Beijing will regard protesters as crossing a red line in causing the suspension of flights at Hong Kong International Airport. In a limited but highly public manner, the function and power of the Chinese state has ground to a halt.
President Xi Jinping and his minions believe that the current situation, one in which flights have been suspended for the past two days, cannot continue. That’s not so much a result of the damage to Hong Kong’s economy or the disruption these protests are causing to passengers. It’s because the protests are visibly undercutting the Chinese Communist Party’s supreme authority.
For the standing committee in Beijing, that undercutting is utterly intolerable.
This is not to say that China wants to use military force to crush the “Umbrella” protest movement. Beijing knows that the visual of Peoples Liberation Army soldiers bashing young protesters into submission would be disastrous for the regime’s international reputation. It would be seen, possibly, as a second Tiananmen Square atrocity.
While vicious authoritarianism is the defining hallmark of the Chinese Communist Party, Beijing needs to provide a credible pretense to the contrary. That pretense is crucial if Xi is to succeed in expanding his Belt and Road economic initiative. Ultimately designed to supplant the U.S.-led democratic international order, Belt and Road involves generous Chinese investments abroad in return for Chinese market dominance and feudal political fealty.
For Chinese communists, no concern matters nearly as much as the well understood supremacy of the state’s authority. The principle must be enshrined, Beijing believes, in order to prevent any future resistance against the state.
Hence why Beijing’s escalating threats to use force in Hong Kong cannot be discounted. If protesters continue to shut down Hong Kong International Airport, Xi will deploy the military to crush them.