allowing the streets to take down a government official is quite another.

The bottom line: Chinese officials know that inaction may encourage, rather than quiet, the triumphant crowds. More repressive action by the state is dangerous, but if protester demands continue to mount, Beijing may see a rougher course of action as unavoidable. And no one knows where that might lead.

During the past year, 58% of all cyberattacks observed by Microsoft from nation-states have come from Russia. And attacks from Russian nation-state actors are increasingly effective, jumping from a 21% successful compromise rate last year to a 32% rate this year. Russian nation-state actors are increasingly targeting government agencies for intelligence gathering, which jumped from 3% of their targets a year ago to 53% – largely agencies involved in foreign policy, national security or defense. The top three countries targeted by Russian nation-state actors were the United States, Ukraine and the UK. These are just a few of the insights in the second annual Microsoft Digital Defense Report. Read additional highlights from the Microsoft on the Issues blog and find the full report here.

If you had to guess which current world leader has made the most trips to Africa, who would you say? China's Xi Jinping? Nope, hardly — he's been there just four times. France's Emmanuel Macron? Pas de tout.

The answer may surprise you: it's Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who's been to the continent more times than the leader(s) of any other non-African state. Just this week he notched his 28th visit, with stops in Angola, Nigeria, and Togo. Sure, being in power for two decades creates a lot of opportunities for exotic travel, but even Putin isn't close: he's been to Africa just five times, all to visit South Africa or Egypt.

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Normally, such a drastic slowdown would have put the ruling Communist Party in a tizzy. But this time, Xi Jinping knows this is the price he must pay for his big plans to curb rising inequality and boost the middle class at the expense of the CCP's traditional economic mantra: high growth above all else.

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Ian Bremmer's Quick Take:

Read Ian Bremmer's wide-ranging essay in Foreign Affairs that puts in perspective both the challenge, and the opportunity, that comes from the unprecedented power of Big Tech.

Hi, everybody. Ian Bremmer here on the road, something we haven't done very much recently, but will increasingly as we try to move through COVID. And I want to talk to you about a new article that I just put out in Foreign Affairs that I'm calling "The Technopolar Moment." Not unipolar, not bipolar, not multipolar, technopolar. What the hell does technopolar mean?

It means that increasingly big technology companies are themselves geopolitical actors. So to understand the future of the world, you can't just look at the United States, Europe and China. You need to look at the big tech companies, too.

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China gets away with a lot these days in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and elsewhere. That's because over the past decade, its economy has experienced explosive growth, making it an indispensable trading partner for almost every country in the world. At the same time, China has been expanding its share of the global economy, and is now set to overtake the US as the world's biggest economic powerhouse in the near term. We take a look at China's annual growth rate and share of the global economy based on GDP over the past decade.

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