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Blackwater USA | Daily Brief

Afghanistan

  • It sounds like Afghanistan’s presidential election is actually running pretty smoothly so far, with no major attacks reported yet, and fewer technical challenges than last year’s parliamentary poll.
  • Yesterday, the IEC wasn’t sure how many polling stations would be closed due to security concerns; today we learned that 445 were. Another 5,373 opened as planned—though the IEC is not in contact with 901 of them because of bad comms (it sounds like this is a case of everyday bad connectivity in remote areas, rather than new incidents that caused outages).

Yemen

  • Saudi agreed to a partial ceasefire in four parts of Yemen, including Sanaa, in response to the unilateral ceasefire the Houthis declared last week.
  • Analysts are saying that the Houthi’s concession suggests they may be willing to distance themselves from Iran more than before the attacks on Saudi.

Iran

  • Pres. Rouhani says the U.S. offered—via its European allies—to lift all sanctions on Iran ahead of a meeting with Pres. Trump, but that wasn’t good enough. Trump forcefully denied his claim: “Iran wanted me to lift the sanctions imposed on them in order to meet. I said, of course, NO!”
  • The Pentagon shared more detail on the new U.S. military deployment to Saudi to help counter Iran: it will send around 200 troops, a surface-to-air missile battery, and some advanced radar systems.

China

  • Pres. Trump is reportedly thinking about forcing U.S. stock exchanges to delist Chinese companies like Alibaba and JD. U.S.-traded shares in 150+ Chinese companies are worth over $1 trillion—or were, until Bloomberg broke this delisting story. Alibaba and JD shares promptly fell over 5%.

Hong Kong

  • Hong Kong is gearing up for some of its most significant protests yet, ahead of the fifth anniversary of the “umbrella” movement and China’s 70th birthday next week. Protesters plan to rebuild “Lennon Walls” of anti-government graffiti, and police are preparing to meet them with tear gas, water cannons, and rubber bullets.
  • I’ve pasted a pair of articles on Hong Kong below: one from the NYT characterizes the identity crisis behind recent protests, and another from the WSJ describes why China—or rather, Pres. Xi—cares so much about Hong Kong.
  • We didn’t hear much out of chief executive Carrie Lam’s first round of dialogue with Hong Kongers on Thursday. Following up on it now, it sounds like Lam patiently listened to a barrage of complaints against her government, but made no concessions.

India

  • Pakistani PM Khan gave an impassioned speech at UNGA in which he accused India of “cruelty” in Kashmir, and warned of a looming “bloodbath” when India lifts its curfew.

Libya

  • The U.S. continued its series of airstrikes on IS with a third one in eight days. This one killed 17 jihadis. This rapid escalation suggests that either U.S. intel is onto something big there, or there’s been a strategy shift to more aggressively target IS in Murzug.
  • Some reports estimate there are 500-750 remaining IS fighters active in Libya—largely around Murzug—but other analysts think the number could be much higher: up to 2,000. (Those offering higher estimates believe there’s been a significant migration of IS’s remaining loyalists from Syria and Iraq into Libya.

Egypt

  • Egyptians are protesting against Pres. Sisi for a second weekend, and officials are tightening security and restricting internet access to quell them. Human Rights Watch says over 2,000 protesters were arrested in the past week, and this weekend’s demonstrations are likely to be even bigger.
  • This round of protests started when a part-time actor and former military contractor posted a series of videos describing the corruption his former company (Amlak) benefitted from in Egypt, and the opulence Sisi enjoys. One in three Egyptians lives below the poverty line, so the public was rightfully outraged.

Venezuela

  • The UN agreed to send a mission to investigate alleged human rights violations in Venezuela—including possible torture and summary executions.

‘One Country, Two Nationalisms’: The Identity Crisis Behind Hong Kong’s Turmoil (NYT)

When Alan Yau was growing up in the Hong Kong of the 1990s and 2000s, it was a city where identity was rooted in worldliness and prosperity. People felt free to consider themselves Hong Kongers, Chinese and world citizens all at once.

But lately, many have shifted to a more closed, inward-looking identity, said Mr. Yau, a researcher at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Flags and anthems, symbols of national-style identity that were once of little use to those in his cosmopolitan social circles, have become increasingly common.

Hong Kongers had always been proud, but there is something new: a feeling of besiegement, and from much more than mainland China’s authoritarian leaders.

Hong Kong’s eruption into monthslong protests may have been the result not only of Beijing’s overreach, but also of seismic changes in Hong Kong identity itself, according to new research and opinion polling.

Economic upheaval and a surge of immigration put Hong Kong’s traditional identity under tremendous pressure.

As a result, many developed a new kind of identity — one that is more strongly felt as well as narrower and more combative. Being Hong Konger and being Chinese, long complementary, suddenly came to feel exclusive.

This turned the region into a powder keg that one scholar called “one country, two nationalisms” — an allusion to the “one country, two systems” policy that was meant to protect Hong Kong’s status within China.

So when pro-Beijing lawmakers pushed a bill to allow extradition to mainland China, it struck many as an attack not just on their rights but on their distinct identity at a moment when it already appeared vulnerable.

The backlash that followed has widened divisions among Hong Kongers.

While the city might appear united, surveys suggest that its residents are growing more distrustful of cultural outsiders and more polarized by ethnicity, age and class. Locals describe families torn apart by political differences. At protests, scuffles break out with growing frequency.

“When how we define ourselves got threatened, the issue exploded,” said Mr. Yau.

Looking back on the economic and cultural changes that preceded his city’s mass uprising, he said, “It’s all related.”

Dislocation and Threat

Identity crises often begin with a loss of status. Something causes the social hierarchy to reshuffle, with some social class losing out. Its members, feeling threatened, rally behind their group identity, causing it to feel more important just as it is also in doubt.

In Hong Kong, this started with an influx of money from mainland China’s ballooning economy. Hong Kong became China’s hub for financial services and a conduit for trade. And newly rich Chinese poured money into local real estate.

That drove up the cost of living, triggering a housing crisis.

Poorer residents were cushioned somewhat by housing subsidies. So were some blue-collar and service workers, whose industries got a bump from Chinese arrivals.

But Hong Kong’s traditionally dominant social class — educated, white-collar professionals — was hit hard. Wages stalled or declined. What they made bought far less. Many became less well-off than their parents had been.

Some, Mr. Yau said, had concluded, “The Hong Kong dream doesn’t work anymore.”

Members of that group have transformed their political views, according to research by Stan Hok-Wui Wong, a social scientist at Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

They have become more skeptical of mainland China and people who come from there, Mr. Wong found. They hold more tightly to Hong Konger identity. And many joined Hong Kong’s nascent localist movement, which advocates political autonomy and cultural distinctiveness from mainland China.

High-income workers who rent their homes, Mr. Wong found, became the most likely to support localist opposition parties. And sure enough, they are disproportionately represented at protests and among activists.

These changes are strikingly visible in Tin Shui Wai, a suburb of high-rise housing a stone’s throw from the border with mainland China.

“They think Hong Kong has lost its future,” said Jacky Ma, a 44-year-old technician who had joined a protest here.

Friends with good jobs, doctors and managers, now scrape by, he said. His son studied as a radiotherapist, but struggled for work.

“They’re miserable,” he said. “As mainlanders buy apartments here, prices have become difficult to afford. So the conflict is about, first, jobs. Then housing. And then life.”

It is common to hear problems linked back to immigration and tourism from mainland Chinese, which surged as Beijing lifted travel restrictions.

The numbers are staggering. One in seven residents is a mainlander who arrived after 1997. Mainland tourists have multiplied from about two million per year to 40 million, sometimes more.

Neighborhoods feel less cohesive and less familiar, Mr. Ma said. Immigrant families, who mostly speak Mandarin, rarely mix with Cantonese-speaking natives. Many believe the immigrants are changing local culture for the worse.

This combination of demographic change and economic dislocation can trigger something called sociotropic threat, in which people reshape their identities and politics around a sense of us-versus-them.

To Mr. Ma, the link to Hong Kong’s loss of freedoms seemed obvious.

“Many times you see the government’s policies, and who are they for? Mostly new immigrants,” Mr. Ma said.

‘A Time When We Need to Choose’

The result has been a new rally-around-the-flag mentality. Though Hong Kong is not a nation, being Hong Konger took on, for some, the characteristics of what is typically called nationalism.

Brian C.H. Fong, a political scientist at the Education University of Hong Kong, has dated the change to 2009, when Beijing began a campaign to cultivate Chinese identity here, as part of its effort to reintegrate the territory.

The campaign, coinciding with erosions of Hong Kong’s autonomy and socioeconomic order, backfired, Mr. Fong has written, triggering “waves of countermobilization” — like the pro-democracy Umbrella Movement protests in 2014 — as Hong Kongers asserted “a peripheral nationalism” that is defiantly Hong Konger.

The result has been “one country, two nationalisms,” Mr. Fong wrote.

Chinese identity, once complementary or even essential to being a Hong Konger, suddenly became a threat, just as nationalism grew stronger on the mainland, in propaganda and events like October’s celebration of the People’s Republic’s founding.

“You cannot have two national identities that represent the same territory,” Mr. Yau said, adding that, in the eyes of many here, “it’s become a time when we need to choose.”

Recent surveys conducted by Ying-yi Hong, a prominent social psychologist, shed light on how that set up Hong Kong for this year’s protests.

When people rally behind an identity that feels under threat, they tend to divide the world into what psychologists call in-groups and out-groups. Ms. Hong found that the extradition bill had led many to mentally reassign Hong Kong’s government from in-group to out-group.

“So the more you identify as a Hong Konger, the more you distrust the government,” she said. “You see the Hong Kong government as ‘other.’”

Hong Kongers’ hardened identity may also have led them to reclassify another faction: mainland Chinese immigrants.

Ms. Hong examined attitudes toward mainlanders with a series of implicit association tests, which use rapid-fire word association prompts to measure subconscious prejudices.

“We found that implicit bias is very strong — even stronger than white prejudice against African-Americans,” she said.

At the protest in Tin Shui Wai, the suburb, Mito Wong, a financial worker married to Mr. Ma, saw the immigrants as extensions of the threat from Beijing.

“They might have already been half-brainwashed by the Chinese government in the mainland,” she said. “They don’t want to integrate.”

She described immigrants and native-born as locked in competition for housing subsidies or slots in competitive schools. Only the locals truly embraced Hong Kong and its values, she said.

“They just see Hong Kong as a steppingstone,” she said. “Make some money, then go back to the mainland.”

Us and Them

When societies organize around us-versus-them identities, immigrants are often the first cast as outsiders, but rarely the last. As fault lines open, societies can polarize.

Ms. Hong’s study found emerging divisions toward local government. Though few support the government’s handling of the current crisis, many still consider it part of Hong Konger identity.

To these people, who skew older, it is the protesters who are attacking Hong Kong identity by clashing with the police — an increasingly divisive issue.

Many protesters face another front line at home. Baby photos and dinner plans increasingly intersperse with bitter arguments over politics.

At a rally in central Hong Kong, Stephanie Cheng, a 20-year-old student, didn’t flinch when riot police officers stormed the crowd. But she deflated when asked about family text messages.

Her mother, initially supportive, had grown angry when protesters turned against the police. The two feuded over a viral Facebook post accusing protesters of burning cars.

“Many families are divided. I see this among my students,” Ms. Hong said. “And now they cannot even talk to each other..”

Such divisions appear to be widening rapidly with clashing interpretations of Hong Kong identity.

“I know lots of local families that have kicked out kids over political disagreements, because they joined the protests,” said Ms. Wong, the protester.

Over a recent holiday, students at Mr. Yau’s university coordinated “refugee” dinners for those who didn’t feel comfortable going home, he said.

Hong Kong may even be catching a disease that has plagued the United States: partisan polarization.

“I’m experiencing this myself. I’m yellow and my mother is blue, deep blue,” Mr. Yau said, referring to the colors associated with Hong Kong’s main political factions. “We no longer have a common ground.”

Such divisions are especially perilous for Hong Kong, he said, because there can be no underlying, agreed-upon national identity in a place that has never been a nation.

“In the United States, American identity is a given,” he said. “You don’t need to question it. We cannot say the same thing about Hong Kong. We can no longer define what is a Hong Konger anymore.

“That is the struggle.”

For China’s Xi, the Hong Kong Crisis Is Personal (WSJ)

The Chinese president has long stressed Beijing’s authority over the onetime British colony, and his father was involved in its reintegration with China decades ago

Four months before Xi Jinping became China’s leader in late 2012, he issued a Communist Party edict on Hong Kong that reverberates today.

As head of a party committee overseeing the former British colony, Mr. Xi ordered officials to wage combat against what he saw as a growing separatist movement, according to a retired senior official responsible for Hong Kong affairs. “We must dare to struggle and be good at fighting,” the retired official said in describing Mr. Xi’s approach.

Only a few Hong Kongers advocated independence back then, and they’re still a tiny minority today. The kind of protests that have racked the city this year seemed unthinkable.

Mr. Xi’s edict, though, was symptomatic of his intolerance of dissent and an imperious approach to government, which many political insiders and analysts say is now jeopardizing his most treasured ambition: a unified Chinese nation.

While unifying China has preoccupied its leaders for centuries, Mr. Xi has made closer integration with Hong Kong and unity with Taiwan—a self-governed island Beijing sees as its territory—defining priorities of his leadership and key tenets of his “China Dream” of national rejuvenation. His edict was one of several steps Mr. Xi has taken to tighten Beijing’s grip on Hong Kong, an effort that intensified after he became China’s leader.

Underpinning the approach were Mr. Xi’s desires to forge a more centralized leadership and to build on the legacy of his late father, who decades earlier played a key role in reintegrating Hong Kong with the mainland. Mr. Xi also increasingly relies on stirring nationalistic fervor to bolster his legitimacy, as a persistent economic slowdown erodes the promise of ever-rising living standards that sustains public support for the party.

Chinese officials publicly blame the turmoil in Hong Kong on foreign meddling and economic frustration. Privately, some admit they failed to appreciate public anger over the sense of gradual erosion, under Mr. Xi, of the city’s relative political freedom. Even some of Beijing’s champions in Hong Kong cite a failure of internal communication and decision-making within the central and local governments.

“Everybody speaks the way that they think the top would like to hear,” said Michael Tien, a pro-Beijing member of Hong Kong’s legislature and China’s national parliament who joined an August meeting with mainland officials to discuss the unrest. “When the top hears the things that they would like to hear, they will further believe in the things that they believe in.”

Asked if young Hong Kongers’ desire to express themselves politically was compatible with Mr. Xi’s vision, Mr. Tien said: “No. So that’s a problem.”

The crisis looks certain to take the sheen off celebrations on Oct. 1 to mark the 70th anniversary of the Communist victory in 1949, which include a lavish military parade in Beijing and are aimed at showcasing the progress Mr. Xi has made towards his China Dream.

The unrest has divided Hong Kong’s seven million people and undermined its role as a politically stable international financial center and conduit for capital in and out of China. It has damaged the “one country, two systems” formula that allowed the city to retain many freedoms after Chinese rule was restored in 1997.

That formula is also one Beijing touts as a model for unifying Taiwan with the mainland. Hong Kong’s disarray has made such an arrangement less likely than ever in Taiwan, which has developed into a vibrant democracy over the past three decades.

The protests have boosted the electoral prospects of Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen, whose party has traditionally supported Taiwanese independence, ahead of a presidential vote in January. A vocal supporter of the Hong Kong protesters, she has seen her approval rating surge to 45% in late August from below 25% in December, according to one poll.

Even her main rival, Han Kuo-yu of the Nationalist Party, which has favored closer ties with Beijing, has pledged never to allow “one country, two systems” in Taiwan, and described Hong Kong protesters as shedding blood for freedom and democracy.

Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office, in a faxed statement, said the island’s government had played a “disgraceful” role, “fanning the flames, and adding fuel to the fire” in Hong Kong to boost Ms. Tsai. China’s cabinet information office and the agency responsible for Hong Kong affairs didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The setbacks feed into broader criticism of Mr. Xi, whose self-styled image as a national savior was already in danger from the trade dispute with the U.S. and sluggish efforts to address an economic slowdown.

While China has enhanced its international clout under Mr. Xi, many of his signature policies have faced difficulties. A global infrastructure building spree has run into resistance at home and abroad. His program to forcibly intern more than a million Chinese Muslims has become an international human-rights controversy. Little progress has been made on another signature project, the construction of a vast new city south of Beijing.

The Hong Kong crisis now is fueling criticism within China’s political, business and academic elite of Mr. Xi’s autocratic leadership style, which prizes loyalty and discipline over initiative and policy debate. One person who spoke recently with mainland officials said there is soul searching in Beijing over how they got things wrong in Hong Kong.

There are no signs of an organized challenge to Mr. Xi’s leadership within the elite, or of Hong Kong’s protests spreading to the mainland.

Mr. Xi has guarded his flanks with appeals for patriotism, using state media to portray Hong Kong protesters as violent separatists and to accuse the U.S. of provoking unrest. Even liberal-leaning mainland Chinese often express similar views.

In a recent meeting with a foreign leader, Mr. Xi indicated that Beijing prefers to allow the Hong Kong government to take the lead in resolving the crisis instead of intervening directly, according to people familiar with the matter. Yet those people say he is unwilling to let Hong Kong’s leadership reach a political accommodation with the protesters that involves any significant concession.

Some party insiders and observers see shades of the regime’s founder in Mr. Xi’s instinct to show strength rather than seek dialogue and compromise.

“We can witness just today his belief that if you encounter problems, you have to escalate. And that is clear Mao,” said Klaus Mühlhahn, professor of Chinese history at the Free University of Berlin. “We see storm clouds: That means we mobilize our forces,” Mr. Mühlhahn said, quoting Mao. “We double and triple our efforts.”

Unifying China has been an obsession for many of its leaders since the first emperor, Qin Shi Huang, did so in 221 B.C.

Hong Kong is a vital piece in the Communist Party’s narrative of Chinese history, which portrays the 1839-1842 Opium War, after which the defeated Qing government ceded Hong Kong Island to Britain, as a key moment of national shame.

The party has sought to bring Taiwan under its control ever since Mao’s forces drove Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist government to the island during the Chinese civil war seven decades ago.

Unlike his recent predecessors, Mr. Xi has repeatedly expressed a need for urgency in the China unification project, saying it shouldn’t just be handed down unfinished from generation to generation.

For Mr. Xi, Hong Kong is also personal.

Xi Zhongxun, Mr. Xi’s father, was a prominent revolutionary who, as a top party official in the southern province of Guangdong from 1978 to 1980, confronted an exodus of mainlanders fleeing to Hong Kong as economic refugees, when the city was still under British control.

Fearing that could undermine the party, he cultivated ties with Hong Kong officials and businessmen and tried to narrow the economic gap, including by setting up mainland China’s first “special economic zone” and encouraging investment from Hong Kong.

After leaving Guangdong, Mr. Xi’s father remained involved in Hong Kong affairs, meeting delegations from the city and helping pave the way for Sino-British talks on the territory’s future.

“Xi Zhongxun became the face of the People’s Republic to Hong Kong after the nightmare of the Cultural Revolution,” said Joseph Torigian, a fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “We know that Xi Jinping cares a lot about his father’s legacy.”

Xi Jinping visited Hong Kong several times as a local and regional official to drum up investment for the mainland. On a trip in 2005, he praised Hong Kong as a globally competitive commercial center that offered many lessons for Zhejiang province, where he was the top party official at the time.

By the early 2000s, however, Beijing was beginning to see the city less as worthy of emulation and more as a wellspring of trouble.

In 2003, a deadly respiratory-disease outbreak in Hong Kong prompted Beijing to take steps to help its economy, including by allowing many more mainlanders to visit—moves that incentivized further intervention in the city’s governance.

Later that year, protests in Hong Kong against a bill outlawing actions deemed subversive to Beijing forced the city’s government to withdraw the legislation. Beijing officials feared Hong Kongers had been imbued with Western political values during British rule.

Still, in the years leading up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, opinion polls showed Hong Kongers developing more confidence in the “one country, two systems” idea. Beijing decided in late 2007 that Hong Kong residents could start directly electing their leader in a decade’s time.

Mr. Xi drew a warm welcome on a Hong Kong visit in July 2008, by which time he was a member of China’s top leadership body—the Politburo Standing Committee—and the head of the party’s coordination group for Hong Kong and Macau policy. But he ruffled feathers by appearing to admonish Hong Kong’s then leader and by urging the city’s executive, legislature and judiciary to cooperate with each other. It was an early sign of Beijing’s more interventionist approach.

“In the early years, Beijing was happy to leave Hong Kong alone,” said Bernard Chan, a member of China’s parliament and Hong Kong’s Executive Council. “From 2003 onward, we had massive economic and social integration” but no corresponding political integration. “The mistake that we made was that maybe we never found ways to deal with the effects of this integration.”

Beijing officials had the sense that Hong Kong people hadn’t quite come back to the fold emotionally, said Christine Loh, a former Hong Kong government official. Mr. Xi oversaw a drive to educate Hong Kongers about China’s achievements. In 2010, the city’s government said schools would introduce a new subject: Moral and National Education.

Many young Hong Kong residents and their parents denounced the effort as brainwashing. Opinion polls showed that a growing number of the city’s people began to identify as Hong Kongers rather than Chinese.

Mr. Xi sensed the rise of a separatist movement, according to Chen Zuo’er, a former deputy director of the Chinese government’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office. In July 2012 Mr. Xi “issued the party center’s first combat order to purge Hong Kong independence elements,” Mr. Chen said, according to a transcript of a speech he gave in 2017.

Later in July 2012, a second surge of unrest forced Hong Kong’s government to shelve the Moral and National Education plan.

Mr. Xi became China’s leader that November and relinquished his role as head of the coordination group for Hong Kong and Macau. But he soon started to upend the Communist Party’s collective leadership system, eventually taking personal charge of all major decision-making.

In a marked shift from his predecessors, Mr. Xi stressed that Beijing exercised “overall governance authority” over Hong Kong. The formulation first appeared in a June 2014 government white paper that warned against “confused or lopsided” perceptions of Hong Kong’s status and said its partial autonomy came “solely from the authorization by the central leadership.”

Following through on the earlier promise, Beijing offered a plan to let Hong Kongers vote on their next chief executive—so long as candidates were effectively screened by the central leadership. Mr. Xi and his advisers were taken aback when hundreds of thousands took to the streets in autumn 2014 to reject that plan, according to people involved in official discussions.

China’s leader now saw himself as being locked in a struggle for control of Hong Kong that he described as “long-term, complex and at times sharp,” according to the 2017 speech by Mr. Chen, the retired official.

“The trees want tranquility but the winds won’t stop,” he quoted Mr. Xi as saying.

Taking their cue from Beijing, Hong Kong’s authorities adopted a hard line against leaders of the 2014 protests, prosecuting several and barring others from the legislature. Chinese security agents abducted or detained five Hong Kong booksellers and held them in the mainland for investigation. Most have since been released but remain monitored.

Agents also abducted billionaire Xiao Jianhua from a Hong Kong hotel in 2017 and took him to the mainland to facilitate investigations into alleged financial crimes. Chinese officials haven’t publicly accused him of wrongdoing or accounted for his whereabouts.

By the time Mr. Xi visited Hong Kong in mid-2017 to mark the 20th anniversary of its return to Chinese rule, it looked as though his strategy was working. “Hong Kong has joined the remarkable journey toward the great renewal of the Chinese nation,” he proclaimed.

Then came a warning: Challenging Beijing’s power, Mr. Xi said, “is an act that crosses the red line.”

“As President Xi says, one country is one country,” said Ip Kwok-him, a nonofficial member of Hong Kong’s Executive Council and deputy to China’s parliament. “It’s no longer about accommodating Hong Kong’s needs.”

For almost two years afterward, Hong Kong’s democracy movement languished. Then, after the city’s government this February proposed a bill allowing extradition of criminal suspects to the mainland, opposition began to swell.

While some political figures in Hong Kong accuse its government of emulating Mr. Xi’s intolerance of dissent, others blame Beijing’s representatives in the city for overreaching in an attempt to please the Chinese leader.

“President Xi of course has a more serious manner when looking at the Hong Kong issues,” said Ma Fung-kwok, a pro-Beijing member of Hong Kong’s legislature and China’s national parliament. “He has been quite demanding on many aspects, so you can see that the liaison office here is more proactive.”

Maybe Beijing’s representatives in Hong Kong “are pushing too hard,” Mr. Ma said.

Mr. Xi has largely stayed silent on the Hong Kong protests. In a Sept. 3 speech at Beijing’s Central Party School, he identified Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan affairs as among the major challenges to his China Dream.

A critical question now is whether he would use force to protect his vision of a unified China.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam told business leaders in Hong Kong last month that Beijing didn’t have plans for a military crackdown, according to a leaked recording published by Reuters.

With thousands of paramilitary police still massed on the border, others aren’t so sure. “I do know that it is a last resort,” said Mr. Tien, the pro-Beijing Hong Kong legislator. “In the end, it’s up to the decision of one person.”