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What It Means That Chinese Media Published Photos Of Hong Kong Protests


State media in mainland China published photos of this weekend's protests in Hong Kong. That in and of itself might be a sign of Beijing's shifting strategy toward the island's pro-democracy movement. For some insight, we turn now to Michael Davis, global fellow at the Wilson Center's Asia Program.

Hi there.


SHAPIRO: Until now, Chinese state media hadn't really been covering the protests. Why do you think they've changed their approach and are showing images now?

DAVIS: It's hard to say because they could signal, A, that they're sort of normalizing that this is happening and trying to put their version out. But it could also be a bad thing, depending on how this story is covered, whether they're kind of suggesting there's turmoil. That's the word, translated into English, they used to describe a condition under the Basic Law of Hong Kong where they could interfere when requested by the Hong Kong government, according to the Basic Law. I can't imagine the Hong Kong government wants to request such a thing. But then, the Hong Kong government is very submissive to Beijing, so who knows?

SHAPIRO: Right. Hong Kong's executive was hand-picked by Beijing.

DAVIS: Exactly.

SHAPIRO: And so far, Beijing has stood by that government led by Carrie Lam, letting Hong Kong control the protests and react to demonstrators. Why do you think Beijing has shown this kind of deference so far?

DAVIS: It's really in their interest to do so. Hong Kong is very - it's like a New York, if you will...


DAVIS: ...For China. Damaging it to the point where it cannot perform that task would be a great cost to Beijing. And a lot of Chinese businesses operate out of Hong Kong because the rule of law in Hong Kong is to their advantage in doing international deals.

SHAPIRO: Well, we just heard pro-democracy activist Nathan Law talk about attacks by triad gangsters working with Beijing. That's so far unsubstantiated, but there is a history there. Do you think Beijing is behind those attacks?

DAVIS: I'm not sure if Beijing is or whether it's Hong Kong itself. And there's every indication - and this is kind of the notorious history of Hong Kong - that there are these triad gangs and that they are especially in that area. And so there's little doubt in Hong Kong that these are triads or, you know, thugs, basically. Somebody has motivated them to do this. So there's all kinds of rumors going around the city that people are outraged.


DAVIS: So I think there are a lot of demands now for a thorough investigation of this conducted by an independent body that would be appointed.

SHAPIRO: You lived in Hong Kong until recently. As you saw this weekend's events turn violent, what went through your mind?

DAVIS: Oh, it scared me a lot. I mean, the legislator Lam Cheuk-ting, who was beaten up, is one of my former students.

SHAPIRO: Oh, wow.

DAVIS: I taught in Hong Kong for over 30 years. The journalists that are covering it - I know virtually all of them. And myself - I was a member of the Article 23 Concern Group. We led protests more than a decade ago over national security laws, and there we had a half-million protesters, but this protest now has exceeded that. Up until now, that was the largest protest after the handover in Hong Kong.

So what's really interesting to me, though, is that Hong Kong people have shown their backbone - that if the government of Hong Kong is not willing to defend Hong Kong's autonomy, it seems the people of Hong Kong are. And now what will Beijing do? Will it crack down on Hong Kong, or will it recognize the error of its ways? Well, stay tuned. But so far, it's shown no inclination to listen to the concerns that Hong Kong people have raised.

SHAPIRO: That is Michael Davis of the Wilson Center.

Thanks for joining us.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF VAGABON SONG, "MAL A L'AISE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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