The escalating protests in Hong Kong pose a personal challenge to the autocratic rule of Xi Jinping, whose implacable domination of Chinese public life since 2012 has drawn comparisons with Mao Zedong. Xi has distanced himself from the turmoil so far. But the scale and persistence of the unrest, combined with growing street violence, may force him to get involved – or risk losing his “strongman” image.
Probably to Beijing’s surprise, the demonstrations over a proposed extradition law have continued despite an unusual, albeit partial government climbdown. That points to deeper grievances about Beijing’s slow-burn attempts to curb Hong Kong’s freedoms, the lack of full democratic rights and, more generally, the threatening atmosphere created by Xi’s aggressive authoritarianism.