Kapok | The ugly foreigner

Eric Sautedé

It’s a classic survival tactic: if anything goes wrong, blame it on the other(s) and not on yourself! The burden of responsibility all of a sudden becomes lighter and people’s attention then focuses on a more distant horizon.

Back in 2014, the propaganda apparatus in China and in pro-Beijing newspapers in Hong Kong had compared the Hong Kong occupy movement with the early 2000s “color revolutions” that had spread in countries of the Balkans and the former Soviet Union as well as with the Arab Spring of the early 2010s to insist on the nefarious role played by foreign powers and diplomats in instigating these movements. The very same is now happening with the anti-extradition bill protests that have taken front stage in Hong Kong’s political life for the past two months, with finger-pointing towards the outside world becoming ever more pressing and stern.

On the day following the first massive march organized on June 9 and gathering a million people in the streets of Hong Kong, the Global Times published an article entitled “Hong Kong’s future won’t be held hostage by opposition and its Western supporters”, in which it emphasized that “some international forces [had] increasingly collaborated with the opposition in Hong Kong,” pointing an accusatory finger towards several countries, more specifically the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada. It also insisted on the fact that “Washington [had] been particularly active in meddling in Hong Kong affairs.”

After two months of continuous mobilization against the bill, with demonstrations turning more violent at times and spreading across the whole SAR territory, the “blame-it-on-them” rhetoric has somehow evolved and become more threatening. In a way, this contrasts strikingly with the absolute stand-still between the government and the demonstrators: apart from the suspension of the bill announced on June 15 — a very partial answer to the main demand asking for a full withdrawal — there has been no further negotiating moves on the government’s part, despite a quarter of the Hong Kong population taking to the streets on June 16. Since then the level of trust in the government has dwindled, with the police standing accused by the public at large — hence the mothers of demonstrators organizing sit-ins next to government headquarters — to resort to a disproportionate use of force and possibley collusion with triad-related groups. After only 24 months in office, Carrie Lam’s ratings are as low as C.Y. Leung’s after five years!

On July 29, the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office under the State Council gave its first press conference since the handover in 1997 to condemn foreign “interference,” call for the punishment of “radical protesters,” while emphasizing the full support the central government was lending to the Hong Kong government in tackling the crisis. Just hours before the press conference, the People’s Daily had published a commentary fully supporting the Hong Kong police actions, insisting that “Hong Kong [had] lost its normal way of life as a society governed by the rule of law, and fallen into the ‘trap’ of foreign forces who are determined to sow unrest in China in the name of ‘democracy’” and repeating once more that the protests had been instigated by “hostile foreign forces” and the machinations of “traitors.” A week before, a China foreign ministry spokeswoman had urged the US to “retract its black hand from Hong Kong” and on July 31, former Chief Executive Tung Chee Hwa denounced “masterminds behind the storm,” and that “interference from external forces […] and various signs [were] pointing towards Taiwan and the US.”

In an open and liberal environment, is the rhetoric of “foreign interference” really sustainable? And now that the matter has become political, can mere “livelihood” sweeteners be the answer? Isn’t there a trump card for Beijing to play that would leverage a benevolent uncle standpoint? Only an internal-external intervention will be able to help peacefully solve the matter, especially now that we know it is almost exclusively self-inflicted.

Categories Opinion