SPECIAL DISPATCH FROM HONG KONG
By ANDRE VLTCHEK
Text and photos by the author, unless otherwise noted. Please be sure to click on the images to appreciate the details.
For decades Hong Kong has been a turbo-capitalist, extremely consumerist, and aggressive society. Its people are facing some of the most unrealistic prices on earth, particularly for housing…
What is it? It is not orange or green, and definitely not red! It has an umbrella as its symbol. ‘That humble umbrella’, as many people in Hong Kong are often saying.
But is it really benign?
We are talking, of course, about the ‘democracy protests’ in Hong Kong, also known as ‘the Umbrella Movement’; the latest addition of the ‘popular uprisings’ promoted by the West!
At the North Point in Hong Kong, near Kowloon Ferry, a middle-aged man is waving a banner that reads “Support Our Police”. On the photo, the tents and umbrellas of the ‘pro-democracy’ ‘Occupy Central’ protest movement (also known as the ‘Umbrella Movement’) are depicted in sepia, a depressing color.
“Are you against the protesters?” I ask the man.
“I am not for or against them”, he replies. “But it is known that they have some 1 million supporters here. While all of Hong Kong has over 7 million inhabitants. We think that it is time to clear the roads and allow this city to resume its normal life.”
“On the 28. September”, I continue, “Police fired 87 canisters of tear gas at the protest site, and now this fact is being used in the West and here as some proof of police brutality and of Beijing’s undemocratic rule. Protesters even commemorated this event few days ago, as if that would turn them to martyrs…”
“They are spoiled”, a man smiled. “They mostly come from very rich families in one of the richest cities on earth. They don’t know much about the world. I can tell you that the students in Beijing know actually much more about the world… 87 canisters of tear gas are nothing, compared to what happened in Cairo or in Bangkok. And in New York, police was dragging and beating protesters, even female protesters, during the endgame of the Occupy Wall Street drama.”
Earlier I spoke to my friend, a top Western academic who is now teaching in Hong Kong. As always, he readily supplied me with his analyses, but this time, he asked me not to use his name. Not because of fear of what Beijing could do, but simply because it could complicate his position in Hong Kong. I asked him whether the ‘opposition movement’ is actually homegrown, or supported from abroad, and he replied:
“To answer the question as to foreign interference in Occupy Central, we would have to answer yes. As a global city par excellence Hong Kong is more than exposed to international currents and ideas and, historically, that has also been the case. Doubtless as well certain of the pan-Democrat camp have shaken hands with international ‘do-gooders’, a reference to various US or western-based ‘democracy endowments’ or foundations active across the globe. Taiwan may have a leg in. A British Parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee seeks to wade in. But “foreign interference” is seen here as Beijing’s call echoed by C.Y. Leung and with the letter holding back from naming the culprits.”
The protesters have an alarmingly skewed view of “democracy”. Western propaganda has penetrated deeply. Spitefully, they regard Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador as “dictatorships.”
Protesters may have some legitimate grievances. They want direct elections of the chief executive, and there is, in theory, nothing wrong with such a demand. They want to tackle corruption, and to curb the role of local tycoons. That is fine, too.
The problem is, that the movement is degenerating into a Beijing bashing mission, happily supported by both Western and local (pro-business and pro-Western) mass media.
Several students that I spoke to, at Admiralty and Mong Kok sites, did not even bother to hide their hatred towards the Communist system, and towards the government in Beijing. All of them were denying crimes that are being committed by Western nations, all over the world, or they were simply not aware of them. ‘Democracy’ to them means clearly one and only thing – the system or call it regime, that is being defined, promoted and exported by the West.
“China is surely on the right side of the history”, I tried, at Admiralty, when I met protesters on the 31th October. “Together with Russia and Latin America it is standing against the brutal Western interventions worldwide and against Western propaganda.”
I was given looks of bewilderment, outrage and wrath.
I asked students what do they think about Venezuela, Bolivia, or Ecuador?
“Dictatorships”, they replied, readily and with spite.
I asked them about Bangkok and those ‘pro-democracy movements and demonstrations’ conducted against the democratically elected government; demonstrations that led to the coup performed by the elites and the army on behalf of the West.
I asked about ‘pro-democracy’ demonstrations against democratically elected President Morsi in Egypt, and about yet another military and pro-Western coup that brought army back to power. In Egypt, several thousand people died in the process. The West and Israel rejoiced, discreetly.
But the Hong Kong students ‘fighting’ for democracy knew absolutely nothing about Thailand or derailment of the Arab Spring.
They also could not make any coherent statements about Syria or Iraq.
I asked about Russia and Ukraine. With those topics they were familiar, perfectly. I immediately received quotes as if they were picked directly from the Western mass media: “Russia is antagonizing the world… It occupied Crimea and is sending troops to Ukraine, after shooting down Malaysian airliner…”
Back to Hong Kong and China, two girls, protesters, at Admiralty, clarified their point:
“We want true democracy; we want rights to nominate and to elect our leaders. Local leader now is a puppet. We hate communism. We don’t want dictatorship like in China.”
I asked what do they really want? They kept repeating “democracy”.
“What about those hundreds of millions that China raised from misery? What about China’s determined stand against Western imperialism? What about its anti-corruption drive? What about BRICS? What about its attempt to rejuvenate socialism through free medical care, education, subsidized culture, transportation and mixed/planned economy?”
Is there anything good, anything at all, that China, the biggest and the most successful socialist country on earth, is doing?
Brian, a student at Mong Kok, explained:
“We want to express our views and elect our own leader. It is now dictatorship in China. They chose the committee to elect our leader. We want to have our own true democracy. Our model is Western democracy.”
I asked at both protest sites about brutality of British colonialism. I received no reply. Then I noticed quotes by Winston Churchill, a self-proclaimed racist and a man who never bothered to hide his spite for non-white, non-Western people. But here, Churchill was considered to be one of the champions of democracy; his quotes glued to countless walls.
Then I noticed ‘John Lennon Wall, with the cliché-quotes like’: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one”.
The Hong Kong protest movement reeks of upper middle class bourgeois consciousness, including its cloying cheap sentimentality and unexamined worshipping of Western “heroes”, like Churchill.
What exactly were they dreaming about, I was not told. All I saw were only those omnipresent banalities about ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’.
There were Union Jacks all over the place, too, and I even spotted two English bulldogs; extremely cute creatures, I have to admit, but explaining nothing about the aspirations of the protesters.
While hardly anyone speaks English here, anymore, all cultural, ideological and propaganda symbols at the demonstrations and the ‘occupy’ sites, were somehow related to the West.
And then, on the 29 September, in the evening, near Admiralty, I spotted a group of Westerners, shouting and getting ready for ‘something big’.
I approached one of them; his name was John and he came from Australia:
“I have lived in Hong Kong for quite some time. Tonight we organized a run from here to Aberdeen, Pok Fu Lam, and back here, to support the Umbrella Movement. Several foreigners that are participating in this have lived in HK for some time, too.”
I wondered whether this could illustrate the lack of freedom and Beijing heavy-handedness?
I tried to imagine what would happen under the same circumstances, in the client states of Washington, London and Paris, in the countries that are promoted by the West as ‘vibrant democracies’.
What would happen to me, if I would decide to organize or join a marathon in Nairobi, Kenya, protesting against Kenyan occupation of Somalia or against bullying of the Swahili/Muslim coast? What would they do to me, if, as a foreigner, I would trigger a run in the center of Jakarta, demanding more freedom for Papua!
Thinking that I am losing my marbles and with it, objectivity, I texted a diplomat based in Nairobi. “Wouldn’t they deport me?” I was asking. “Wouldn’t they see it as interference in the internal affairs of the country?”
“They would deport you” the answer arrived almost instantly. “But before that, you would rot for quite some time in a very unsavory detention [spot]”.
I thought so…
In the meantime, protests are causing chaos; dramatically increasing commuting time and damaging businesses.
Even the great number of Hong Kong professionals now wants protestors off the streets.
The South China Morning Post, reported on October 29, 2014:
“Protesters criticized by Bar for flouting court orders, as doctors sign petition to end sit-ins.”
But some people actually see demands as genuine and legitimate.My friend, Mr. Basil Fernando, head of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), wrote to me:
“As for Hong Kong protests, they are very genuine local protests over serious local concerns. People of Hong Kong in their recent history acquired many rights, which people in other Asian countries have only in name, but not in real life. Reason is independent and functioning public institutions. The beginning of them can be traced to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), which started in 1974. It was a success and as a result, Hong Kong is quite a bribery and corruption free society. Having lived 25 years [in there] I can confirm that.
People have genuine fear of losing these and that is why they want a greater say, to elect the Chief executive. This is a genuine local movement with limited political objectives.”
But one week later, when Basil and I met, face-to-face, in Hong Kong, he admitted:
“Many students in Hong Kong are uninformed, and some are spoiled. They never had to undergo any hardship in life. This is one of the richest places on earth. Some kids are scared of China. Ok, we can say that some of them are reactionaries… But it is understandable; there are those whose families fled Mainland China, in the past… The parents and grandparents were feeding their kids with all negative things about the PRC.”
Few minutes later I am having lunch at Cafe de Coral, a local chain. A young man walks in, wearing a T-shirt, which proclaims: “Real Time NAVY. US Military Base.”
In Hong Kong, it means nothing. It is not even a political statement, just a T-shirt.
As long as the city remains rich, anything goes. And it has been rich for many years and decades; under British rule, and as part of China.
The question is, if they don’t care about politics, why do protesters block important arteries of the city, and for more than a month demand direct elections and ‘democracy’, whatever democracy means to them?
Or could there be something hiding underneath all this, and also, ‘in between the lines’.
“We have also our own poor people” I am told by Brian, one of the protesters at Mong Kok.
The truth is that Hong Kong is not a social bastion like the neighboring Macau, former Portuguese colony. And, tellingly, while visiting Macau just a few days earlier, I was explained by several people that what is happening in Hong Kong, could never happen there, because in Macau, people feel ‘very close to Beijing’, have closer ties with PRC, and feel more satisfied with their lives’.
Hong Kong, for decades, is a turbo-capitalist, extremely consumerist, and aggressive society. Its people are facing some of the most unrealistic prices on earth, particularly for housing. It is not at all the land of milk and honey; it never was – under British colonial rule, or now.
There is also great frustration over losing that ‘uniqueness’ and the cutting edge. Several Mainland Chinese urban centers are now becoming more attractive, with greater cultural life, bigger parks, more daring architecture, and more extensive public transportation. Quick trip to Shenzhen or Guangzhou, Beijing or Shanghai, and it becomes clear where the future and vibrancy and optimism really are.
It is likely the recent protests are ventilating the general frustration of many Hong Kong residents, not only with Beijing, but also, or mainly, with Hong Kong itself.
Lacking ideology and political awareness, and for decades being bombarded with Western anti-Communist and anti-socialist propaganda, protesters simply blame Beijing for everything, even for what they should be blaming its own extreme capitalist system.
There are some exceptions. At the protest sites, there are several small groups demanding social justice. Not many of them, but there are some Marxists and Trotskyists, even urban anarchists.
My academic colleague remarked:
“Their agenda is professed democracy and direct elections of the chief executive, but the social demands highlighted by Occupy Central cannot be ignored, namely extreme income gaps, property prices out of reach for the young, and generally an uncertain future…”
But overall, frustration here is walking hand in hand with apathy. There is nothing revolutionary about this city or the movements it produces.
I used to drink, heartily, with Mr. Leung Kwok-hung (known as ‘Long Hair’), who has a reputation for being the only prominent left-wing politician here. Long Hair is a member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong. But being ‘left-wing’ did not prevent him from being admired and constantly interviewed by the right-wing press in the East European countries, as ‘Long Hair’ did not only criticize the West, he was also persistently trashing the People’s Republic of China. I never really figured out where exactly does he stand and at some point he and I lost contact.
A ‘progressive’ professor of a prominent university in Hong Kong once confessed to me, in the wilderness of a noisy drinking establishment, and well after midnight, that her greatest achievement in life was to have had some lesbian sexual experiences, and admitting to herself that she was bisexual. That came just a few hours after I showed at her school my documentary film about Indonesian massacres of 1965, in which 1-3 million people lost their lives.
“Let’s have dinner tomorrow night”, I was told, a few days ago, by another lady academic. “But under one condition – this time no politics.” I cancelled.
[dropcap]P[/dropcap]erhaps unwillingly, or maybe some of them willfully, protesters are playing to the hands of the West, which is presently busy antagonizing, demonizing and bulldozing its way over all countries, governments and movements that are resisting its quest for global dominance.
For years, Western propaganda has tried to convince the world that China is actually ‘not communist’, not even socialist. A highly successful communist nation would be the worst nightmare to the Empire; it would torpedo Western dogma about the ideological victory over non-capitalist and non-imperialist forms of government.
So far, the propaganda has been extremely successful. If people were asked in Berlin, London or Paris, many would make ludicrous statements that ‘China is more capitalist than many openly capitalist countries.’
By provoking China, directly and through its client states like Japan, Philippines and South Korea, the West hopes that the big dragon will eventually lose its patience, will snap, and consequently gain a reputation as a highly aggressive creature. That could, in turn, ‘justify’ another arms race, perhaps even a direct conflict with China.
The more socialist China becomes, the more the West panics. And China is becoming increasingly socialist: by maintaining the central planning system, by holding in state hands its key industries, by commanding the private sector what to produce, or by declaring that if the people would not be given free medical care and free education, the country would lose its right to call itself communist. The more public parks are built, the more high-speed trains and urban subway lines, as well as theaters and cultural centers, the more terrified the West becomes.
Now the revanchist students in Hong Kong admit that China (PRC) actually is a communist nation, but from their lips comes something extremely negative. And they declare openly how much they hate communism.
It all goes really well in the West, because China, together with Russia, Venezuela and Iran, are on the top ‘hit list’.
Protests in Hong Kong surely came in at an extremely opportune time, for the Empire.
Although China is acting with tremendous restraint (much greater than the US, France or UK have shown towards their own protesters), it has become a target of yet another smear campaign in the Western mass media outlets.
Even if the Hong Kong protesters had only one goal, which is direct elections of their top executive, this is not the way to accomplish it.
Bringing out dirty laundry, when China, together with other BRICS countries is facing intimidations and direct provocations, is not going to evoke much sympathy in Beijing, or arouse desire to compromise. These are tough and dangerous times, and everyone is edgy.
The mistake of the protesters is that some of them are attacking directly the entire Chinese system, instead of concentrating on local and practical demands. Or maybe, if the goal is to actually destabilize China, then it is a well-planned move, not an error. But it will and should backfire.
In a way, Hong Kong’s ‘Umbrella Movement’ is doing to China what the ‘Euro Maidan’ did to Russia, or what the right-wing protesters in Caracas did to ‘El Processo’.
Willingly or unwillingly, the Hong Kong protest movement joined the network of the color and other ‘revolutions’ designated to destabilize opponents of Western imperialism: those in Syria and Ukraine, in Cuba and Venezuela, in Thailand, Egypt and all over Africa.
When asked, many Hong Kong protesters say that ‘they are not aware of that’. One could state that it would do no harm if they could get at least some political education, before erecting the barricades and ‘unwillingly’ joining the global battles—on the wrong side of history.
On the last nigh before leaving Hong Kong, I visited the Mong Kok protest site.
It was tense, but not because police would be bothering to intervene and clean the streets, but because many protesters had been drinking. Stench of alcohol was felt at the ‘frontline’, near the barricade that was separating protesters from police.
“Any developments?” I asked one of the cops.
“Nothing”, he replied. “We are not supposed to do anything.”
“How do you feel about all this?” I asked him, frankly.
“I am not supposed to say anything”, he replied. “Or to do anything.”
But there was one squabble after another among the protesters; not a lovely site, a bit like on Maidan in Kiev.
An old man was yelling at the protest leaders, who felt embarrassed, trying to first push the old man away, then to ridicule him, publicly.
“What is he saying? I asked.
“Nothing!” screams one of the leaders, who did not look much as a democrat. He said his name was Benny. “Don’t worry! You can just leave. We will take care of this ourselves.”
“Take care of what?” I wondered.
“The old man said that he is going to call the People’s Liberation Army on us”, someone whispered into my ear. “Then he suggested that he is going to fight the organizers, kung fu style.”
It said ‘occupied’ on several tents. That was supposed to be quite funny, or witty, or something… Few meters away was a store advertising Rolex watches, next to it a massage parlor.
‘A Rolex revolution’, I thought.
The mood on those protest sites was truly sordid; nothing grand, nothing optimistic, nothing really ‘revolutionary’.
For many long decades, Hong Kong has been busy becoming obnoxiously wealthy by serving faithfully British and other Western colonial and neocolonial interests. It readily betrayed, again and again, its Chinese and Asian identity, siding with the political, military and economic imperialism of Europe and the United States.
It showed no mercy towards the nations destroyed all over Asia Pacific. As long as money flowed, Hong Kong was in business. Money, money, money! Its wealth was often built on the suffering of others. The city was servicing anyone who ruled here, and paid, no matter how appalling were his pains for the rest of Asia.
Of course many of its citizens hate socialism, and especially socialist China, as it is fighting against Western imperialism, alongside Russia, Latin America, South Africa and other nations undergoing true social transformations.
Seeing great Chinese cities grow, all over the mainland, citizens of Hong Kong, or at least some of them, realize that one does not have to rob or to side with the brigands, to become wealthy.
Even those who are fully indoctrinated are subconsciously realizing that something went very wrong with their ‘territory’.
As the waterway between Hong Kong and Kowloon is shrinking due to unbridled development, as new and new malls where almost nobody can afford to shop are growing; as the real-estate is now out of reach for the great majority of the population, Hong Kong now has only two choices: to rethink its own political and economic system, or to sell itself even further, serve the mammon and then bark at the moon or at Beijing!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Andre Vltchek is a novelist, filmmaker and investigative journalist. He covered wars and conflicts in dozens of countries. The result is his latest book: “Fighting Against Western Imperialism”. ‘Pluto’ published his discussion with Noam Chomsky: On Western Terrorism. His critically acclaimed political novel Point of No Return is re-edited and available. Oceania is his book on Western imperialism in the South Pacific. His provocative book about post-Suharto Indonesia and the market-fundamentalist model is called “Indonesia – The Archipelago of Fear”. His feature documentary, “Rwanda Gambit” is about Rwandan history and the plunder of DR Congo. After living for many years in Latin America and Oceania, Vltchek presently resides and works in East Asia and Africa. He can be reached through his website or his Twitter.