June 17, 2024

s flame flicker and die strategy

IMMEDIATE RELEASE 15 November 2019
Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
Xi’s flame, flicker, and die strategy
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
          WASHINGTON – As America increasingly looks inward, both from the president’s America First doctrine and the escalating impeachment investigation, another leader is making inroads by looking outward, and he is doing it without force or rhetoric.
          The protests in Hong Kong are escalating with no end in sight, at least not an end apparent to the protestors or to anyone else except one man.
          That man is China’s President Xi Jinping, whose broad executive powers have dubbed him “president for life.” He has given no indication that he will relinquish any of China’s hold over Hong Kong or any of the other territories he controls.
          What is most striking about Xi is that he retains power without the use of force. His regime has locked up many dissidents in mainland China, and he has restricted social media, but he goes out of his way to respect the lessons of history, most notably Tiananmen Square in 1989.
          With the world looking on, Chinese troops and military police fired indiscriminately into crowds of protestors in Tiananmen Square. The protestors, mainly students, threw stones and set military vehicles on fire while trying in vain to head off the advancing tanks.
          It was a display of savagery that 30 years later remains a black mark on the country’s leadership.
          Today, the Hong Kong authorities, who answer to China, have made minor concessions, backing off an extradition order that ignited the protests four months ago. But nothing has stopped the protestors, and Xi doesn’t want to go down Tiananmen Lane with brutal force. What’s happening now is nothing compared to what Xi could do if he ordered the military to put down the protests.
          He clearly doesn’t want to do that, but if he doesn’t use force, what then?  Will Hong Kong become more democratic, more independent?
          That’s the outcome the students want, together with their growing allies among the educated and business elites in Hong Kong.
          If he doesn’t use force, how does he keep his Communist regime in power?
          The answer to that question, at least for now, is that Xi is waiting it out. He’s betting that students lack staying power. The students are bringing in food and blankets and occupying Hong Kong University to prepare for a long siege, but how long can they hold out? Where will they get the resources to continue their opposition?
          Assuming Xi has done his homework, he must have asked himself what if the leadership in power in 1989 had done nothing if they had just let the protests run their course instead of applying savage force. The answer Xi clearly discerned is that nothing would have happened. His strategic philosophy is to act and await reactions to flame, flicker, and die.
          Doing nothing is his sustainable strategy, and it’s working in both domestic and foreign policies. Under Xi’s leadership, China has planted its flag in the East and South China Seas by quietly focusing on a few rocks here and there and bringing in fortifications that turn those rocks into military bases. Not a shot was fired. No people were evicted. No military confrontations occurred. After the fact, the United States and countries in the area objected to no avail.
          But Xi knows objections, like protests, flame, flicker, and die.
          Douglas Cohn’s latest books are World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers) and The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency.
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2019 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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