Protesters in Hong Kong have delivered the most stunning rebuke to Chinese tyranny since the Tiananmen Square uprising of 1989. The question now, after eight weeks of demonstrations, is whether China’s dictator, President Xi Jinping, will respond with the same brute military force used to crush that democracy movement 30 years ago. Serious observers worry the backlash is coming.

For Mr. Xi, who took power in 2013, the situation in Hong Kong presents an immediate threat to his domestic political legitimacy. State repression, bolstered by staggering levels of high-tech surveillance, has increased under his rule. In China’s western province of Xinjiang, despite international protest, the regime has for two years been dishing out torture and forced political indoctrination to an estimated one million Uighur Muslims held in internment camps. Dealing harshly with Hong Kong’s protest movement would remind the city’s residents—and the rest of China—who’s boss.

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