Sunday, October 5, 2014

Hong Kong and the "hostile foreign forces"

So it seems that the Hong Kong protests may be starting to peter out, without having achieved their goal. This was to be expected; there was no way the government was backing down.

Over the last couple of weeks I have heard various of my foreign friends here in Beijing wonder if the protests were going to end with a repeat of Beijing 1989. This always seemed unlikely to me, as I couldn't imagine the Chinese government sending the army into Hong Kong. Instead, it seems like they may well have chosen the sneakier method of encouraging Hong Kong's triads to attack and harass the demonstrators.

Here in the Mainland, the media has attempted to paint the demonstrators as naive students manipulated by shadowy "外国势力" (foreign forces), which in their imagination are always waiting to pounce on any chance to destabilize China. That they would present it this way is entirely predictable for those who know anything about China. It is also not at all surprising that many Mainland Chinese are ready to be swayed by such accusations.

Allegations of foreign backing are relatively groundless (as this piece by Dave Lindorff intelligently argues). The protesters themselves are genuine Hong Kongers of all ethnic backgrounds, and most of them were not part of any organized movement, but simply turned up spontaneously. The Occupy Central and Scholarism movements are organized, lead and staffed by Hong Kongers. While it is obvious that such a movement would receive sympathy and support in the Western world, there is no real evidence that it was organized or received material support from the outside.

The real mystery is perhaps not whether there are "foreign forces" supporting the protesters, but why this should matter. When the Chinese Communist Party was struggling against the Japanese and the Guomindang in the fourties, were they not receiving the support of "foreign forces"? Or was the Soviet Union not a foreign country? Is receiving international support necessarily a bad thing?

Surely any political movement should be judged on the strength of its goals and its cause, and not on whether it is receiving foreign backing. The Hong Kong protesters demand the right to elect Hong Kong's Chief Executive freely. It is the central government's refusal to allow this that is "destabilizing" Hong Kong. Having a chief executive that doesn't just toe Beijing's line would probably not destabilize Hong Kong, but just improve the level of trust between Hong Kongers and their local leaders. There is no way it could lead to independence for Hong Kong.

Protesters in Hong Kong. The crossed out Chinese word on the placards means "silence" (沉默)

It is interesting to note that Beijing's accusation that Hong Kong's protest movement is basically a pawn of the West ties in with a certain sort of discourse which is gaining much ground internationally. This discourse, which unites the Chinese and Russian governments and their supporters with certain sectors of the Western left, holds that most of the pro-democracy protest movements and rebellions against authoritarian regimes which have erupted around the world in recent years have been initiated and funded by the United States and its allies, in order to destabilize and replace governments unfriendly to them.

According to this line of reasoning the uprisings in Syria and Libya, the Maidan protest movement in Ukraine, the electoral protests in Iran in 2009, the Venezuelan protests against Maduro's government, the unrest in Xinjiang and now the Occupy movement in Hong Kong are all mere tools of the US and the West in their geopolitical struggle against their enemies.

It is of course true that all of the governments targeted by these protests are not on good terms with the United States. It is perfectly reasonable to assume that the US views the protests with sympathy, and even aids them materially in some cases (in the case of Libya, NATO warplanes certainly finished off the protesters' job for them). But to presume that these popular movements are all simple orchestrations of the United States exaggerates the role that this country is able to play and takes away any agency from the protesters themselves, who are reduced to the role of pawns in someone else's game.

The simplistic nature of this analysis is obvious if you look at the "Arab Spring". This wave of popular protest started off targeting dictators friendly to the US and Western interests (Ben Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt), and then moved on to countries with regimes long on the list of US enemies (Ghaddafi in Lybia and Assad in Syria). All of these uprisings clearly took inspiration from each other. It would hardly make sense to assume that the rebellions in Syria and Libya were entirely orchestrated by the US, while the ones in Tunisia and Egypt were spontaneous popular uprisings.

Ironically, the way that Russian and Chinese nationalists are always ready to see the hand of the US behind pro-democracy movements around the world reminds me somewhat of how cold war-era conservatives in America and Europe would see the "evil hand" of the Soviet Union behind just struggles everywhere, from blacks fighting apartheid in South Africa to landless peasants fighting for their rights in Latin America. 

4 comments:

FOARP said...

"It is of course true that all of the governments targeted by these protests are not on good terms with the United States"

This is basically not true. Some of the governments that have been toppled in the past few years have been openly pro-American - Hosni Mubbarak's, for example. Others had reached rapprochements with the US government and were no longer at odds with it - Gaddafi was an exmaple of this.

Renato Corsetti said...

Mi konsentas, ke en Honkongo usonanoj ne estis malantaŭ la protestantaj gejunuloj, sed pri aliaj partoj de la mondo mi pensas, ke vi subtaksas la fakton, ke jes Usono estis malantaŭ la protestantoj. Mi mem aŭdis per miaj oreloj dum jaroj la paroladojn de s-ino Clinton tra la mondo, kiu provis subteni la unuajn 'ribelantojn' en Sirio. Usono tie agis pere de siaj aliancanoj, Sauda Arabujo kaj Kataro. La rezultoj estas konataj. Renato

Ji Xiang said...

@FOARP:

Yes, well in that sentence I was talking about the examples I'd given (Ukraine, Venezuela, Syria, Iran) etc... But then I did mention in the next paragraph that the first two regimes to be toppled in the Arab Spring, Tunisia's and Egypt's, were basically on good terms with the US. I am entirely in agreement with you, not all the governments targeted by this wave of rebellions were enemies of the US.

I'm not so sure about Qaddafi though (my auto-correct gives Qaddafi as the correct spelling. It seems the world will never agree on how his name should be spelled). It is a fact that the US finished him off with their air force. Did they do this just out of pity for the Libyans?

@Renato:

Jes, mi ne dubas ke Usono helpis la ribelon en Sirio. La regximo de la Bath partio estas unu el ilia bersailoj jam de jaroj.

Aliflanke, la Siria krizo komencis en la formo de amasaj manifestacioj de Sirianoj kiuj protestis kontraux ilia registaro, insipiritaj de la protestoj en Egiptio kaj Tunizio. Ili plejparte estis nek fundamentistoj nek havis iun ajn rilaton kun Usono. Ili certe ankaux ne estis influitaj de la Usonaj amas-komunikoloj, cxar mi dubas ke multaj el ili vidis CNN ecx unu fojon en sia vivo, aux komprenas la Anglan. Nur poste la afero transformigxis en civila milito, kun Usono kaj gxiaj amikoj Sauda Arabio kaj Kataro kiuj provizis armilojn al la ribelantoj, inter kiuj malbonsxance estas ne malmultaj religiaj fanatikuloj. Rusio kaj Irano sia vice helpas Assad.

Mia punkto estas ke la protestoj en Sirio, same kiel en Egiptio kaj aliaj Arabaj landoj, evidente komencigxis pro internaj faktoroj. Ke Usono subtenas la protestoj kiam gxi malsxatas la regximon (kiel en Sirio kaj Libio), aux rigardas kun indiferento kiam gxi subtenas la regximon (kiel en Bahrain ekzemple) estas evidenta.

Ke la tuta "Araba printempa" gxis nun tute ne portis evidentan plibonigon al iun ajn lando tusxita de gxi estas alia evidenta fakto: Sirio, Libio kaj Yemen estas en khaoso, Egiptio pasis de elektita registaro de fundamentistoj al milita diktaturo, kaj ecx en Tunizio la fundamentistoj progresas. Eble tiuj landoj vere ne pretas por esti stabila demokratio. Hong Kong, aliflanke, certe estas pretega.

FOARP said...

"It is a fact that the US finished him off with their air force. Did they do this just out of pity for the Libyans?"

The US also helped finish off Mubbarak by intimating that they'd cut off funding for the Egyptian military if he didn't go. Gaddafi was a big US and British opponent during the 80's, he helped arm the IRA, carried out terrorist attacks on US and British targets, but in the last ten years of his rule he had quietly become a friendly power. he had given up his WMD program, signed trade agreements with the EU, allowed foreign oil companies a free rein to operate in Libya. He had also allowed the US to rendition terrorism suspects to Libya so that they could be tortured there.

However, massacring his own people on live television is something that is a bit hard to explain to the public of any state. Whilst US and European officials were at least willing to admit that Mubarak had been an ally, it was rather easy to simply pretend that there had never been any easing in the tensions with Gaddafi's regime - but the fact that his family had spent so much time swanning around Europe was an obvious indicator to the contrary.

I guess it's also worth pointing out that Gaddafi had also made himself more than a little bit unpopular with the Chinese through his gadfly-ish flirtation with Taiwan, blocking of Chinese trade interests, and accusations of Chinese 'imperialism'. China did little or nothing to help gaddafi after the civil war began, and the reasons why are fairly obvious.