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Story Publication logo October 2, 2019

Hong Kong Protest Violence Draws Stark Contrast to China’s Anniversary Pomp


Chinese President Xi Jinping. Image courtesy PBS NewsHour. China, 2019.

PBS NewsHour has produced one of the most robust efforts about China by any American television...

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Image by PBS NewsHour. China, 2019.
Image by PBS NewsHour. China, 2019.

Nick Schifrin, who has reportedly extensively on China's power and place in the world, joins Judy Woodruff to offer some perspective.

Judy Woodruff:

As we reported earlier, tensions between police and protesters in Hong Kong escalated dramatically overnight, as officers opened fire on a young activist.

The violence occurred as China's leaders in Beijing were celebrating the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.

The "NewsHour"'s Nick Schifrin recently returned from a reporting trip that took him to both mainland China and Hong Kong.

And he joins me now.

Nick, hello and welcome back, and incredible reporting.

So, you're seeing, as we are, what's going on in Hong Kong. What does it add up to?

Nick Schifrin:

Well, it adds up to two completely different stories and a split-screen.

So let's just go over what happened in Beijing for a second, because, for the Chinese, this is massive, historic day. This is 70 years since the creation of the People's Republic of China.

And what we saw in Beijing was pomp, circumstance, and a real show of strength. Xi Jinping under China has really developed its military, the fastest military modernization in world history. And Xi Jinping talks about China as a great power, about the inheritor of empire, and showing off all of this military really helps him prove that.

These are nuclear missiles we have never seen them before, nuclear-armed gliders, weapons designed to evade U.S. defenses, 15,000 troops, 160 aircraft, 580 artillery.

And that's Xi Jinping there celebrating with the crowds.

And, as I said, this commemorates the founding of the People's Republic of China, so this is a communist celebration, but very much to show that he and China have arrived on the world stage as a great power.

Judy Woodruff:

To what extent, though, is that now overshadowed by what's going on in Hong Kong?

Nick Schifrin:

Yes, it completely changed the narrative.

As I said, the Chinese are so proud of today. They have been working on that for months. And now we are covering Hong Kong, when we have a split-screen, literally, between the two things, and so all of the pomp and circumstance on the left side in Beijing, the protests and clashes there on the right in Hong Kong.

And these are completely different ideologies, on the left, celebrating one party rule, celebrating how far China has come, on the right, people fighting for democracy, and people on the right saying that the people on the left represent authoritarianism.

And I talked to a lot of these protest leaders who are protesting there on the right. And they say that they created today's protest in order to embarrass Beijing, in order to have this split-screen that you see today.

And so what police — what protesters are talking about today is, they're the victims of police brutality. We saw this protester shot. What the Chinese say is that, look, you guys are creating the violence. You are talking about separating from China. The police are just trying to maintain stability.

Judy Woodruff:

So, when you see the — I mean, we know that the government in Hong Kong has given in to some of the protesters' demands, and yet they continue to protest.

Nick Schifrin:

Yes, this is what's remarkable about it.

The core demand, the withdraw of a bill that would allow the extradition of suspects to China, that was withdrawn a while ago, and yet we still see these protests. And that really goes to the core of what demonstrators are demanding, not only an independent police investigation, not only the release of some of those who have been arrested over the last few months, the right to directly elect their city administrators, but also a different kind of identity.

When I was in Hong Kong, when so many reporters had been asking these protesters what drives them, they talk about a separate independence, a separate identity that they believe is not mainland China.

And when you ask pollsters, they will say that actually for the first time since Hong Kong was independent, since Hong Kong separated from Britain, people identify as Hong Kong residents, not Chinese citizens.







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