Sign up for our daily briefing

Make your busy days simpler with Axios AM/PM. Catch up on what's new and why it matters in just 5 minutes.

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Denver news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Denver

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Des Moines news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Des Moines

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Minneapolis-St. Paul news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Twin Cities

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Tampa Bay news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Tampa Bay

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Charlotte news in your inbox

Catch up on the most important stories affecting your hometown with Axios Charlotte

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Please enter a valid email.

Please enter a valid email.

Subscription failed
Thank you for subscribing!

Pro-democracy protestors at Hong Kong's international airport. Photo: Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images

Intensifying protests in Hong Kong — continuing weeks after the shelving of a controversial extradition law — have fueled a broader struggle over the city's character and future.

Why it matters: Hong Kong remains an important financial gateway from China to the world, although Shanghai and other mainland cities have taken on part of that role. Above all, the central government in Beijing wants to avoid the precedent of a popular political movement successfully challenging President Xi and the authority of the Communist Party.

Background: Pressure in Hong Kong has been building for some time, as China has slowly but steadily chipped away at its special status, calling into question Beijing's commitment to the “one country, two systems” formula that constituted the foundation of the territory's 1997 handover.

Between the lines: Leaders in Beijing worry that a triumphant protest movement in Hong Kong could embolden calls on the mainland for freedom of expression and the rights to assemble and strike. It would raise similar concern about strengthening Taiwanese demands for independence.

  • These risks suggest Chinese authorities will use force if needed, although they may first seek to control the protests by applying economic pressure on Hong Kong, sowing disinformation, arresting protest leaders and threatening military escalation.

What to watch: The U.S. response is still taking shape. President Trump has said that “everyone should be calm and safe” and that what happens is between Hong Kong and China “because Hong Kong is a part of China.”

  • While that may be true, China is obligated to respect Hong Kong's special status until 2047.

The bottom line: What is at issue is China’s willingness to meet its international commitments — in this case, a legally binding treaty with the U.K.

  • Preserving Hong Kong's autonomy and special character will likely require more direct pressure from the U.S. and its allies, including calls for government restraint and dialogue with the people of Hong Kong.
  • The U.S. Congress could also threaten to introduce sanctions in response to any use of armed force to crush dissent or further curbing of Hong Kong's autonomy.

Richard Haass is president of the Council on Foreign Relations and the author of "A World in Disarray."

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director defends agency's response to pandemic — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Empire State Building among hundreds to light up in Biden inauguration coronavirus tribute.
  3. Vaccine: Fauci: 100 million doses in 100 days is "absolutely" doable.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode again.
  5. Tech: Kids' screen time sees a big increase.

Biden Cabinet confirmation schedule: When to watch hearings

Joe Biden and Kamala Harris on Jan. 16 in Wilmington, Delaware. Photo: Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images

The first hearings for President-elect Joe Biden's Cabinet nominations begin on Tuesday, with testimony from his picks to lead the departments of State, Homeland and Defense.

Why it matters: It's been a slow start for a process that usually takes place days or weeks earlier for incoming presidents. The first slate of nominees will appear on Tuesday before a Republican-controlled Senate, but that will change once the new Democratic senators-elect from Georgia are sworn in.

Kamala Harris resigns from Senate seat ahead of inauguration

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris. Photo: Mason Trinca/Getty Images

Vice President-elect Kamala Harris submitted her resignation from her seat in the U.S. Senate on Monday, two days before she will be sworn into her new role.

What's next: California Gov. Gavin Newsom has selected California Secretary of State Alex Padilla to serve out the rest of Harris' term, which ends in 2022.