By Mark C. Eades
As an American writer and human rights activist based in Asia, I have observed and written about the democracy movement in Hong Kong for the past several years. I have written in support of that movement in all its forms from moderate pan-democrats to more “radical” elements such as Occupy Central and the new Hong Kong National Party (HKNP), and have tried to raise awareness and support for them among readers in the United States. As with the global anti-apartheid movement for South Africa in the 1980s, any liberation movement stands a better chance of winning with international support, because the forces of oppression are often also international.
In the case of South Africa, the racist apartheid system was propped up by American and European business interests with the backing of Western politicians like U.S. president Ronald Reagan and British prime minister Margaret Thatcher. An early political experience of mine was protesting outside 10 Downing Street in London while Thatcher met inside with apartheid South African prime minister Pieter Botha in 1984. An international movement against Western support for apartheid eventually helped bring an end to that system of institutionalized racism.
Unfortunately today, China likewise abuses the rights of its own citizens and threatens the rights of people in Hong Kong with the complicity of Western business interests and Western governments. The worst of these at present as far as I can see is Britain, whose policies on China and Hong Kong are dominated by corrupt China business interests, and whose current prime minister David Cameron has shamelessly abandoned Britain’s obligations to Hong Kong under the Sino-British handover agreement.
U.S. support for human rights in China and democracy in Hong Kong has also been weak due to the influence of China business groups like the U.S.-China Business Council and the American Chamber of Commerce in China, which lobby the U.S. government on China’s behalf.
The pro-Beijing business elite in Hong Kong includes not only local Hong Kong and Chinese business interests but also Western business interests whose sole concern is making money. As Arch Puddington of Freedom House and Washington Post columnist Harold Meyerson observed in 2014, corporate opposition to the democracy movement in Hong Kong has included Western corporations such as Ernst & Young, KPMG, Deloitte, and PricewaterhouseCoopers.
As an American, it sickens me that U.S. business executives who enjoy U.S. rights and freedoms would deny those same rights and freedoms to Hong Kong’s people out of their own greed. I’d like nothing more than to strip those greedy pigs of their U.S. citizenship and pack them all off to mainland Chinese labor camps so that they can experience the fruits of their greed first-hand.
Unfortunately I can’t do that. What I can do is to try to raise awareness and support for Hong Kong democracy among Americans and others in the West who care about these things as I do. With international support, perhaps we can end China’s oppression of Hong Kong just as we ended the apartheid system in South Africa. So, Hong Kong, what can we in the West who support you do to help?
I for one will continue to support the Hong Kong democracy movement in all its forms, however “moderate” or “radical” they may be. This includes supporting HKNP and civil disobedience actions like Occupy Central. The most radical elements of any liberation movement are often the most effective, as was the case in the U.S. civil rights movement of the 1960s. That fight was won largely through acts of non-violent civil disobedience such as those led by Martin Luther King Jr. MLK’s 1963 “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” provides a strong argument in favor of civil disobedience, and should be required reading for anyone who doubts its rightness or its effectiveness.
Civil disobedience was likewise the tactic of choice for University of California students in the Free Speech Movement of 1964. Outside 10 Downing Street in 1984 as Thatcher met with Botha, civil disobedience in the form of a sit-down strike in defiance of British police was the method we used. Ultimately, in its own small way, it appears to have worked rather well.
Another American radical whose thoughts I would recommend is progressive community organizer Saul Alinsky. Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals, particularly his chapter on “Tactics,” provides a very useful outline on how to wage a fight for freedom and win. Most importantly, says Alinsky, “Keep the pressure on”: Never let up on your opponents, never give them a moment’s rest, harass them, “name and shame” them, ridicule them, provoke them, frighten and confuse them, make every day a living hell for them until they give in and you win. With these methods, strikingly similar to Chinese military theorist Sunzi’s in The Art of War, Alinsky rarely lost a fight. Community organizer Mike Miller discusses how such methods might be relevant to the democracy movement in Hong Kong.
China’s self-defeating reactions to the democracy movement in Hong Kong would seem to prove Alinsky correct. With each new act of defiance from Hong Kong democracy activists, the dictators in Beijing and their puppets in the Hong Kong government show themselves to be frightened, weak, paranoid, and incompetent. The threat of Occupy Central sent Beijing into absolute hissy fits. When fewer than 50 Hong Kong students established HKNP, Beijing reacted as though tens of thousands of people were filling Hong Kong’s streets setting police cars on fire.
Even if HKNP fails to win full independence for Hong Kong, it has already succeeded in making abject fools of China’s dictators and their Hong Kong puppets (Big, strong China, exposed as a nervous “paper tiger” by 50 students. Saul Alinsky would be proud.). That in itself is a small victory that may help toward bigger victories for Hong Kong democracy.
In America and the West, supporters of Hong Kong democracy should apply the same methods to corrupt China business interests like the U.S.-China Business Council and to political lapdogs like David Cameron.
I for one would love to stage another sit-down strike outside 10 Downing Street next time lapdog Cameron meets there with his master Xi (In the meantime, I will send a copy of this article to Cameron’s office so that he, or at least those who open his mail, can read it and hopefully choke on it; and will use it to start a new Twitter hashtag, #DavidCameronChineseLapdog, for him to choke on, too). Universities throughout the U.S., Britain, and Australia also have Hong Kong Student Associations that could take the fight to their campuses and to Chinese embassies and consulates in those countries.
We await your suggestions, Hong Kong, as to anything else that we might do to help. We’re on your side.
Mark C. Eades is an Asia-based American writer and researcher. Located in Shanghai from 2009 to 2015, he is now based in Bangkok and visits Hong Kong as often as possible.