The almost three-month-long struggle of the people of Hong Kong has become the biggest crisis that Xi Jinping has faced since he took office. Since the beginning of the year, the highest authorities in Beijing have been aware that China's overall situation is far from favorable, as a multitude of conflicts that have accumulated over the years are pressing toward the critical point of a full-blown eruption. In light of this, the authorities have proposed to take strict precautions to closely guard against "gray rhinos" and "black swans." However, the focus of this concern has been mainly on domestic issues, specifically the potential of economic deterioration intensifying social conflicts. But as it turns out, even the most careful calculation is vulnerable to a sudden twist of events. With Hong Kong emerging as the biggest black swan of the year, the authorities are caught off guard.
When Xi Jinping first came to power, I analyzed the challenges he faced and the possible outcomes. I pointed out that Xi, who took over a regime at a perilous time, has neither the luck of Jiang Zemin to rule thirteen years in peace nor the opportunity of Hu Jintao to pass the problems down to the next administration. It is inevitable that, during his rule, China will see large-scale street protests that will force him to make impossible choices: if he can suppress the unrest by military force while surviving international sanctions, he will become Deng Xiaoping No. 2 and save the Communist Party of China once again; but if the military refuses to obey and turns against him, he will become Ceausescu No. 2, disgraced and may even be sent to the guillotine.