by Rachel Chiang
Hong Kong is in the midst of political mayhem. Decades-long concerns are emerging as Hong Kong goes through the most tumultuous period in recent history. What began as a series of protests against an extradition bill has metamorphosed into a widespread opposition movement to police brutality, Beijing, and government ineptness. The presence of violence and foreign intervention has had damning implications for economic advancement and societal stability.
Inequality, among other factors, is a significant but often overlooked variable that underlies the grievances of Hong Kong people, propelling the escalation of violence in July 2019. This is seen in Hong Kong’s housing crisis: apartments smaller than 500 sq. feet are sold for almost one million U.S. dollars, the impoverished lives in nano flats (apartments about the size of a car parking space in Hong Kong) and cage or coffin homes (15 sq. feet living areas). Hong Kongers are discontent with their city’s economic inequality and inflated housing prices. These realities, coupled with the rigor of the education system, have catalyzed Hong Kongers’ bleak view of the future, fueling the fire that galvanizes the protests in the city.
Globally, the Anti-Extradition Bill (Anti-ELAB) Movement is viewed as a fight for democracy. While media coverage of the sociopolitical unrest in Hong Kong is broad, there has been minimal coverage of what lurks behind the facade of the “pro-democracy” movement. The increasingly tempestuous demonstrations, featuring a dauntless group of millennials rallying behind a liberation movement, are ardently embraced by Western media and resonates well with and appeals greatly to Western audiences. Yet, a closer look at the stakeholders involved reveals inklings of a color revolution.
In tandem with the upheavals, international sympathy has flourished. However footage of protestors assaulting police officers with weapons and metal bars, attacking journalists, beating mainlanders into unconsciousness, preventing medical personnel from treating the injured, and destroying public property, have been strikingly absent from the media. With mass violence, intimidation, and attacks on infrastructure, the ferocity of protestors were oddly reminiscent of the radical modalities of America-backed regime change activities from Libya to Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Since its inception, these protests have represented more than an outcry against judicial loopholes in the backward legal system of Hong Kong. Sentiments leftover from the Umbrella Revolution in 2014 have resurfaced in the Anti-ELAB Movement, thus throwing demands for universal suffrage and reforms countering socioeconomic inequalities into the mix. Hence, even after the repeal of the extradition bill, the protests remained riotous and did not show signs of deviating from a trajectory towards aggression.
Further investigation unclothes an unsettling yet unsurprising finding: organizations (such as the Demosisto party and the Hong Kong Journalists Association) behind the protests are heavily funded by the CIA-funded National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the National Democratic Institute (NDI). NED has been funding Hong Kong since 1996. In 2012, NED invested $460,000 through NDI to build the anti-China movement among university students, who compose the majority of protestors. Two years later, the Umbrella Revolution occurred. In an interview with Fox News, Michael Pillsbury, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, said the United States has “funded millions of dollars of programs through the NED…so in that sense the Chinese accusation [that America played a role in Hong Kong protests] is not totally false.”
Hong Kong, with its flexible legal system and autonomy, is a haven for international powers to fund pro-West, anti-China groups under the guise of promoting democracy. Aware of this fact, the United States has covertly established roots in Hong Kong. Although the populace may be unaware of direct Western meddling in their city, they are subconsciously primed to perceive the West in a better light than China. I remember wanting to “westernize” myself when I was younger and even went as far as rejecting my Chinese ethnicity by deliberately neglecting my studies of Chinese language in favor of the English language and subscribing to Western pop culture in lieu of that of Chinese. Legions of local youth (like my past self) are imbued with distaste towards China and are instilled with a sense of admiration for the West.
As Hong Kong trekked through months of demonstrations, bolder claims pertaining to Hong Kong independence laced with anti-PRC (or People’s Republic of China, the ruling Chinese party) dogma were uttered from the indignant lips of protestors. On the first of this past July, the anniversary of the reunification of Hong Kong and China, protesters barged into the Legislative Council Complex and defaced the emblem of Hong Kong on the wall, placing over it the old British colonial flag.
A shadow of American influence looms as anti-Beijing passions nears the zenith. While the United States State Department has denied their alleged involvement, U.S. politicians, Republican and Democratic alike, have remarked on the demonstrations with a united voice. Left-wing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and right-wing Marco Rubio have both expressed support for Hong Kongers by funding leading activists.
One such activist is Joshua Wong who, since 2014, has been heavily supported by Washington as the leader of Demosisto and Hong Kong’s de facto anti-Beijing movement. He has explicitly called for intervention by the U.S., U.K., and Germany to “free” Hong Kong and have openly praised efforts of American politicians, like Nancy Pelosi, to undermine Chinese sovereignty. On June 10, the U.S. State Department even threatened to revoke Hong Kong’s separate customs territory status. Further evidence of leaked emails revealed that Jimmy Lai—a media tycoon and key leader of the protests—has funded over USD$1.2 million to anti-China political parties. He was also junketed to Washington for meetings with Vice President Mike Pence, then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, John Bolton, and Republican Senators Ted Cruz, Cory Gardner, and Rick Scott when the protests at home grew in intensity in July. Bloomberg News correspondent Nicholas Wadhams noted that it was “very unusual for a [non-government] visitor to get that kind of access.”
Aforementioned are some examples of foreign funding. Behind the scenes are implications that the United States is attempting to orchestrate a regime change in a foreign nation. Vested in the Hong Kong protests, our administration coordinates with figures leading the movement to capitalize on anti-Beijing beliefs in the semi-autonomous region. Western media paints the Hong Kong protests as progressive uprisings that occurred organically and portrays protesters as paragons of justice. This is far from reality.
Organic progressive movements do not wave foreign flags, sing foreign anthems, and chant colonial slogans. There are many possible reasons as to why the West is meddling in foreign affairs: Is it to prevent the full integration of Hong Kong to China in 2047? Is it to spread Western ideology? Is it to facilitate the assimilation of Hong Kong’s economy into the West’s? Is it to establish their geopolitical dominance in the region? Is the United States acting out of pure goodwill and sympathy? Is it all of the above? The answer remains uncertain. The evidence currently available can be used to substantiate any of the aforementioned reasonings.
Nevertheless, this movement goes beyond opposing an extradition bill. The protests have deviated from the original intention of opposing the extradition law, but have metamorphosed into attempts at compromising the city’s status as a safe and welcoming city. Radicals wish to paralyze the city’s economy and undermine the authority of the local government. Power structures and legal frameworks are being dismantled. Signs of a color revolution bolstered by Western forces are suggested. As tensions between the United States and China increase, Hong Kong is bound to get caught in the middle of this multidimensional war. This movement is bigger than Hong Kong.