Updated: Sep 30, 2019
Initially, the protests in Hong Kong began as a targeted effort to express disdain towards the CCP proposal to extradite Hong Kong residents to mainland China for trial proceedings. However, these protests transformed in both size and platform culminating in a cumulative opposition of mainland China. Although the protests began relatively peaceful, the mainland Chinese Government still viewed them as a form of hostility. In a statement by Xinhua (the Chinese Communist Party's mouthpiece) on September 1st, the news outlet warned that the "end is coming for those attempting to disrupt Hong Kong and antagonize China". Despite a military build up at the border of Hong Kong, and warnings by state news media, de-escalation seems unlikely in the near future. Historically, CCP has relied on domestic state and military interventions to prevent unrest in the country. Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping wasted little time intervening to stifle opposition, but Xi Jinping's decision to rescind extradition laws combined with his overall hesitation to use military force raises questions as to the current state of the Chinese Communist Party.
Mao Zedong became the leader of greater China in 1949, ushering in a precedent of oppressive government and mass prosecution of dissenters. Mao distinguishes himself among all dictators as manufacturing the largest man-made disaster in history. In an effort to collectivize agriculture and increase heavy industry during the Great Leap Forward, Mao starved an estimated 45 million in four years. Continuing on during the Great Cultural Revolution, ostracization and exile was an inevitable fate for those who did not tote the party line. Mao even went so far as to violently suppress the Red Guard, a loyal organization he had created and encouraged just months before. Seeking to set a new course, Deng Xiaoping slowly began to open China to foreign trade and allow for capitalist private industries to spur economic growth. However, like Mao, Deng soon regretted his decision after seeing his grip on the Chinese people unravel. In 1989, Deng ordered the army to disperse the student-led protests in Tiananmen Square and thousands were killed. Decades of mass starvation, exile, and government killings caused the Chinese people to lose faith in their government, now only finding solace in consumerism spurred on by the post-Mao economic boom.
Xi Jinping is no different. Chairman Xi has sought to make himself chairman for life and has even gone so far as to pass out Little Yellow Books of his quotations, much like Mao's Little Red Book. Xi's oppression of Tibetan and Uighur peoples beckon back to his predecessors. However, Xi is living in a much different time. To globalize as quickly as possible, Xi opened his country to foreign media and encouraged international tourism and investment. News agencies now have access to real-time Chinese events, and faced with a slowing economy and potential housing bubble, Xi is faced with few options in order to continue to hold onto power. Unlike every Chairmen before him, Xi may indeed fear the negative PR and backlash his government could receive if he cracks down on Hong Kong.
Any Chinese military intervention in Hong Kong would quickly be met with disdain among the world powers where Xi has developed positive relationships. However, he can not sit idle on the Mainland for too long. Hong Kong is China's largest trading partner and its second-largest source of inward direct investment. Protests in the city have already slowed economic growth and stalled many businesses. Xi's decision to allow protests to continue, especially those focused on publicizing their distaste for the Communist government, raises the question as to what Xi is willing to sacrifice in order to maintain CCP's rule. Any Chairmen before him would have abruptly cracked down on the protests weeks ago with little concern for international media or foreign relations. Xi failure to act as his predecessors once did illustrates the greatest ideological change the CCP has experienced since the days of Mao and Deng. The Chinese government may be losing their tight reign on the population which the CCP had enjoyed for decades. By loosening the government's grip, the Chinese people have become accustomed to government non-intervention stance, making it harder for Xi to take back control now. The traditional Communist economic model and sweeping social restrictions which Xi's predecessors faced little opposition implementing, have now encounter significant areas of resistance further pointing to the impending decline in CCP control of the Chinese state.