As a Hong Kong protest leader promotes far-right condemnations of US anti-racism demonstrations and activists shut down a Black Lives Matter rally in the city, Hong Kong organizers forge close ties with hardline Republicans in Washington.
By Ajit Singh
A leading Hong Kong “pro-democracy” figure, Jimmy Lai, has denounced nationwide protests in the United States against police brutality and systemic racism, which were sparked by the police killing of an African-American man, George Floyd. Lai’s views reflect a significant segment of the city’s protest movement, who affirm the exceptionalist myth of the US as a beacon of “freedom and democracy.”
Hong Kong’s “pro-democracy” activists have gone so far as to derail the efforts of an African-American woman who attempted to organize a Black Lives Matter demonstration in the city, accusing her of being an agent of the police and Communist Party of China.
Meanwhile, some leaders of Hong Kong’s anti-Beijing opposition, such as Joshua Wong, have claimed to support the US protests and Black Lives Matter. However, these expressions of “solidarity” ring hollow, given that, like Lai, these “pro-democracy” leaders have also forged an alliance with the very US state and far-right politicians who have demonized and sought to brutally repress American protesters. In fact, Wong and his comrades have carefully avoided making any specific criticism of President Trump or any of their other sponsors in Washington.
Lai’s comments and the duplicity of Hong Kong’s “pro-democracy” opposition, once again highlight the inconvenient truths of this movement that many in the West have insisted is progressive. Although some have tried to equate Hong Kong’s “pro-democracy” movement with Black Lives Matter, they are, in fact, on opposite ends of the political spectrum.
Hong Kong “pro-democracy” leader denounces George Floyd protests
As Dan Cohen reported for The Grayzone, Lai is a billionaire media tycoon widely referred to as “the Rupert Murdoch of Asia” who is a major financial and media backer of Hong Kong’s protest movement. In addition to pouring millions of dollars into Hong Kong’s opposition in recent years, the self-described “head of opposition media” and founder of the anti-government Apple Daily tabloid, has provided protesters with “unswervingly favorable coverage” according to The New York Times. Lai has received glowing coverage in US and Western media, with the oligarch often being praised as a “‘troublemaker’ with a clean conscience” who is “standing up to China.”
On June 2, Lai shared a video by Avi Yemini, a far-right YouTube personality and former Israeli army soldier, declaring that it was “bloody disgraceful” to liken the “riots in America” with Hong Kong’s protest movement.
In the video, Yemini rattled off right-wing talking points, referring to the anti-racist protesters as “antifa extremists” who are “destroying everything that is American, in fact, everything that Hong Kongers are fighting to obtain.” Lai expressed his gratitude to Yemini, writing “thank you for speaking up for us #HKers.”
According to the Australian Jewish Democratic Society, Yemini has formed extensive ties to neo-Nazis such as the Soldiers of Odin and fascist agitators like Milo Yiannopoulis.
— Jimmy Lai (@JimmyLaiApple) June 2, 2020
A few days earlier, Lai, who has met repeatedly with Trump administration brass, told CNN that “only Trump can save Hong Kong.” Lai reiterated his call for President Trump’s support mere hours after the president threatened to have the US military shoot George Floyd protesters.
The sentiment was unsurprising considering that much of the protest movement in Hong Kong has lionized the US, upholding the US government and President Trump as their “liberators.” For years, leaders of Hong Kong’s opposition have met and strategized with US government officials and politicians, most frequently those on the far-right.
Indeed, Lai’s views on the George Floyd protests appear to reflect those of a significant segment of Hong Kong’s “pro-democracy” movement, to the dismay of those who argue that the movement is “progressive.”
The Lausan Collective, a self-described “decolonial left” English-language publication founded by staunch supporters of the Hong Kong protests, lamented that “some Hongkongers have refused to stand with Black Lives Matter” urging their comrades to support protests taking place in the US.
Wilfred Chan, a New York-based contributing writer for The Nation and founding member of Lausan, expressed frustration at the prevalence of such views. In a June 2 tweet, Chan wrote that “every other hongkonger [sic]” on LIHKG (a popular online platform among Hong Kong’s protest movement that has been called “Hong Kong’s Reddit”), “is suddenly an expert on the american [sic] criminal justice system and also believe the only reason anyone could be critical of trump [sic] is because they’re an agent of the [Communist Party of China]”.
every other hongkonger on lihkg is suddenly an expert on the american criminal justice system and also believe the only reason anyone could be critical of trump is because they’re an agent of the ccp
— wilfred chan (@wilfredchan) June 2, 2020
Examples of this have surfaced on Twitter, with vocal supporters of the Hong Kong protests claiming that the Communist Party of China is behind Black Lives Matter, comparing Black protesters to gorillas, and claiming that the “real America” consists of Black people who are looters and white people who clean up after them.
Racist and nativist undercurrents have been present throughout the Hong Kong protests. Although this has primarily been directed towards mainland Chinese, anti-Black racism has also previously erupted during the protests. Following NBA superstar LeBron James’ refusal to declare support for the movement, intense backlash swept across the city with protesters trampling on and burning the basketball icon’s jerseys. In one gathering, hundreds of angry protesters appear to have chanted racial slurs directed at James, with the Associated Press reporting that the chant “wasn’t printable.”
Hong Kong “pro-democracy” activists shut down Black Lives Matter rally
Hong Kong “pro-democracy” activists have gone so far as to derail the efforts to organize a Black Lives Matter rally in the city following the killing of George Floyd. In a letter shared with the Hong Kong Free Press, event organizer Jayne Jeje, an African-American woman who has lived in Hong Kong for 8 years, outlined the harassment she received that led to her cancelling the event.
According to Jeje, “pro-democracy” activists accused her of “working with the police to entrap people” and “being backed by the CCP [Communist Party of China].” On the social media event page for the rally, Jeje wrote that she was bombarded with “attacks” and hostile comments consisting of “mistruths, bullying, accusations, andprofanity.”
Jeje wrote that she was accused of having “expat privilege,” grilled about “why the event was only about BLM, since HK lives matter too.” More concerned with co-opting the event to advance their own agenda than demonstrating solidarity, Hong Kong “pro-democracy” activists told Jeje that she “[did not] have the right to comment on BLM” unless she made the Hong Kong protests a focus of the event. In this vein, Hong Kong protesters have recently appropriated the slogans “I can’t breathe” and “Black Lives Matter” for their own demonstrations.
Ultimately, due to this harassment and fear that “pro-democracy” activists would sabotage the event, Jeje and the other event organizers chose to cancel the Black Lives Matter rally. “[We] made the painful decision to cancel the event, based on angry messages that we were cooperating with the police, or not including their issues or responding to their demands” wrote Jeje. “We feared they would come and purposefully ruin the event.
Hong Kong’s opposition aligned with same far-right US politicians repressing Black Lives Matter
There are some within Hong Kong’s “pro-democracy” movement who have issued statements expressing support for the protests taking place in the US and the Black Lives Matter movement, arguing that both movements are engaged in a shared struggle against oppression and police brutality.
Joshua Wong, poster-boy for the Hong Kong protests, Nathan Law, along with other leading members of his political party, Demosistō, have stated that they stand with Black Lives Matter. “Many of you have asked me about the ongoing U.S. protests” wrote Wong in a June 2 tweet. “As a human-rights activist, I stand firmly on the side of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and oppose police brutality, wherever it may be.”
Although he had never mentioned Black Lives Matter prior to this tweet, Wong has now claimed that both he and Hong Kong’s protesters have long stood in solidarity with the movement. “Time and again, we see how people fighting oppression in Hong Kong continue to stand with people fighting oppression in the United States. #BlackLivesMatter,” Wong wrote in a June 4 tweet, sharing an image of a Hong Kong protester holding a sign which read “I CAN’T BREATHE.”
In calling for solidarity between the two movements, Lausan argued that they “both stem from the same system of state violence and oppression” and are connected by “similarly being victims of police brutality.”
However, what Joshua Wong and other Hong Kong “pro-democracy” leaders, along with “left-wing” supporters like Lausan, omit from their pronouncements of “solidarity” with Black Lives Matter, is that their movement’s principal ally is the very US state which is brutally repressing American protesters fighting for racial justice.
Leaders of Hong Kong’s opposition like Wong have spent years cultivating close relationships some of the most hawkish figures in Washington. Their most vociferous allies include far-right Republican Senators Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Marco Rubio, and Rick Scott, and Tom Cotton, who recently called for a US military crackdown on Black Lives Matter protests. Their expressly stated goal, as spelled out by a US-based lobbying firm, is to advance their movement against the Chinese government and “preserve the US’s own political and economic interests in Hong Kong.”
Given their open alliance with the very politicians who have demonized US protesters as “looters” and “antifa terrorists”, doxxed protesters, claimed that the Venezuelan government is behind the demonstrations, and made fascistic calls for the military to impose martial law, the expressions of support for Black Lives Matter by leaders of Hong Kong’s “pro-democracy” movement ring hollow. It is no coincidence that the statements by Wong and his comrades do not mention, let alone criticize, their far-right sponsors in Washington. In fact, just days prior to his pronouncement of solidarity with Black Lives Matter, Wong sent birthday wishes to Senator Rubio.
These alliances highlight the superficiality of the “solidarity” of Hong Kong’s opposition with Black Lives Matter and reflect the fundamental political differences between the two movements.
In stark contrast to the Black Lives Matter movement, which has called into question the racial oppression that undergirds the American political system, the Hong Kong protesters have proudly affirmed an exceptionalist, whitewashed notion of the US as a beacon of “freedom and democracy,” adorning themselves in the stars and stripes and belting out the Star-Spangled Banner while beseeching the US to police the Asian Pacific region.
Whereas Black Lives Matter has inspired a global reckoning with US and European legacies of slavery and colonialism, Hong Kong’s “pro-democracy” movement is inspired by the city’s former British colonial masters.
In recent days, the Black Lives Matter movement has been terrorized by white vigilante groups. Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s “pro-democracy” protests have served as a magnet for the US and European far-right supporters. The ultra-right pilgrimages to Hong Kong have included numerous American white nationalists and Ukrainian neo-Nazis who previously fought in the fascist paramilitary group, Azov Battalion.
The interest has been mutual, with Hong Kong’s “democrats” drawing inspiration from Ukraine’s pro-Western Euromaidan “revolution” that has empowered far-right, fascistic forces. Hong Kong protesters have embraced the slogan “Glory to Hong Kong”, adapted from “Slava Ukrayini” or “Glory to Ukraine”, a slogan invented by Ukrainian fascists and used by Nazi collaborators during WWII that was re-popularized by the Euromaidan movement.
“No matter the differences between Ukraine and Hong Kong, our fights for freedom and democracy are the same,” Joshua Wong told The Kyiv Post in 2019. “[W]e have to learn from Ukrainians… and show solidarity. Ukraine confronted the force of Russia — we are facing the force of Beijing.”
Despite attempts to equate their experiences, both movements have faced radically different police responses. US police have killed at least three protesters in the past several days, imposed harsh curfews, and the Trump administration has threatened to send in the military to quash the uprising.
Yet after a year of protests in Hong Kong — during which time protesters have harassed and taken journalists hostage, ganged up on and beaten countless defenseless individuals, burned people alive, and murdered an elderly street cleaner by throwing a brick at his head — police have yet to kill a single protester or impose any curfew in the city. This is in spite of the fact that Hong Kong’s protesters have explicitly aimed to use aggressive provocations to “get the police to hit [them]” to win international sympathy, including hurling bricks, gasoline bombs, and flaming arrows at officers. In fact, the Chinese army has never been deployed to protests, expect when soldiers left their barracks on one occasion, unarmed and dressed in shorts and t-shirts, to clean debris left on the streets.
It is clear that Hong Kong’s “pro-democracy” movement and Black Lives Matter are separate movements with radically different political ideologies and aims. With the US establishment united in its new Cold War strategy against China, Joshua Wong and Hong Kong’s anti-Beijing opposition are well aware that bipartisan support for their movement is secure. If their statements of “solidarity” with protests taking place in the US represent anything, it is a desperate desire to avoid being tarnished any further by the close alliances they have forged with pro-police hardliners in Washington.
* Ajit Singh is a lawyer and journalist. He is a contributing author to Keywords in Radical Philosophy and Education: Common Concepts for Contemporary Movements (Brill: 2019). He tweets at @ajitxsingh.