How will Beijing respond to Hong Kong election results and leaked Uighur documents?

JUDY WOODRUFF: After months of protests in
Hong Kong, yesterday brought an extraordinary rebuke of Chinese authority by Hong Kong’s
voters in local elections, and another startling revelation about Chinese government persecution
of Uyghur Muslims. Amna Nawaz takes a look at both stories. AMNA NAWAZ: Newly elected pro-democracy legislators
walking today through debris from last week’s fiery clashes at Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University. Sunday’s landslide election made clear the
grassroots protesters have the overwhelming support of Hong Kong voters. Pro-democracy forces won control of 17 of
18 district councils in the first election since the unrest began six months ago. LEE WING-TAT, Democratic Party Legislator:
It is a genuine referendum of the people in Hong Kong. The candidates from the Democratic government
allies won this election. Democratic Party hope our chief executive,
Mrs. Carrie Lam, receives the message, because the votes make a clear voice of the Hong Kong
people. AMNA NAWAZ: The increasingly-unpopular Lam
is backed by Beijing. She said in a statement that the government
will — quote — “seriously reflect on the results.” The district councils have little power, but
Hong Kongers calling for democracy say the outcome is a turning point. KELVIN WONG, Student (through translator):
I am happy about the election result. A victory in the district council election
is the first step for Hong Kong democracy. I am still reasonably optimistic about Hong
Kong’s future. AMNA NAWAZ: But, in Beijing, China’s communist
government insisted today that its one country/two systems policy remains firm. GENG SHUANG, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson
(through translator): Stopping the violence and restoring order is the paramount task
for Hong Kong at the moment. Hong Kong is China’s Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s affair is purely China’s domestic
affair. The Chinese government’s resolution of protecting
China’s sovereignty, security, development and interests is firm. AMNA NAWAZ: Hong Kong activists say the election,
with record voter turnout exceeding 70 percent, was a resounding rejection of that policy. JOSHUA WONG, Pro-Democracy Activist: People
orderly and peacefully lining up outside the voting station early in the morning just because
they hope to get the vote, which represented we deserve democracy. AMNA NAWAZ: Meanwhile, in Washington, the
bipartisan Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act awaits action on President Trump’s desk,
after easily passing both the House and Senate. The bill would impose sanctions on Hong Kong
officials who abuse human rights. But the president has suggested it could also
affect trade talks with China. Let’s explore the stakes in Hong Kong with
Susan Shirk. She’s the chair of the 21st Century China
Program at the University of California, San Diego. She returned from a trip to China this week. Susan, thank you very much for being with
us. I want to ask you about what we just saw. There’s now no doubt, we heard, about where
the public sentiment in Hong Kong lies. So, from the perspective of the Hong Kong
government and from the Chinese government in Beijing, how does this change the calculus
for what they do next? SUSAN SHIRK, University of California, San
Diego: Right before I came to the studio, the official media in China had not yet reported
the outcome of the election. They did finally report there was the election,
but they really haven’t reported the results. And there’s some indication from people on
the ground I have heard from that they have been talking to journalists, Chinese journalists,
who say that, in fact, the Chinese leadership was surprised by the outcome of the election,
and then they are now scrambling to figure out what to do about it. It’s really remarkable that, despite these
large-scale protests that have gone on for months, they still were surprised by the outcome
of the election. AMNA NAWAZ: So how do you think these election
results changed the dynamic? SUSAN SHIRK: If Carrie Lam resigns to kind
of take responsibility for the outcome, that might defuse the protests for a while, as
people wait and see what more Beijing will do to meet the other demands, including some
progress toward more direct elections. And, of course, if Carrie Lam has to be replaced,
then that also raises the issue of how you select the chief executive. AMNA NAWAZ: Susan, you heard in the piece
there some people were referring to this as a turning point. Do you believe that it could be that, this
could bring about some real change? SUSAN SHIRK: Well, you know, it’s a test of
Xi Jinping’s pragmatism. Is he really very dogmatic? Did he really believe his own propaganda? Did the internal channels from the liaison
office in Hong Kong actually, fearing to give him bad news, give him an unrealistic view
of what was happening in Hong Kong? If he’s pragmatic, then it to seems to me
he’s likely to do — try to find a way to respond to some of the protesters’ demands,
at least by getting rid of the very unpopular Carrie Lam. Really, this is kind of a fork in the road
for Xi Jinping. Is he going to double down on control and
indoctrination, or is he going to be flexible and give a little bit in the direction of
more direct democratic election of Hong Kong political leaders? AMNA NAWAZ: And, Susan, that is the latest
from Hong Kong, but I do want to get your take on a different topic we’re also covering
today. I would like to shift now to mainland China,
where leaked Communist Party documents show the internal workings of internment and reeducation
camps used to detain a million people. The China cables are the first official glimpse
into the structure and ideology behind these camps in Northwest China’s Xinjiang province,
where at least one million Muslim Uyghurs and members of other minority groups are detained
on industrial scale. The documents show that the Chinese government
officials designed the camps as brainwashing centers on a massive scale, with multiple
layers of security. Among the other revelations: Camp inmates
could be held indefinitely. Camps are run on a points system where inmates
earn credits for compliance. Weekly phone calls or monthly video calls
are the only contact allowed. And preventing escape is paramount. The Chinese foreign minister said documents
leaked earlier this month to The New York Times were fabricated. GENG SHUANG (through translator): They are
also sensationalizing these internal documents by using poor tactics, like taking them out
of context and grafting them onto another, to undermine and tarnish China’s efforts on
anti-terrorism and depolarization in Xinjiang. AMNA NAWAZ: Foreign affairs correspondent
Nick Schifrin sat down with National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien over the weekend at
the Halifax Security Forum. ROBERT O’BRIEN, U.S. National Security Adviser:
We have over a million people in concentration examples in Xinjiang. I mean, that’s an outrage. President Xi has the power of writ in China. What he says goes. And those camps should be closed. They should be dismantled. But it’s not just the camps. It’s the surveillance infrastructure that’s
been built in the region. AMNA NAWAZ: Susan Shirk, as we reported, that
is the second trove of leaked documents to be published in just over a week, the previous
batch by The New York Times. Going through the documents, what do we learn
in terms of the involvement of President Xi Jinping in these camps and these efforts? SUSAN SHIRK: Well, The New York Times’ story
makes explicit that there’s no evidence, no statement in these documents that Xi Jinping
actually ordered the establishment of the camps. What he did is start a campaign to try to
crack down on terrorism in 2014, after a number of terrorist attacks in Xinjiang and, of course,
terrorist attacks outside of China as well. And he — so, he launched this very harsh
campaign of indoctrination to try to undertake thought reform of Uyghurs and other ethnic
groups in Xinjiang. So, he himself — we don’t have the document
yet in which he ordered the camps, but, certainly, the establishment of the camps, which was
done by provincial officials — at least, that’s what the documents tell us — was a
response to this campaign launched by Xi Jinping. And what’s really remarkable about the campaign
is it shows that Xi Jinping still believes in this Maoist notion of thought reform. He really believes that this kind of intensive
brainwashing can change the way people think. AMNA NAWAZ: What does it say to you that these
documents are even being leaked at all, the fact that these are seeing the light of day? SUSAN SHIRK: Well, it shows that not everybody
in the Chinese bureaucracy and the party and government bureaucracy agrees with this very
heavy-handed, repressive police state approach to governing China. In fact, the documents, from the standpoint
of a China watcher, are really fascinating, because they show that some of the local officials
objected to this approach. And, in fact, some officials released people
from the camps because they wanted to make sure that they met their economic growth targets. And without the labor power, they weren’t
going to be able to do that. So I think, you know, from outside, China
looks so monolithic, but, in fact, I think there are a lot of different points of view,
and not everybody agrees with the direction Xi is taking the country. AMNA NAWAZ: That is Susan Shirk of the 21st
Century China Center at the University of California, San Diego. Thank you for being with us. SUSAN SHIRK: My pleasure.

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