When the Chinese titan, Deng Xiaoping, commenced the talks with the British about the future of Hong Kong, shortly after he took charge of China in 1978, little did he know that the ultimate deal reached a few years later - that the enclave would be governed by a different set of rules, under the umbrella of "one country, two systems" for at least 50 years - would effectively expire before the halfway point.
And he probably wouldn't have dreamed that the precious city would be delivered to Beijing on a silver platter by Hongkongers themselves.
This, of course, is no surprise to more recent observers - I wrote about it in October 2019, predicting that the mass protests, which turned violent earlier that year, "will go down as an act that accelerated a quite spectacular demise of one of the world’s most impressive cities, leading to an irreversible end to its prosperity – owed entirely to its youth’s reckless irrationality."
Fast forward not even a year and the protesters now have to deal with a crippling National Security Law - in lieu of the rather meaningless Extradition Bill they so resisted in 2019.
The new legislation effectively enables Beijing to quash all political dissent and exert much greater influence over the local media than ever before - as evidenced by the recent arrest of the Apple Daily's founder, Jimmy Lai and the police raid on his company, under accusations of "collusion with a foreign power". The newspaper and its associated website were Hong Kong's second most popular news outlet, as reported by Reuters in 2019.
A dozen opposition activists - including Joshua Wong himself - have been barred from running in the pending election to the Legislative Council, which has been postponed by at least a year due to the pandemic. And just a few days ago 16 people were arrested on a boat, trying to flee to Taiwan, seeking political asylum.
Beijing is winning on all fronts.
Leaders of the protests put their blind faith in foreign powers - chiefly the US and the UK - hoping they would shield them from the Communist Party. But neither has the will - nor even ability to do this. Hong Kong is a Chinese city and even the handover agreement, allowing it some liberties, has an expiry date. What were they expecting, really? That Donald Trump is going to send in the marines?
Of course, Washington is eager to use the conflict to reinforce its anti-Chinese narrative around the world - but nobody in America wants (or has the means) to really help the city stay autonomous. It's a lost cause. What's more, USA actually benefits from it being swallowed by China, because the enduring drama helps American foreign policy.
That the delusional protesters in HK failed to acknowledge things that are so patently obvious has long made me ponder whether some of them have not been deliberately planted by Beijing to speed up the city's demise. It's hard to fathom how anybody can be this naive.
The popular revolt has not only failed to accomplish any of its goals - it, ultimately, helped to accelerate all that Beijing wanted to achieve in Hong Kong.
Xi Jinping has long proved that political goals are of paramount importance to him - even at the expense of international reputation or the economy. He believes China is too big to be isolated and no country can restrict its ambitions in any material way - and he's not wrong in this judgment. Hence the progressing militarization of the South China Sea, detention of thousands if not millions of Uyghurs in reeducation camps and the current pacification of Hong Kong.
When the dust settles, the world is going to adjust to the new reality and move on. Nobody is going to start a war with the PRC - least of all over one city.
If opposition activists wanted to preserve Hong Kong's liberties they should have laid low and taken advantage of them for as long as was possible, instead of provoking a predictable retribution.
Driving the tensions up during the trade war with the US was also a terrible mistake. Yes, it may have initially seemed that adding to Beijing's troubles may force its hand - but, in reality, as punitive actions from Washington keep mounting and Chinese reputation is tanking, what difference does it make if it takes another hit over Hong Kong? It's an opportunity for it to swallow the city 27 years ahead of time and focus on Taiwan.
The poster boy of the failed revolution, Joshua Wong, is now expecting to be arrested and perhaps even taken to China to stand a trial there.
But, given all his contributions, surely the only reason he would travel to the mainland is to receive a medal.