As clashes continue between protesters in Hong Kong and the territory’s Beijing-backed leadership, observers fear a Chinese military crackdown. In a new interview, former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power lent credence to the concerns, saying she’s “worried about” a military intervention from the neighboring super power.
The consequences of an invasion would be dire for both Hong Kong and China, Power said.
“If President Xi decides to go in even more coercively than Chinese-backed security forces have already, I think it's going to be not only horrible for Hong Kong, because once you've tasted the kinds of freedoms that the people in Hong Kong have grown up with, you're not going to surrender those freedoms, even if tanks come storming into your neighborhood,” she says.
“But it's also going to be very dangerous for China, and really, for the China model, which President Xi has tried to sell to so many countries around the world,” she adds.
Protests in Hong Kong began in June after Chief Executive Carrie Lam proposed plans to allow the Chinese government to extradite Hong Kong residents, a move perceived by some in the territory as an extension of repressive tactics deployed in mainland China. After months of protests, some involving millions, Lam withdrew the extradition bill last Wednesday.
Human rights advocates have raised concerns about China for decades, and recently over its reported detention of between 1 million and 2 million members of a Uighur Muslim minority, the country’s tech-equipped surveillance apparatus, and other issues.
‘It has bearing for Chinese leadership in the world’
“The claim is you can have booming economic growth, no social problems, and you can run a tight ship,” she says. “You can sort of repress people, but you do it in a way where it doesn't come back, it doesn't blow up in some very dramatic way. With Hong Kong, if China handles Hong Kong in a much more aggressive way...it has bearing for Chinese leadership in the world, which is something that President Xi has invested a great deal in.”
Hong Kong, a British colony for more than a century and a half, came under Chinese sovereignty in 1997. It functions under a “one country, two systems” policy that allows Hong Kong to determine its own laws.
Power made the comments during a conversation that airs in an episode of Yahoo Finance’s “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
Before she entered government, Power worked as a journalist and human rights advocate. In 2003, she won the Pulitzer Prize for “A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide,” an account of America’s role in protecting vulnerable people around the world.
During the Obama administration’s first term, she served as a member of the National Security Council as Special Assistant to the President for Multilateral Affairs and Human Rights. In 2013, she became U.S Ambassador to the United Nations — a position she served in for more than three years.
On Tuesday, Power released a memoir entitled “The Education of an Idealist,” which chronicles her upbringing in Ireland and the United States, as well as formative moments throughout her career. In the book, she recounts a sports internship at a local CBS affiliate in Atlanta, where she watched live footage of the Chinese government as it repressed young protesters in Tiananmen Square.
‘China has been prepared to be very ruthless in the past’
“I did not respond to these events by suddenly proclaiming a new-found intention to learn Mandarin and become a human rights lawyer,” she writes. “But while I knew little about the protests before they started, or even about China itself, I could not shake my discomfort at having been contentedly taking notes on a Braves game while students my age were being mowed down by tanks.”
“For the first time, I reacted as though current events had something to do with me,” she adds. “I felt in a way that I couldn’t have explained in the moment, that I had a stake in what happened.”
In her interview with Serwer, Power recounted that experience she details in the book and offered up a lesson with implications for the protesters in Hong Kong: “It’s clear that China has been prepared to be very ruthless in the past on the mainland when it comes to political protests,” she says.
Andy Serwer is editor-in-chief of Yahoo Finance. Follow him on Twitter: @serwer.