Following the extraordinary whitewash for pro-democracy parties in Hong Kong's District Council elections, Beijing must take the path where it loses least. There is no course of action the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and their underlings governing Hong Kong could take to win the struggle against the protesters. The authorities have run out of ideas of their own - so it's time to take on board the proposals of their pro-democracy opponents.
Calls for Chief Executive Carrie Lam to resign are loud following the pan-democratic win of 87 per cent of seats in Sunday's local elections, but that alone would change little. One Beijing-anointed stooge would be as hamstrung as any other. The question is, will Beijing respond to the protesters now that such a crushing vote has been cast?
Yes, the CCP could "go Tiananmen" and roll in the tanks at the next "illegal" protest, but to do so would knock China's rise off its tracks. Thirty years on from Tiananmen Square in 1989, China is no longer beginning to open up to the outside world - it is enmeshed in globalised trade networks and the rules of international political and economic organisations that it had previously longed rebuked. Communist China was long ostracised and kept outside of the United Nations and world trade organisations.
Today, it is a stakeholder that has invested its future within such international regimes. It has too much to lose by sending troops onto the streets of Hong Kong, particularly where an overwhelming majority of the city's citizens clearly stand against it. The political and economic backlash that would follow from the international community precludes such an option.
The pan-democrat candidates stood on a platform promoting the "Five Demands" of the protest movement. The first demand, withdrawal of the extradition bill, has already been accomplished. And Beijing has little to lose - aside from face - by giving ground on the other four.
Number two, establishing an independent commission into police brutality, will not result in the destruction of the Hong Kong Police Force, merely the investigation and punishment of individual officers who let the force and their community down. Training and other procedures will need to be reviewed, but this is hardly going to shake China's Communist Party from power, so why not give some ground?
Demands three and four involve retracting the classification of protesters as rioters and granting an amnesty for those arrested. Here, both sides need to get real. Only a minority of protesters committed violent riotous acts, and they must expect to be charged accordingly.
However, those guilty of minor transgressions, such as partaking in an unlawful assembly - at a time when virtually every assembly is deemed illegal - should not be categorised as "rioters". It would be a sensible and necessary part of the reconciliation process to drop such charges.
Finally, the fifth demand calls for universal suffrage. In order for this to happen, the chief executive must be no longer be selected by a 1200-member committee loaded with pro-Beijing business leaders, but by a fair public vote.
A compromise may be that any candidate for chief executive must pledge not to seek full independence from mainland China; Hong Kong is dependent upon China for power and water, among many other things, so the notion of independent statehood is folly. Hong Kong people are not anarchists and most understand that the territory is tied to China through geographical and economic constraints and benefits, aside from any political considerations.
Beijing needs to show a little faith in the people of Hong Kong and allow them to elect all - not just half, as currently happens - of the representatives in the Legco parliamentary assembly.
Since the 1997 handover from Britain, Beijing has promised to allow Hong Kong to develop democracy, but ultimately it has sought to control the process. In 2014 the pro-democracy camp was stabbed in the back when it was announced that future elections for a chief executive could be one-person-one-vote only if all candidates were pre-selected by Beijing. This sparked the Umbrella Movement - 2014's mass peaceful protests that saw the occupation of city centre highways for months. The wound festered until it was reopened by this year's reaction against Beijing's planned Hong Kong extradition bill.
Over the coming weeks, Beijing's response to the election results will most likely filter through to us via their appointed chief executive, Carrie Lam. Resignation is not an answer - reform is. Meaningful reform of the political system is the only peaceful way forward. A decisive shift in stance is vital, to match the decisive electoral victory of the pro-democracy camp. Anything less would result in greater violence in Hong Kong, and greater damage to China's gateway to the world.
- Paul Letters is a journalist and novelist who lived in Hong Kong for 18 years, where he was a presenter for state broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong. His most recent novel, set in wartime Hong Kong and China, is The Slightest Chance. paulletters.com