Protesters leave the Hong Kong Polytechnic University (PolyU) campus to surrender to police, in Hong Kong, China November 19, 2019. (REUTERS)

THE city that never sleeps has a whole new meaning for Hong Kong. It’s protest 24/7. Almost. Jeffrey A. Bader, senior fellow, Foreign Policy at John L. Thornton China Centre, sees the story of Hong Kong as a Shakespearean tragedy in five acts.

We do not go that far, but we do see some threads of tragedy at work here: unhappy ending brought on by a tragic flaw.

The tragic flaw is China wanting Hong Kong to be more like China and vice versa. But China of 1997 — when Hong Kong reverted to the mainland by agreement — isn’t the China of 2019. It is now wearing the gear of a mighty nation. It has yearning and yuan to prove it. Tidal waves in the South China Sea are but one sign of things to come.

Expect China to want everything with Chinese characteristics. Beijing needs to realise there are many billions more out there who do not see things the Chinese way. Among them are the 7.4 million people in Hong Kong.

The five-month riots are said to have been sparked by Beijing’s proposed 2019 Hong Kong extradition bill which aimed to send suspects back to China to be tried under Chinese law.

Many read this as China trying to make Hong Kong more of a China than it wants to be. The bill has since been withdrawn. Politics aren’t the only reason. Economics is at play too.

The vast majority of Hong Kong — like many in other rich cities — feel left out. It is not that Hong Kong hasn’t enough wealth for fair distribution. It makes enormous amount of money from finance, logistics, retail and tourism. But most of it goes to the rich one per cent, an affliction not unique to Hong Kong.

But this doesn’t mean the protesters should go on a rampage destroying property. Hurting people even.

They would serve their cause better if they had confined themselves to public places. Instead, it is urban guerilla warfare with the police, as one writer put it.

They must know riots will eventually cripple Hong Kong’s wealth-making prospects. People and businesses will stay away from trouble spots. Eventually.

Hong Kong, which has special status in a number of world bodies such as World Trade Organisation and World Customs Organisation, may risk losing this too if protests persist.

Beijing and Hong Kong authorities too must seek to understand the plight of its people.

Engagement through dialogue with Hong Kongers is the best way to understand their alienation. Plus, such an engagement has an added advantage: it stops the United States from interfering in the affairs of Hong Kong. It is now clear the US had a hand in engineering the ouster of Bolivian president Evo Morales.

Regime change is, after all, an American pastime. Supporting peaceful protest is one thing, sending in the National Endowment for Democracy for regime change is another. China can counter this by adhering to the one country, two systems model as it allows Hong Kong to have the autonomy that the people want.

Anything else may just turn the city southeast of Beijing into a heart of darkness.