Believing in Ghosts in Hong Kong

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.

Believing in Ghosts: Unravelling the ‘China Threat’ Narrative

In a small number of countries, one has to face from time to time the ‘China threat’ narrative, although it is best to avoid such nonsense. It is a classic case of spinning a certain narrative and then fitting bits and pieces into that narrative, while ignoring most others. Compare it to a belief in ghosts: the creaking door, the misplaced keys, the movement in the corner of your eye – these and more become part of the narrative. Spooks everywhere!

So let us have a look at some of the curious items that are dredged up and twisted into the narrative, or – when all else fails – simply made up.

  1. China is instituting an ‘Orwellian’ world of complete citizen control through means such as the ‘social credit’ system and ‘facial recognition’ security cameras.

The fact is that governments have always had various means for monitoring citizens and foreigners, but it all depends on their use. Historically – as the former Danish high commissioner in China observed – Chinese governments have been wary indeed to use them on their own citizens, for the focus is on challenges and threats from outside (the foreigner social credit system is the real issue). By contrast, governments that come out of the Western European tradition have always perceived the threats as coming from within, so they deploy such systems on their own citizens. Think of Cambridge Analytica, the NSA, or indeed the simple fact that a country like Australia with a small population has more surveillance cameras than China. The framework that arises from this tradition is obviously imposed on the very different situation in China.

  1. The reason why the Chinese government is seeking to monitor its citizens is that the restless population at large is hankering after Western ‘freedoms’, bourgeois ‘democracy’, ‘human rights’ and … Facebook. Indeed, it is the duty of upright foreigners to assist the people where possible.

This one is based on events like the foreign-funded and foreign-assisted Hong Kong protests of recent memory, which have been widely condemned in the rest of China.

The reality: in the monthly Ipsos surveys, China regularly scores around 90 percent for confidence in the direction in which the country is headed, while the Edelman trust barometer indicates 84 percent trust in government and public institutions among the general population and 89 percent trust among younger educated people. Further, as the World Values surveys indicate, the vast majority of people believe that the government actively promotes human rights. Again, the more educated and younger the respondents, the higher the level of trust and support.

  1. Huawei, the world’s leading technology innovator is a ‘security threat’, so one must avoid having Huawei do anything in one’s country, from providing 5G networks to selling phones.

At least there is one small fact here: Huawei is indeed way ahead – on many fronts now – of any technology company you will find elsewhere in the world. However, in China there are more than Huawei. One that is arguably ahead even of Huawei is Xiaomi, but alongside Huawei are a host of others breaking new ground.

But is it a ‘security threat’? Will its networks be used to spy on the country where they are installed, given that the Communist Party’s spooks control and watch everything? No more or less than Apple, Google, Facebook – to use but a few well-known examples. Ah, but hang on, these have already been proven to be security threats to every country where they are used. They actively gather data and pass it on to third parties, either government agencies or commercial firms, and in the latter the material has been used to sway political directions and the nature of governance.

Has anything like this been proven for Huawei? No.

  1. The only way China has leapt ahead of the rest of the world is through ‘intellectual property theft’.

This one has a large dose of racism in it, for it assumes that the Chinese are unable to invent and develop anything for themselves (they used to say the same about the Soviet Union). Even more, it is a classic case of ‘a thief thinks everyone else is a thief’ (a Danish saying). As the material revealed by Edward Snowden has shown, United States’ technology companies have been trying to steal intellectual property from China for quite a while now in a desperate effort to keep up.

  1. The local government of Xinjiang Autonomous Region has established a series of ‘camps’ (that is, ‘concentration camps’) designed for the ‘ethnic cleansing’ of the region’s ‘peace-loving’ Uyghurs who are simply seeking ‘secession’ from China.

This one is particularly malicious, for it deliberately ignores: the serious problem with Islamic radicalism and terrorism in Xinjiang since the 1990s; the development of de-radicalisation programs – after much study of such programs elsewhere in the world – for young people from poor backgrounds who have become directly involved in Islamic cells; the significant success of such programs and their adoption elsewhere in the world; the two-pronged approach of immediate security and long-term socio-economic improvement; and – importantly – the timing of such a narrative, which is clearly a futile effort to disrupt the Belt and Road Initiative. Notably, the vast majority of countries – especially Muslim majority ones – have seen through the story and called it out.

  1. The independent country of Tibet was ‘invaded’ and ‘annexed’ by China in 1956, so the ‘government in exile’ is patiently waiting to return, led by the ‘spiritual leader’, the Dalai Lama.

This is a relatively old one, promoted by organisations such as the CIA’s ‘soft’ arm, the National Endowment for Democracy, since the 1980s, and by a small number of other organisations and countries. The reality is that the Tibet Autonomous Region has been part of China at least since the Qing dynasty, if not much earlier. Further, the ‘vegetarian between meals’, the Dalai Lama, was initially very supportive of Mao and the Chinese communists and signed a significant agreement with them. He reneged on the deal, led a violent revolt in 1959, which was funded by the CIA and failed. Forced to flee, he has been trying to curry favour with anyone who might listen, but is now regarded – believe it or not – as too soft a figure by many in the conflict-ridden anti-communist Tibetans abroad. Meanwhile, Tibet’s economy and Buddhist culture have been flourishing, obviously benefitting from its integral role within China as a whole. The reality that the one who really liberated Tibet was Mao Zedong.

  1. The Communist Party of China keeps a ‘close watch’ on all the tens of millions of Chinese citizens abroad, ‘monitoring’ everything they write, say and do.

Why do I need to spend time answering such a stupid superstition? I have heard some say – without a shred of evidence – that every group that travels abroad from China has a CPC spy amongst them, reporting back home. Or that every time a group of Chinese citizens meet, one of them will keep a recording of the discussion. Or if they use wechat, write a university assignment, talk on the phone, go for a walk, shower or go to the toilet – the CPC knows all. If so, the CPC membership must be flat-out keeping up with it all.

  1. Every Chinese citizen abroad is a spy for their government.

Contradiction with the previous point, if not also points 1 and 2? Who said one needs to be consistent in spinning a narrative like this?

  1. The Chinese government sends ‘spies’ to silence external critics. These spies break into homes, put pressure on employers, and send veiled threats to aforesaid critics.

I do believe this is known as paranoia, a mental condition. In a few countries in the world we seem to be at a time when the wacky sinophobes, who have been restlessly seeking the limelight, seem to have their moment in the sun. They have become ‘mainstream’, whereas not so long ago they were on the lunatic fringe. Of course, everyone who seeks the limelight loves to be heard at last. Sadly, they do not realise that they are being used by governments for agendas they do not understand. History will soon enough indicate how wacky they really are.

  1. The Chinese government enlists ‘Panda huggers’ or ‘Western enablers’ to carry out its aims. Since ‘everyone’ knows that the Chinese government is a secret organisation bent on world domination, then the many foreigners who work in or with China and try to understand it properly must have sold their souls to the devil.

Are those who trot this one out really serious, or are they joking?

  1. The ‘whole world’ is turning on China, so that it is now isolated, with no friends.

The reality is that the ‘whole world’ is in fact 12 to 15 countries, who have – since the Second World War – enjoyed setting the agenda. They and their media love to use the term ‘whole world’, when in fact they are referring to parts of north-western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand. In other words, for them the majority of the rest of the world does not count. This colonial cabal (former colonisers all) are the ones who have been peddling the ‘China threat’ hypothesis for the last couple of years. And they have a compliant media – state-run, corporate and independent – toeing the line.

No friends? Actually, for every ‘enemy’ of China, there are dozens of friends, across the Eurasian landmass, eastern and southern Europe, Africa, Latin America and the Pacific.

Earlier, I referred to a narrative that has to be supported by whatever means. But what is the narrative here? Basically, it is that the Communist Party of China is an ‘evil’, ‘secretive’ and ‘paranoid’ outfit that is afraid of a restless population, which at one and the same time willingly assists in the project for world domination.

It really is like believing in ghosts. Spooks wherever you turn.