With the ongoing protests in Hong Kong, the Chinese government has held off on a strong response, but it is just a matter of time before they do. As the protests grow more violent, Chinese President Xi sees the unrest through the lens of the colored revolutions and the collapse of the Soviet Union. In other words, they are a direct threat to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). The PRC will take a page right of Russia’s playbook in Ukraine and use deception, subterfuge, and plausible deniability, as well as selective but brutal violence to crush the ongoing unrest in Hong Kong.
An indicator of the PRC’s future intentions is in their actions from the past. Their brutal 1989 crackdown in Tiananmen Square against pro-democracy protestors taught them several lessons. First, keep their actions out of the world press. Second, quickly and decisively crush dissension. Third, future crackdowns should use subterfuge and be more surgical. And fourth, do not use the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). They are too closely associated with Tiananmen Square massacre and are a revered institution.
The PRC’s recent systematic suppression of the Chinese Muslim minority, the Xuighurs, shows how they could implement a policy in Hong Kong. Through mass incarcerations, surveillance, and the use of technology such as required smartphone apps, they have managed to brutally control the Xuighur population with minimal outsider knowledge, until recently.
The PRC’s crackdown could start with the declaration of a national security crisis or no warning. Then utilizing technology, the PRC will shutdown the internet and implement an information blackout of Hong Kong. To minimize disruption to the Hong Kong stock market, they would probably conduct operations over a weekend or holiday. The city is saturated with security cameras (conservative estimate of over 50,000) and authorities will use facial recognition software to identify the protest leaders. (“50,000 CTV Cameras in Hong Kong’s skies causing intrusion into private lives,” South China Morning Post, 16 March 2014) The recent enactment of laws outlawing the wearing of facial masks is one step in that direction. They will also utilize special police forces instead of the PLA to avoid the stigma of Tiananmen Square.
The PRC’s government likes to utilize rule of law to justify their actions. Recent enacted laws outlawing masks help authorities identify protestors. Also the leader of Hong Kong, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, has enacted the Emergency Ordinance law which states that the city has entered a state of emergency which is different from martial law. (“Beijing Users Counter-Terrorism Tactics to Quell Hong Kong Protests But Will Fail, Expert Says,” The Epoch Times, 13 October 2019) It is considered much less severe and gives the Chief Executive vast powers to deal with the protests without the stigma of martial law.
The PRC will copycat and refine Russia’s techniques for hybrid warfare. They have already used plausibly deniable proxies by coordinating efforts with organized crime members from the Triad. Triad members attacked pro-democracy protesters on July 21st .(“These are the Triad Gangs Linked to Hong Kong Protester Attacks,” Washington Post, 25 July 2019). Hong Kong police denied that they colluded with the Triad; just like the Russian proxies in Ukraine.
At the end of the “crisis,” the PRC will have systematically arrested protest leaders and sent them for reeducation. The police will saturate the streets. Chinese special police or the People’s Armed Police (PAP), “a mainland paramilitary anti-riot and internal security force under a separate command from the PLA” will be the force of choice. In late August 2019, the number of military/police personnel in Hong Kong increased from 3000-5000 to 10,000-12,000 under the auspices of a normal troop rotation. (“China quietly, doubles troop levels in Hong Kong,” Reuters, 30 September 2019). On Ukraine’s eastern border with Russia, Russian troop levels built up significantly prior to their invasion of eastern Ukraine. Russian government officials said that they were conducting exercises and providing humanitarian aid and dismissed the claims of large numbers as false news.
The PRC’s government are the ultimate copycats. They are known for their reverse engineering of cutting edge technology and improving on it. It is the same with effective measures of repressive governance. President Xi, in recently released government papers, stated that the Chinese Communist Party should learn from the U.S. counterterrorism efforts in the aftermath of September 11th. The long-term, indefinite detention of terrorist suspects in discreet holding facilities is a tool they have used effectively. Also Xi’s mentality is that failing to immediately suppress revolt will lead to the collapse of the state as seen in Russia, Ukraine, and several northern Africa countries. Using plausible deniability coupled with technology to include modern surveillance methods and monitoring of social media works. As long as the PRC’s crackdown in Hong Kong takes place outside of the purview of the world community, they will consider it a success. The continued maintenance of CCP power is the ultimate goal over all else. Finally, Taiwan should take notice. The PRC’s ultimate goal with Taiwan is complete unification, if they can accomplish that without a full-scale invasion, why wouldn’t they?
About the Author:
Spent over 26 years in the Army as both enlisted and as an officer to include 19 years in Special Forces. He continued his service post military working for the government as a civilian and in that capacity served in various hot spots around the world. Some of his deployments include Afghanistan, the Balkans, Iraq, Korea, and Ukraine. He has written extensively on international security matters.
Francis Marion is an SOFX BLACK network member and can be reached for comment at [email protected]