Global Insight: Much at stake for China in Hong Kong

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Xi Jinping risks losing either way over Hong Kong protests, but the United Kingdom is in no position to be telling China to respect the rule of law, Professor Robert Patman says.

Massive protests in Hong Kong against a now-suspended extradition law proposal by Beijing has left the Chinese leader stuck between the risk of unrest spreading to the mainland and the risk of economic downturn, Prof Patman says.

"This is a worrying situation. It's also very worrying from China's point of view,'' the University of Otago international relations specialist said.

"Hong Kong has always had the potential to be a Trojan horse, in subverting the Chinese communist system. Hong Kong, as we've seen with these protests, has a vibrant democracy in the sense that people feel free to protest.''

But if Xi does crack down on the protest, that could led to an exodus of businesses, Prof Patman says.

"He could overplay his hand here.

"China owes its prosperity to being a full-blooded and enthusiastic member of the world capitalist system. 

"So, China's got a lot at stake here.''

At the same time, however, British foreign minister and aspiring Prime Minister Jeremy Hunt, is on shaky ground telling China it should respect the China-Hong Kong "one country, two systems'' agreement, Prof Patman says.

He says many democratic countries would agree with Hunt's talk about the need to protect the rule of law in Hong Kong. But that position is undermined by Britain's government overlooking clear breaches of the rule of law during the Brexit referendum.

The Chinese authorities are aware of this, he says.

"In short, Britain is in a very weak position to exercise strong influence over the Chinese mainland government.''

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