Saturday, June 6, 2020

US and HK, a study of two protest movements

First posted in Asia Times.

Last summer when the peaceful protest in Hong Kong morphed into violence and protesters turned into rioters setting metro and police stations on fire, the U.S. Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi gushed that it was a beautiful landscape, a fight for democracy and freedom.

Now the beautiful sight has been exported to America so that Ms. Pelosi can enjoy watching police precinct buildings set on fire closer to home. Of course, America is the home of democracy and freedom, so the looting and burning can’t be for that. 

And, the Republican Party will need to revise their campaign handbook and find a creative way to add race riots in American cities to the compilation of grievances to blame China.

"The riots in America are nothing like Hong Kong and comparing the two is bloody disgraceful.” Said Jimmy Lai in his Donald Trump inspired tweet. Indeed, he should know, since he was one of the leaders and prime movers of the protest movement in Hong Kong.

Perhaps in response to Mr. Lai’s observation, it would be timely and appropriate to compare the two protest movements while the images and disturbances are still relatively fresh and to find where if there were any commonalities and where the differences lie.

When the Hong Kong government attempted to rectify a missing part of its internal security by enacting an extradition regulation to prevent criminals from escaping justice by jumping jurisdiction, it became a cause for the protest. 

HK government withdraws, protesters advance

The protest began ostensibly peacefully. When the government agreed to review the statue, which they subsequently withdrew, the protestors rather than subsiding felt that they had gained the upper hand and turned violent to increasing their list of demands.

In America, a horrified nationwide audience watched as a burly white policeman in Minneapolis slowly squeezed the life out of George Floyd, a black man lying on the street with his neck under the pressing knee of the cop. Three other cops watched and became accessory to murder.

Spontaneous protests took place in America’s major cities under the banner of “Black Lives Matter” and the victim’s last words, “I can’t breathe” became a marching slogan. Looting and arson quickly ensued.

By and large, America’s finest upheld its duty to protect law and order with clubs, tear gas and rubber bullets. In three days of peaceful marches and not so peaceful riots, more were arrested than the total arrested in Hong Kong after more than three months of disturbances and mayhem. By the end of the week, thirteen people had been killed.

Members of the media in the U.S. cities covering the protests became deliberate targets of police harassment with tear gas and rubber bullets. One female photojournalist lost her left eye to a direct hit by a rubber bullet. She expressed being “thankful” that it was not her camera shooting eye, which would have been career ending.

In Hong Kong, the western media were free to roam, run interference for and select the protest scenes that met their needs to report on police brutality while ignoring the rioters and arsonists doing the destruction.

While looters in American cities were indiscriminate and included the random destruction of shops owned by ethnic minorities, the looters in Hong Kong were careful and selective and targeted stores with mainland owners. 

The rioters in Hong Kong seem to have been professionally trained. They know how to make Molotov cocktails to deadly effect and use the umbrella to fend off tear gas.

The rioters in Hong Kong were led by experienced advisors that knew how to create mass disturbances. The protests that led to riots in the U.S. were spontaneous and driven by rage.

Since Hong Kong was handed to China in 1997 and the formal name became Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, there was a strong undercurrent of discontent and agitation undergirded by a smug white superiority that presume that Hong Kong can only go downhill after becoming part of China.

To their chagrin, Hong Kong did not collapse but found economic synergy with the mainland by becoming a real property and service economy.  Thus, a movement began to undermine the Hong Kong story. 

When a young couple from Hong Kong visited Taiwan and the young man murdered his girlfriend and returned to Hong Kong free as a bird, that ironically became the seed to sow discontent.

Extradition to prevent cross border crime

To prevent future criminal acts, the Hong Kong SAR government responded to a popular petition for justice by proposing a carefully crafted, duly vetted, safeguard loaded extradition provision. The anti-government and anti-China faction saw the proposal as the opportunity to histrionically allege a threat to their freedom and an excuse to restart a movement calling for “democracy.”

The anti-government forces were helped by a Hong Kong government that has not been particularly effective or ruthless, by the residual influence of colonial mindsets in Hong Kong, and by the generous financial support from the U.S. National Endowment for Democracy.

The NED was spun off from U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to bring down governments that displease Washington. Having “democracy” in its organizational name was a cover for regime change. However, it’s by no means certain that NED would succeed in Hong Kong.

The roots of racial unrest in America go back centuries, not just decades as is the case with Hong Kong, derived as they were from the violent assertion of supremacy by whites over the blacks and all other ethnic minorities of color.

A long history of random lynching, Jim Crow and being brutalized for the slightest provocation were supposedly rectified by civil rights and hate crime laws enacted by Congress. Nevertheless, even today blacks continue to be much more likely to be arrested and killed by police. 

A NED like organization in America would not have helped. Police brutality against persons of color is deeply ingrained. The most recent incident in Minneapolis is just the latest of a long series of atrocities that Americans can expect. There is no need for outside agitators. 

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s current Chief Executive, like all her predecessors is not made of the stuff of “when looting starts, shooting starts.” Her failure to implement an extradition statute reflects the flaw in her leadership.

Hong Kong needed legal framework for national security

One of key missing elements of the Basic Law, in effect Hong Kong’s constitution, hammered out by Beijing and London was to deal with national security. In the end, both parties agreed to leave writing the provisions for national security to the SAR government. 

Henry Litton, a retired judge of the SAR Court of Final Appeal, described various attempts to write the laws subsequent to 1997 that were stymied by a series of circumstances and obstructions. Now, he observed that the disruption has reached the point where no laws can be passed in Hong Kong.

“In the meanwhile, internal security has worsened, with increasing evidence of terrorist activities aimed at bringing the HK police to its knees and overthrowing the government. The anti-government movement seems well-funded and this raises the question as to the source of funds,” he said.

Thus, it was by default that the draft of the national security laws was submitted to the National People’s Congress for enactment. As Greenville Cross, former Director of Public Prosecution for the SAR government, pointed out a full set of laws in place is needed to prosecute sedition and agitator for secession.

The negotiated handover in 1997 was to return Hong Kong as a rightful part of China. Nothing in the “one country, two systems,” implicitly or explicitly commits a right to autonomy or independence for the people of Hong Kong. State Secretary Mike Pompeo by withdrawing Hong Kong’s special status will facilitate enforcement of Hong Kong’s security and ejection of the likes of NED by the SAR government.

Hong Kong has been consistently ranked among the top three freest places in the world. The 2020 ranking by World Population Review places HK number 3 while UK came in no. 8 and the US no. 17. If Jimmy Lai and his fellow protesters in Hong Kong would rather enjoy the peace and quiet of London or Washington, they should be allowed, nay encouraged, to move there. 

Boris Johnson supposedly commit to welcoming 3 million Hong Kong people to live and work in the U.K. He can’t be serious. Johnson needs to find a way to give the depressed UK economy a real boost. Playing host to young professional protesters with no real employable skills would add to his problems. Those thinking of taking advantage of generous Boris, better read the fine print carefully before flying to the U.K.

At least Johnson can look back to the negotiations between Margaret Thatcher and Deng Xiaoping as a basis for his butting in. The United States has no such justification to claim a say on the future of Hong Kong. 

As of June 1, more than 50% of eligible voters in Hong Kong have signed the petition in support of the national security legislation. Anyone hoping to invite in the U.S. Marines to “liberate” Hong Kong is smoking a pipe dream and faces the reality that Hong Kong will no longer tolerate traitors or acts of treason.

No comments: