Beijing is trying to balance power, stability and image in a region that progressively matters less to them. As a result they are taking a very lenient approach by Chinese standards, and urging mild restriction in Hong Kong such as mask bans, a somewhat reserved response from what we can see in other regions of Mainland China that have similar histories of civil disobedience. In Xingjian province in China’s North West, the government have placed countless Uighurs, the native Turkic-speaking minority of the region, in ‘re-education centres’ in an effort to control and subjugate this ethnic minority. The Chinese government are thought to have imprisoned over a million Uighurs in such camps under the guise of fighting religious extremism. Similarly in Tibet ‘re-education’ sites often face accusations of torture from Tibetans with many commenting that the system of heavy surveillance, policing and removal of civil liberties in Tibet was a precursor to what is now occurring in Xingjian. Frustrations over Chinese domination of Tibet have become so intense that Tibetans have a history of carrying out self-immolation in protest in Tibet and in India.
But Hong Kong is different, the island was colonised by Britain for 156 years and became one of the original ‘Asian Tiger’ economies following the Second World War, industrialising at a rapid pace and becoming an international hub of business. However following Mainland China’s subsequent prolific rise in wealth, the mainland is now the second largest economy in the world, with numerous business hubs of its own that far outweigh Hong Kong in terms of regional importance. Hong Kong matters less to China financially, and this is more of a long game for them, waiting until 2047 when Hong Kong is legally aligned with the mainland and China will be much more heavy handed in the name of stability, like elsewhere in the country. A ban on masks will ultimately be the least of people’s worries in Hong Kong with such abhorrent civil rights infringement occurring on a daily basis just over the border.