By Mick Krever, CNN
In confronting thousands on the streets of Hong Kong demanding more democracy, China is facing “the most complicated outbreak of street unrest that China has faced since Tiananmen Square,” James Miles, China Editor for The Economist, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday.
“It knows that the risks here are enormous,” he said. “The world’s eyes are watching Hong Kong.”
China has previously given in to Hong Kong protesters’ demands, he said, over an anti-subversion law and later over the proposed introduction of “patriotic education” in schools.
“But now we’re at this red line. There is no way that China will accept the notion of a fully developed, Western-style democracy in Hong Kong.”
Thousands of protesters packed the streets of Hong Kong on Monday to push Beijing to rescind its recent decision to maintain veto power over candidates for Hong Kong’s chief executive. Police cracked down on the protests overnight on Sunday, firing tear gas and pepper spray.
“In the end what brought these protesters out was students – university students as well as secondary school students have been boycotting classes for the last few days.”
“And students have a very special place in Hong Kong culture, indeed in Chinese culture generally. They are held in considerable respect, and it was because of that that the authorities in Beijing in 1989 during Tiananmen Square hesitated in their handling of this, and I think we could be facing a similar sort of situation again.”
At the center of China’s response is Xi Jinping, whom Miles said had “accumulated power more rapidly” in his nearly two years in office than any other leader “since Deng Xiaoping – possibly since Mao Zedong, who died in 1976.”
“China, I think, would suffer as it feels it a considerable loss of face if it were to back down in the face of these demonstrations.”
“He was in charge of the Hong Kong portfolio before he actually became Communist Party leader at the end of 2012. If mistakes are made in Hong Kong, he stands to be blamed for it. So I think that’s another reason why we’re unlikely to see him back down.”