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Former US ambassador to China warns Beijing intervention in Hong Kong will provoke Taiwan

Akiko Fujita

As Hong Kong demonstrators enter their 10th consecutive weekend of protests, the former U.S. ambassador to China warned Beijing against interference, saying that could escalate tensions across the Strait.

Speaking to Yahoo Finance, Gary Locke said mainland intervention in the ongoing protests could ultimately provoke Taiwan, adding to further destabilization.

“The mainland wants very much to reunify Taiwan with the mainland and they've been kind of saying implicitly one country three systems that will be the mainland system, the Hong Kong system, with autonomy for Taiwan,” Locke said. “Those who are watching this will say, ‘Well, you know, if Beijing doesn't keep its word with respect to Hong Kong, if Beijing interferes and brings police action into Hong Kong, how can we ever trust Beijing with any assurances about autonomy for Taiwan?”

Anger in Hong Kong has escalated since June, when demonstrators took to the streets en masse to protest an extradition bill allowing local authorities to detain and extradite people to mainland China. While the government suspended the bill several weeks later, the protests have continued, with Hong Kong citizens demanding a complete withdrawal of the legislation. Allegations of police brutality and fears of China’s increasing grip on the semi-autonomous city have only fanned the flames.

Anti-extradition bill protesters burn joss sticks in solidarity with those injured in the previous protests, during a rally at Sha Tin district in Hong Kong, China, August 9, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato
Anti-extradition bill protesters burn joss sticks in solidarity with those injured in the previous protests, during a rally at Sha Tin district in Hong Kong, China, August 9, 2019. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Earlier this week, Beijing issued its strongest warning against the protests, saying the demonstrations had “exceeded the scope of free assembly.” A spokesman for the Chinese government’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office called on citizens not to underestimate “China’s firm resolve and strength to stand up to protect our wonderful homeland.”

‘That will only agitate the demonstrators’

While speculation of a PLA intervention has grown, Locke said the Chinese government must practice restraint.

“I don't think it's in their best interest, quite frankly, to make those public announcements because that will only agitate the demonstrators and the protesters, much more, even more,” he said.

The outrage in Hong Kong has tested Beijing’s resolve at a time when Chinese leadership is facing increasing economic pressure from Washington in the year-long trade war. Economic growth in China slowed to its lowest level in nearly 30 years, in the most recent quarter, in the face of U.S. tariffs, though dollar-denominated exports came in higher than expected.

Last week, President Donald Trump upped the ante, announcing the administration’s decision to impose 10% tariffs on the remaining $300 billion in Chinese imports. Beijing retaliated by halting purchases of U.S. agricultural goods. On Monday, tensions escalated after China allowed its currency to weaken below the psychologically important 7 level to the dollar, prompting the Treasury Department to designate China a currency manipulator.

While authorities on both sides are set to reconvene in Washington for further trade discussions next month, Trump on Friday, said he was not “ready to make a deal with China.”

“The trade talks are going in the wrong direction, we need everybody to kind of step back cool off, and not impose these additional tariffs. And really get back to the bargaining table,” Locke said.

Akiko Fujita is an anchor and reporter for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter at @AkikoFujita

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