Liberal Confusion About The Hong Kong Protests And The US Role
Above: Protesters hold a placard featuring President Donald Trump and US flags as they take part in a march at Victoria Park in Hong Kong, July 21, 2019. By Vincent Yu for AP.
Note: I shared comments about Hong Kong from people on liberal or left-leaning lists with K. J. Noh, a Korean-American who is an expert on China and other Asian countries. He has provided clear commentary on our podcast and other outlets about what is happening in Hong Kong. The comments I shared were from people who doubted or minimized the role of the United States in the uprising saying things like “how could the US get hundreds of thousands to protest?” or “There are a lot of things going on in Hong Kong, you can’t blame the US” or who go through long lists of criticism about China. I asked KJ for his response, which he provides after this introductory comment.
It is a shame these protests are being used by some to put forward anti-China diatribes on left-leaning lists as doing so plays into the US national security strategy of “Great Power Conflict” with China and are helping to manufacture consent for US-China conflict. These comments create the same kind of confusion on the left as we have recently seen with US interventions in Venezuela, Nicaragua, Syria, Iran, and Ukraine. It is easier for some people on the left to look back at similar US actions from the 1950s, 60s or 70s and understand them than it is for people to see what is going on while it is happening. This is understandable because we are given a lot of misinformation in the US media, from the bi-partisans in Washington, DC as well as from the national security apparatus in the US as well as some in left-leaning discussion groups.
In every country there are divisions based on race, religion, ethnicity and class and every government makes mistakes, often serious mistakes. Imagine if Russia had been providing $1 million in funding annually for a protest movement in New York (NYC is a little larger than Hong Kong) since 1996, as well as training activists and funding polling and NGOs all to create a separatist movement in NY. After all, many small population Republican states have more Senators than large populated urban areas like NYC. The US “democracy” is unfair to New Yorkers. And, imagine there were wealthy people who had conflicts with the US government who decided to spend their fortune to support that anti-US/separatist movement in NYC in mass media they own.
There are serious problems in the United States, e.g. mass incarceration, a racially unfair justice system, police violence and killings, violence against protesters, economic racism, the wealth divide, and the unfair economy to working people, especially against people of color. And, in two elections this century, candidates who did not win the most votes became president because of the Electoral College. When there were events like the Eric Garner killing, or the mass arrests around Occupy Wall Street or so many other incidents, Russia-funded groups could use those to encourage an uprising. There already were protests around some of these events, imagine how much bigger and more aggressive they would be if protesters had gas masks, armor, and weapons — all provided by the foreign power-funded protest movement. And, imagine how the foreign-funded groups could manipulate these protests for their agenda.
With these kinds of uprisings, there would be a serious discussion of NYC separating from the US for “real democracy.” New York has a massive economy on its own, why should it suffer from a Senate and Electoral College dominated by low-population states? New Yorkers are not fairly represented in Washington, DC. Their tax dollars are being sent to low population states. It is a modern form of taxation without representation. It is unfair. New Yorkers should demand real democracy! It is easy to construct a US/NYC (or any other major city) version of the China/Hong Kong story. There are many problems in mainland China and there are many problems in Hong Kong. There are legitimate reasons for the people of Hong Kong to revolt, but would they be anti-China revolts rather than revolts against the unfair uber-capitalist economy created by UK colonization without more than two decades of US foreign funding, foreign training of protesters, and anti-China media in Hong Kong? Would protesters be waiving the US and UK flags?
China and Hong Kong have to work out their relationship. It would be much better for both if the US and the UK stayed out of it and stopped intervening. This is not a pro-China position or an anti-Hong Kong position, it is a non-intervention, anti-imperialist position. As people in the US, our focus should be stopping the harm being done by the United States.
There are many ways the US funds opposition groups and causes divisions in other countries. The US Agency for International Development ($16.8 billion annual funding) has been tied to such activities as has the Central Intelligence Agency (budget classified). Freedom House receives $25 million annually from the US government for its activities around the world.
A major overt regime change organization is the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), which has played a large role in Hong Kong. According to the most recent published annual report of the NED for 2016 (published in 2019), the NED received $180 million from the US government, up from $153 million. The NED made more than 1,700 grants in more than 90 countries, in 2016. NED has four core projects it funds. These include the National Democratic Institute, the International Republican Institute (controlled by leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties), the Center for International private Enterprise controlled by the Chamber of Commerce and the Solidarity Center controlled by the AFL-CIO. This allows NED to fund political and economic activity throughout the world.
A major part of US foreign policy is creating opposition movements in countries the US is in competition with or that are perceived as enemies of US Empire. People in the US should not underestimate the impact of the United States in many protests around the world, whether it is manipulating them, as is often the case, or creating them. There are legitimate protests but when protests display some of the characteristics Noh describes below, people in the US should question them.
Noh provides examples of why you know this is not a popular revolt, but one manipulated by US and oligarch interests and concludes with how people on the left who support popular movements should respond so they are not part of the “blind chorus” that enables US regime change. KZ
The Banality of Protest: Western “Progressives” Support Yet Another Color Revolution in Hong Kong
Misinformed “progressive” western “activists” and pundits are putting down their remote controls and organic smoothies just long enough to tweet out that Hong Kong protesters need to be supported as paragons of virtue and justice. Some have even blogged and bloviated about the importance of these protests as a struggle for freedom against “dictatorship”.
Most of these individuals never question why, out of the thousands of daily protests, or the 200-plus ongoing global independence movements, or the 50-plus ongoing violent conflicts, this particular struggle has been curated to penetrate the thick fog of their ignorance and their lightning-flash attention span.
Most of these individuals wouldn’t be able to distinguish Hong Kong from Hokkaido, and couldn’t tell Putonghua from Toisanhua from Cantonese. Most have never seen or spent a day in China. In fact, you know it’s not a real color revolution until the stupid section of the western “progressive” blogosphere gets to cheerleading.
This is what they are willfully missing:
- It’s not a progressive popular uprising if the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) is involved. The NED is the soft-power coup arm of the US government, doing what the CIA used to do–regime change and dirty tricks–by other means. The NED is crawling all over this. This is an off-the-rack NED project.
- It’s not a progressive popular uprising if the key funder and fluffer is a fascist media billionaire with close ties to the most reactionary elements of Western rightwing reaction: Hong Kong’s Rupert Murdoch, Jimmy Lai, the owner of the misogynist, racist, xenophobic, Next Media/Next Digital Corporation/Apple Daily is the driver of this.
- It’s not a progressive popular uprising if the key leaders are racist, anti-immigrant, secessionists that court and consort with powerful rightwing extremists and regime change ideologues in the US (John Bolton, Paul Wolfowitz, Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, Marco Rubio, Eliot Engel, Larry Diamond, etc). John Bolton, for God’s sake?
- You know it’s not a progressive popular uprising when foreign powers (US Congress, State Dept) proclaim their ardent support for the protestors, write bills, make threats, and threaten consequences if the protests are not allowed by the government. When was the last time the US government actually supported a real populist movement?
- You know it’s not a popular progressive uprising—at least one with a shred of sense– when the protesters make appeals for US intervention or want to go back to being a colony: a shamelessly white supremacist, colonial Apartheid state without a hint of democracy or representation.
- Popular progressive uprisings don’t wave US flags, UK flags, chant colonial slogans, use swastikas and alt-right symbols, terrorize children, spew hate speech (“Chee Na”), or beat unconscious people with US flags. Fascists do.
- Popular progressive movements for democracy and free speech don’t try to shut down free speech and terrorize all who disagree with them.
Let’s say you missed all of these. Here are some other things to note:
- Protest-in-a-box, for free: There has been incredible preparation, logistics, organization, and funding. Apologies to dear Rosa Luxembourg, revolutions in this era don’t just happen by themselves, and they certainly don’t fund themselves. Tens of thousands of protestors, prepared with a flush kit of hardhats, gas masks, filters, goggles, zip ties, staves, lasers, gloves, and body armor don’t just appear spontaneously. They don’t just improvisationally start creating complex logistics lines using predetermined hand signals while brandishing slick, corporate-designed banners, logos, animation, and soundbite-catchphrases in English. That requires incredible organization, training, and funding. See 1 & 2 above.
- The Sudden Color of Violence: Note the Blitzkrieg-fast turn to violence. The Modus Operandi for color revolutions is to first instigate mass protests over a minor pretext (here, a carefully-crafted extradition bill, already suspended), followed by a very quick (prepared) escalation to violence: US-supported color revolutions need to escalate to violence quickly, the better to crowd out critical reflection, drown the mediascape with emotional images and riot porn, the better to “catapult the propaganda”, the better to create chaos and confusion, the better to bring down a government by shock, or to render it immobile, impotent, or trigger a crackdown, thereby delegitimating it. They need and rely on disruptive terror to intimidate and delegitimate; to create confusion for ongoing sabotage, to throw sand in the gears, and to create structural friction in the conditions of living that render ordinary existence intolerable. These are well-honed CIA regime change tactics, practiced and documented all over the world, designed to inflame more discontent, outrage, and protests. These tactics of geometric escalation are also designed to instigate an overreaction by the authorities, the better to use in propaganda and to trigger more agitation. This is happening as we speak: (The NY Times’ “Marginal Violence theory” is a red herring to distract you like the violence assaults the core, asymptotes shockingly towards total violence).Here are some of the specific tactics, right out of the color revolution template.
- Mass Violence, including attacking police and bystanders with Molotov Cocktails, blinding lasers, air guns, grenade launchers, slingshots, bricks, steel pipes, sharpened steel bars, baseball bats, sledgehammers, knives, etc. Bombs and automatic weapons have also been found and confiscated.
- Mass Terror Tactics: violent bullying and intimidation, of passers-by, Krystallnacht-style trashing of stores, Rodney King-type beat downs, “Pulp Fiction”-style torture (kidnapping, lynching, and torture of journalist (mass beatings/revival with water/further beatings)); Terrorizing of “opponents” and “non-sympathizers” through leaks, doxing, threats, cyber threats, and boycotts, and attacking families and their residences (the dorms where the children and wives of the police live). Open incitement on how to kill police., and attempted murder through ambush attacks.
- Infrastructure Attacks: Attacks on buildings (police stations, legislative chambers, dorms), mass disruption of traffic and logistics (airports, metro, tollbooths, violent roadblocks, setting fires to barricade in the police, massive street fires, coordinated sabotage of traffic lights (to create accidents). If a tiny fraction of these types of actions had been unleashed in New York, DC, or London, western authorities would have let loose with lethal force 13 weeks ago. In fact, as a point of reference, in France, police have killed protestors, blinded 24, and injured 2200 in the Gilet Jaunes protests.
- Fetishistic Demands: These are demands that don’t address the actual conditions that have created the discontent—rampant inequality and the festering structural violence of a financialized neoliberal state–but rather contentless, rhetorical, ad-campaign demands that can’t or won’t be met, all the better to justify continued chaos, outrage, and violence.
This is not to say that the working classes of Hong Kong don’t have legitimate grievances to protest. One of the most unequal states in the world—a paradise for billionaires–Hong Kong is a case study in the nihilistic despair of a neoliberal Capitalist state dominated by corporations, high finance and real estate. Due to its history as a capitalist tax haven, with no capital gains, dividend, estate, or value-added taxes, the government derives much of its revenue from selling land to real estate barons, colluding to render housing beyond the reach of most Hong Kong residents and relegating the vast majority of dwellers to claustrophobic subdivided apartments that are the residential equivalent of a subway car at rush hour. The Chinese government, if they are to be blamed, should be blamed for not immediately shutting down this parasitic legacy system of the colonial era—and demonstrating that another way is possible as they have all over the mainland. This legitimate anger at structural Capitalist violence is the outrage and despair that has been diverted and harnessed into anti-immigrant, pro-colonial, anti-Chinese sentiment, serving the color revolution agenda of the West.
- Intense, Hyper-coordinated Information Warfare: coordinated, directed, saturated messaging and censorship in the western press and media:
- One-sided blasting of protest porn or decontextualized police violence, with non-stop pro-protestor commentary and editing;
- Endless, mindless, China-bashing echo-chambering in the media;
- Coordinated, mass white-washing, justification, and erasure of the protestors’ over-the-top violence;
- Censorship and mass erasure of almost all voices critical of the protests on the MSM, YouTube, FB, and Twitter: over 200,000 twitter accounts pre-emptively and instantaneously suspended on grounds of supposed “coordination” and undermining “legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground”. This coordinated, mass censorship happened the exact moment some glimmers of truth started to come out and started to discredit the protests. If there was any doubt as to whether US social media companies function as the subcontracted perception management arms of the security-surveillance state, you have here your proof.
Compare this saturated, single-message, biased coverage also with the minimal coverage of the current situations in:
- Kashmir, in which Indian troops are currently blockading and violently occupying (where the independent special autonomous status of the region has been already revoked),
- France’s Gilets Jaunes, an ongoing popular protest, where 24 people have been blinded, 2200 injured, and 11 have died,
- West Papua & Papua, Indonesia, where Indonesian troops are currently on a murderous rampage,
- Catalonia, where an independence movement successful at the ballots was violently put down,
- South Korea’s Candlelight revolution, a massive populist uprising in South Korea (which over a similar timeframe was covered in three articles in the NY Times, as opposed to 78 articles current on Hong Kong)
- Almost any other real popular protest around the world.
To ask why this saturation coverage and support–out of all the other movements and struggles—you then understand what you’re up against.
Full Spectrum Resistance:
In the post-Soviet era, the Pentagon and its allies came up with the doctrine of “Full Spectrum Dominance“. This is a war doctrine that aims for total domination in all spheres and battle spaces: not just military battle, but also in the domains of civil disturbance, information warfare, and social perception, in particular, network “operational narrative dominance”. This is what’s going on here.
Progressives–if you actually are that–you need to keep your eyes open, your minds alert, and think sharply, critically, objectively as you wander into this battlespace.
Color revolutions and regime change operations simply can’t happen without you: they need you to become the blind chorus, the vapid echo chamber, the ditzy cheerleaders, and the jaundiced, prejudiced, ignorant umpires in this dirty game of information warfare. If you don’t want to become a vector of propaganda and a host of disinformation in this ugly viral warfare, you need to think critically, reflexively, dialectically before you tweet, blog, agitate, or speak out. Lives and nations rest in the balance.