Why China’s Xi Opted for the ‘Nuclear Option’ in Hong Kong

Why China’s Xi Opted for the ‘Nuclear Option’ in Hong Kong
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, center, and other officials attend a press conference in Hong Kong after returning from the National People’s Congress in Beijing, May 22, 2020 (AP photo by Kin Cheung).

Editor’s Note: Every Wednesday, WPR Newsletter and Engagement Editor Benjamin Wilhelm curates the week’s top news and expert analysis on China.

China’s decision last week to impose controversial national security legislation on Hong Kong was stunningly brazen, bypassing the territory’s legislative process and undermining its autonomy. Though risky for the Chinese Communist Party, the move falls in line with the aggressively nationalist agenda it has pursued ever since Xi Jinping came to power in 2012.

The sweeping legislation, which is expected to pass Thursday at the National People’s Congress, the annual meeting of China’s rubber-stamp parliament, will criminalize “foreign interference” in Hong Kong, along with secessionist activities and so-called subversion of state powers. The language is vague by design, allowing Beijing to confront head on the political dissent in Hong Kong that escalated into massive anti-government protests last year. Despite social distancing restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, thousands of protesters returned to the city’s streets this past week to protest the law, as well as separate legislation that aims to criminalize abuse of the Chinese national anthem.

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