Riot police mass today in Hong Kong. Photo: Ivan Cheung/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
Hong Kong endured one of the most violent days in five months of protests today, with police shooting a protestor at close range, protestors lighting a man on fire, and Beijing-backed leader Carrie Lam denouncing "enemies of the people."
Why it matters: More than 60 people were wounded, according to Lam, and tear gas filled the air in the Central business district in the middle of the work day. Chris Johnson, a former top CIA China analyst now at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Michael Morell on the Intelligence Matters podcast that protest leaders realize violence by more "hardcore" elements risks sapping western support.
1. There's a narrative in Beijing that to send in the troops would play "into a U.S. trap" to isolate China "just as our rise is hitting its stride," Johnson says.
- "Hong Kong actually has many more things within their domestic emergency powers that they can use and would use before there was a violent crackdown [from the mainland]."
2. Chinese leaders reluctantly concede that the situation in Hong Kong will strengthen nationalists in Taiwan and virtually guarantee the re-election of President Tsai Ing-wen in January.
- "They look at events in Hong Kong and think 'that’s one country two systems? No thank you.'"
3. Chinese elites know what's happening in Hong Kong, but many mainlanders only know the party line and buy the idea of Hong Kongers as "spoiled children who don’t understand the beneficence of China."
4. Chinese overreach isn't the only factor here. Johnson also cites a property crisis driven by "the greed of Hong Kong's tycoons."