In an earlier piece, I proposed that the dominant narrative concerning China in a small number of former colonising countries (usually known as ‘the West’) is like believing in ghosts. What is the narrative? It is the pure fancy that the Communist Party of China is a ‘secretive’ and ‘paranoid’ outfit, which is terribly afraid of its own people whom it monitors all the time, and is scheming for world domination. Nothing new here, since the same was believed concerning the Soviet Union.
How is this like believing in ghosts? If you believe in ghosts, then you can fit all sorts of odd things into your narrative. It might be a weird dream, a creak in the corner, a door closing by itself, a misplaced set of keys, and so on. All of these and more become part of your belief, confirming what is clearly false. And if you run out of a few twisted facts, you can simply make them up.
In short, if you believe that the CPC is an ‘authoritarian’ bunch with ‘evil intent’, then there are spooks everywhere. Boo!
In that earlier piece, I gave a number of examples, from Xinjiang, through Huawei to the Social Credit System in China. But let me focus here on the recent drug-fuelled violence in Hong Kong, with significant financial and logistical support from outside.
The narrative promoted misleadingly in a few ‘Western’ media outlets and government agencies has had a number of intriguing phases.
Phase 1 of the Ghost Story: The false idea of a ‘groundswell’ of popular opposition to ‘authoritarian’ measures.
This phase turned on deliberate misrepresentation of a modest extradition bill. The bill itself was simply standardising procedures for crimes such as murder (a murder case, with the culprit fleeing to the island of Taiwan, was in fact the immediate trigger for the bill). But through social media and deliberate misinformation, the extradition bill was pumped up into a measure instigated by the ‘authoritarian regime’ in Beijing, so that anyone and everyone in Hong Kong could be whisked away at any moment.
Behind this phase were a couple of assumptions: first, the obvious one is a ‘Western’ liberal paradigm of ‘authoritarianism’, a loose term used for any country that does not fit into the mould of the ‘Western’ bourgeois state.
The second is that Chinese people, and especially those in Hong Kong, are supposedly longing for Western ‘freedoms’, bourgeois ‘democracy’, ‘human rights’ and … Facebook. There were desperate efforts to show that the majority of people in Hong Kong supported the riots, although this flew directly in face of the fact that the majority are resolutely opposed to the riots and see themselves very much as part of China.
However, this assumption that people everywhere hanker after Western ‘freedoms’ is so strong in parts of Western Europe and North America that it underlies what passes as foreign policy in these places. While trying to claim the high moral ground, they use it consistently to intervene in and disrupt the sovereignty of many countries around the world, with the result that such countries are singularly unimpressed.
Curiously, this assumption leads to profoundly misguided policies. As they say in China, ‘seek truth from facts’ (Mao Zedong and especially Deng Xiaoping promoted this one). And what are the facts? In international surveys, Chinese people show between 86 and 90 percent trust in government and public institutions, along with confidence in the direction in which the country is headed. The more educated and younger the respondents, the higher the level of trust and support.
Phase 2 of the Ghost Story: ‘Beijing’ is ‘pulling the strings’.
When it became clear that the one country – two systems policy was being followed strictly, and that the local government in Hong Kong, headed by Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, was standing firm, another piece of the narrative came to the fore: ‘Beijing’ was ‘pulling the strings’ behind the scenes, making sure that the ‘puppet’ leader was doing its bidding.
Now it was time for pure fabrication. Supposedly, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor (to use her full name) had her resignation turned down. This lie was swiftly shown for what it was. This did not stop the ‘pulling strings’ line, which now relied on a standard approach in some places: using gossip, propagated these days through social media. Thus, they promoted by whatever way possible the belief that every step taken by the Hong Kong local government and its police to quell the riots were directed from ‘Beijing’.
A few points are worth noting? First, this approach was taken since the PLA garrison in Hong Kong had not been deployed, and troops from the mainland had not moved in. This turn of events was disappointing to some anti-China ideologues, if not the rioters themselves, so they had to find another line.
Second, it was a classic case of ‘look over there’. There is more than ample evidence of systemic interference in Hong Kong by government agencies from the United States and the UK, at times through NGOs and at times by direct political interference. For some time now, significant funds have flowed to the rioters, as well as logistical support. For example, more than 1000 Hong Kong police officers have been ‘doxed’, with their names, addresses, phone numbers, bank information, and so on, hacked and then spread widely. The result had been significant harassment of their families. Doxing requires a high level of logistical support, along with the assistance of compliant social media outfits like Facebook. How to respond to these embarrassing facts? Cry ‘look over there’ and blame ‘Beijing’.
Third, let us ask what is actually taking place. Since tensions in Hong Kong society had risen to the surface, extensive research for the sake of informing policies began. This research focuses on – to name a few – the problematic educational system in Hong Kong, extremes in poverty and wealth (more than one million people in Hong Kong live in poverty, in a city of seven million), the flawed political structure bequeathed by the UK, in which vested interests have an inordinate say in the Legislative Council and any resolution must have a two-thirds majority. We can expect much more in-depth research and reforms in these and other areas.
Of course, the whole idea of ‘pulling the strings’ is based on the ‘authoritarian’ paradigm, which shows profound ignorance of what the one country – two systems policy entails.
Phase 3 of the Ghost Story: The lie of Hong Kong police ‘brutality’.
With the initial protests fading away as people woke up to themselves, smaller and smaller groups raised the level of violence on the streets. They would typically be dressed in black, wear face masks or gas masks, and take drugs to bring on a type of ‘beserk’ behaviour. In their armoury they had petrol bombs, bamboo spears with knives attached, batons, baseball bats, lethal slingshots that fired large ball-bearings, and some began carrying guns.
They set about vandalising, smashing and burning public transport facilities, banks, shops, police vehicles, the airport and many other facilities. They would beat up any isolated police officer (most recently setting an officer on fire with a Molotov cocktail) or indeed member of public that condemned their acts. As the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions has opposed the violence, service centres of the federation have been vandalised and forced to close for repairs. These service centres provide medical, welfare and other community services to workers, especially its members but also the wider public.
Obviously, none of this was reported in the biased media outlets or indeed statements from some ‘Western’ foreign ministers and even leaders. Instead, they focused on supposed police ‘brutality’. And of course, ‘Beijing’ was behind it all.
The facts are quite different. The Hong Kong police have been exceedingly restrained, using measures only where needed to counter the escalation of violence by a small minority. For example, the anti-face mask law, with stiff penalties for covering one’s face in any public gathering, came in to effect on 5 October, 2019. This is quite late in the piece, follows international practice, and was instigated in response to widespread urging in Hong Kong. Indeed, the police have widespread support in Hong Kong and the mainland, with ‘I support Hong Kong police’ being displayed on many shop windows, on social media and so on.
Phase 4 of the Ghost Story: Supposedly, people on the mainland are ‘denied’ information about Hong Kong.
This one really runs through the whole story, but it was revealed to me by a question while I was in Western Europe: ‘What about Hong Kong, do the people in China know what is going on?’
The assumption behind this question is obvious: Chinese people are supposedly ‘denied’ information about the world and their own country.
Not long after I was asked this question, I returned to China. Not only are the news outlets regularly providing detailed and complete information about Hong Kong, but in everyday conversations people express their deep concern about what is happening. The foreign interference is clear, which they resent, and they are troubled by the overturning of central Chinese values, especially harmony, security and stability. Above all, they are not anti-Kong Kong, but instead feel for what ordinary people in Hong Kong are suffering (in light of the economic downturn in response to the riots) and hope that the situation will be stabilised soon.
I found that here one could gain a sense of the all the facts in relation to what was going on in Hong Kong. Thankfully, this is also the case in the vast majority of countries in the world, which increasingly do not listen to the biased material being pumped out of a few former colonising countries.