August 17, 2019

Time was when flying to Hong Kong was a really big thrill – or maybe scare would be a better term. Its old airport, Kai Tak, was right in the middle of bustling downtown Hong Kong. Flying into Kai Tak used up 11 of one’s 12 lives.

The wide-bodied jumbo aircraft would drop down into a long fjord that was usually shrouded in fog or mist. The nervous passenger would see nothing but cloud. Suddenly, the aircraft would break out of the thick cloud cover right over the airport.

To the left and right were apartment buildings festooned with drying laundry at the same height as one’s plane. The big 747 airliner landed with a huge thud and screaming tires right in front of another bunch of apartment buildings.

Even for veteran air travelers like myself, this was a heart-stopping experience. Amazingly, I recall only one crash at Kai Tak, which we used to call ‘Suicide Airport.’ Still, it was like landing a jumbo-jet on New York’s Park Avenue. Not for the faint of heart.

In 1998, Kai Tak was closed and replaced by the modern, spacious Chek Lap Kok, better known as Hong Kong International. It quickly became one of Asia’s principal aviation hubs.

This week, Hong Kong airport was besieged and shut down by thousands of young local demonstrators protesting China’s attempt to impose a new extradition law on Hong Kong that would allow Beijing to arrest Hong Kong residents for ‘anti-state’ activities. The deal that Hong Kong’s former colonial Britain signed with China calls for ‘two-states, one nation,’ with considerable independence for the former island colony.

But anyone who thinks China’s iron-fisted rulers will allow a scrap of paper to limit their influence over Hong Kong is dead wrong. For them, Hong Kong is as much a part of China as Shanghai. So, too, is Taiwan.

The massive rioting in Hong Kong earlier this week set off alarm bells in Beijing, which runs an Orwellian police state on the mainland. China’s hardline leaders rightly fear that the fracas in Hong Kong could incite other uprisings across China. Everyone remembers the long, bloody Cultural Revolution of the 1970’s with its rampaging Red Guards.

Perhaps more important, Chinese leaders study their nation’s history and draw lessons from it, unlike America’s history-free politicians. For the Americans, history is what was on Fox TV the week before.

What Beijing really fears is another Taiping Rebellion. A nobody named Hong Xiuqan proclaimed himself the brother of Jesus and raised a vast peasant army to overthrow the ruling Manchu dynasty in Beijing. Brutal civil war raged from 1850-1864 in which up to 100 million are believed to have been killed or died of famine.

If this sounds completely crazy, think of all the Republican sycophants that call President Trump the reincarnation of the ancient Hebrew Queen Esther or a ‘Christian warrior.’ Bizarre behavior and beliefs are universal.

China has warned the rioting Hong Kong students to cease their protests or face intervention by Beijing’s tough paramilitary police, which backs up the regular People’s Army. Chinese armed police and soldiers are massing just across the border in Shenzhen, a mere taxi ride from downtown Hong Kong.

If the Hong Kong students are not wise, they risk winding up in China’s penal camps, the ‘laogai.’ Large numbers of Muslim Uighurs from Xinjiang have been locked away in China’s western laogai.

The airport riots now appear over but continue in Hong Kong’s streets. If the People’s Police or Liberation Army do intervene in Hong Kong to impose China’s iron hand, they could spark another Tiananmen Square bloodbath. But once Beijing’s forces impose martial law on Hong Kong its days of autonomy will be over.

The type of repression China imposed on Tibet and Muslim regions could be repeated in Hong Kong. There is absolutely nothing any of the world’s powers can do about it. China will then turn its attention to ‘renegade province’ Taiwan. Western politicians can huff and puff all they like but they are powerless to change the tide of events in Hong Kong.

Copyright Eric S Margolis 2019

This post is in: China, Hong Kong


  1. It’s starting to heat up a bit… from the BBC:
    “Thousands of secondary school and university students have boycotted classes in Hong Kong, in the latest pro-democracy protests.

    Organisers say 10,000 pupils from 200 secondary schools did not turn up for the first day for the new school year.”

    I don’t know when the dragon is going to ‘fire up’, but, could be soon.

  2. If things weren’t already interesting (from a Chinese viewpoint). From the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists:

    “In the most recent Nuclear Notebook, Kristensen and Korda drill drown into the Chinese nuclear arsenal, writing that it “includes about 290 warheads for delivery by ballistic missiles and bombers…we estimate that
    China will soon surpass France as the world’s third-largest nuclear-armed state.””


  3. Eric Margolis’ article is supplemented by der Spiegel at:
    With the brutal repression of the students at Tiananmen Square, it is curious to note how the authorities will act.
    The Brits did Hong Kong a real disservice in turning it over to the Chinese. An agreement should have been forged through the toothless UN.
    The new bridge makes a physical connection.
    Just some thoughts.

  4. peter mcloughlin says:

    Eric Margolis gives an excellent insight into events. The phenomenon of protests in Hong Kong is part of the hegemonic struggle between the US and China. Historically such struggles have always resulted in war: conflict between the two biggest global economies will be world war. And world war between nuclear powers will be nuclear war. No one sees the dangerous journey we are on, that it leads us to the dragon’s lair.

  5. Another great column that I read with great interest.

    I clearly remember old Kai Tak Airport and the scary landing we experienced in May 1965. We were apparently quite lucky that on the day our Swissair flight from Bangkok landed there, it was a clear and sunny late afternoon. But, flying around the mountains to land at Kai Tak was unnerving. (And, this was after the plane had flown over Cambodia, Laos and South Vietnam during the Vietnam War and over Da Nang and the US military base that sat there. I was only 11 at the time and worried that the Vietcong might shoot at the plane (they didn’t). I breathed a quiet sigh of relief when we were finally out over the South China Sea and the pilot veered the plane northeast toward Hong Kong.)

    One point that should be clarified. Hong Kong is mostly not an island state / city. Kowloon and the New Territories, which together form the largest part of Hong Kong, are attached to the mainland of the People’s Republic of China.

    I agree almost entirely with Eric’s analysis of the current situation in Hong Kong and what is likely to happen there in the face of the mass protests. People should not forget that the government in Beijing is quite ruthless and will have little hesitation of moving in the People’s Police and, if it feels it necessary, the People’s Army, to crush the protests. And it will not really care about world opinion in this matter, including whatever Trump’s administration might think. However, I rather doubt that China would make a serious attempt to retake Taiwan just yet. The US 7th Fleet has sent warships through the Taiwan Straight more frequently – at least once per month in 2019 – in a clear attempt to deter China from taking direct military action against Taiwan. It is unlikely that China would risk a direct military confrontation with the US in the near future, although I know that nations have been known to go to war for much less reason than the current trade tensions going on between the Chinese and the Americans. I think it’s obvious that the Chinese government is smart enough not to knowingly cause its country to engage in political, military and economic suicide, even if Trump and his wacko supporters are not so smart with respect to the well-being of the US.

  6. Chinese leaders value social stability beyond all else. A look at their history leaves little question why.

    The current generation of leaders either experience social chaos themselves or their parents did. The Beijing government tried to use organized crime to put down the protests but that largely failed.

    Now they are faced with coming into the open with imposing quasi-military rule in hing Kong Kong or allowing the situation to spin further out of control.

    If these protests had happened withing China’s borders, they wouldn’t have lasted a day. So they are in a quandary as to how to proceed but one thing is certain, the protesters won’t get what they want.

    • “Chinese leaders value social stability beyond all else”, I think that plays ‘second fiddle’ to central control. Take a gander at their brutal responses to non-conformity. Life is cheap and I think they are capable of doing their worst.
      The protesters are ‘walking on eggshells’.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.