NBC News Bejing Bureau Chief: Issues in Hong Kong protests complex

Community News & Features Nov 8, 2019 at 4:36 pm
ERIC BACULINAO, NBC News Beijing Bureau Chief at Migrant Resource Centre, Oct. 17

ERIC BACULINAO, NBC News Beijing Bureau Chief at Migrant Resource Centre, Oct. 17

By Althea Manasan
The Philippine Reporter

As demonstrations in Hong Kong go into an eighth month, journalist Eric Baculiano predicts that it could become a “protracted conflict” between protesters and the Chinese government.

“[A] stalemate, basically, a counter attack between protesters, violence on both sides,” he said to a crowd of about a dozen people at an event in Toronto on Oct. 17.

“The Hong Kong economy will be affected, but it will be long.”

Baculinao, who is NBC News’ Beijing bureau chief, was invited to offer his personal insights into the Hong Kong protests at the gathering organized by the Filipino Canadian Writers and Journalists Network (FC-WJNet). It was held at the Migrants Resource Centre Canada in the city’s west end.

During the two-hour conversation, Baculinao outlined possible scenarios for how the conflict may be resolved.

One scenario is that China capitulates to protesters’ demands, something that Baculinao said is “almost impossible.”

A fire burns on Sept. 8 at one of the entrances to Central MTR station in Hong Kong during another weekend of violent protests.          Photo: Edmond So/ www.scmp.com

A fire burns on Sept. 8 at one of the entrances to Central MTR station in Hong Kong during another weekend of violent protests.
Photo: Edmond So/ www.scmp.com

Another scenario is one where the Chinese military initiates a crackdown on demonstrators, something reminiscent of the 1989 Tienanmen Square protests, which Baculinao says is also “very unlikely.”

He said the protests could eventually subside, similar to protests in 2014 that were sparked by proposed reforms to the Hong Kong electoral system.

“It’s not impossible that we will see less support for the more violent means of demonstration, and therefore there might be some dying down,” Baculinao said.

He explained that the issues driving the conflict in Hong Kong are “complex.”

The protests began in March after the Hong Kong government introduced a bill that would allow criminal fugitives to be extradited to mainland China. Many feared that this could undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy.

Since then, protestors have outlined five key demands, including full withdrawal of the extradition bill as well as an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality, the release of arrested protesters, retracting the use of the word “riot” to describe protests and the implentation of dual universal suffrage.

IMG_9440So far, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam has only agreed to withdraw the bill.

Baculinao says that most Western media coverage — including stories about the face mask ban, police brutality against protesters and the social media backlash against LeBron James — has simplified the issues driving the protests.

“We can see that global public opinion is very much on the side of the Hong Kong protesters … the issues of human rights, freedom, very powerful issues,” Baculinao said.

“I would say that even the whole media, Western media…are on that side of of projecting the righteousness of the Hong Kong protests.”

But Baculinao says that for China, giving in to protesters’ demands is not that simple given the current geopolitical context.

Doing so, he says, would put the country’s own legitimacy into question — in particular, the “One China principle” that would see both mainland China and Taiwan governed under the People’s Republic of China.

“The Hong Kong crisis is a kind of exam for the Chinese government, for the Communist Party in China, because the ultimate aim is to unite with Taiwan,” Baculinao said.

“And Taiwan, with even more than 20 million people, will certainly demand democracy, all these human rights and civil liberties that they are used to. If [China] cannot deal or solve the issue related to Hong Kong, how can they aspire to unite with Taiwan peacefully down the road?”