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China: "Military or police intervention in Hong Kong seems very unlikely"

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Sit-in protest at Hongkong airport, August 9th. Vincent Thian / AP

Kevin Rudd, former Labor Prime Minister of Australia, is the President of the Asia Policy Institute, a New York think tank aimed at fostering US relations with Asia. He analyzes Chinese and American strategies, while tensions are high between the two giants.

Thirty years after Tiananmen, will the Hong Kong revolt end up being won by Beijing?

I would be very surprised that the authorities in Beijing take this risk. A military or police intervention in Hong Kong seems very improbable: there would be a fierce resistance and it would cost much more to the reputation of China than it would bring back. In the hierarchy of priorities of Beijing, Hong Kong is part of the second priority, the national unity, but an intervention would undermine the legitimacy of the party, which is the priority. First, and endanger the economy – the third priority.

Article reserved for our subscribers Read also China denounces unstable and very serious situation in Hong Kong

In Tiananmen, this risk has been taken.

It was much earlier and it was an internal affair. Hong Kong always remains a different world. It's not Shanghaï, Donggang or Wuhan. Some fear that the chaos in Hong Kong is spreading. But mainland Chinese, even dissidents, know that a similar action will not work. In addition, an intervention would destroy any hope of peaceful unification with Taiwan because the system "one country two systems" would be completely dead.

How will it end?

My diagnosis assumes that the movement does not become significantly more violent, threatening the Hong Kong administration and not growing in size. The most likely scenario is that Pekin, by his non-reaction, will let the movement flop. Some formulate the hypothesis of a intervention of the popular army the week of August 12th. I do not see anything like it. An intervention would have consequences unknown at the international level and would provoke the isolation of China.

The revolt takes place in a very tense climate with the United States. After the trade war, the technological and monetary war. And after all, war?

It is easy to predict a negative sequence that would unleash, after the currency war, a wider financial war. This is where the situation becomes particularly serious because of the interpre- tation of the financial markets. If this trend continues, it amounts to a coupling of economies, a precondition for a cold war. All of this is possible, but I do not think that there is unanimity in the American administration to consider that it is the goal to achieve.