Heavily backed by politically conservative Americans, the Hong Kong independence movement may become collateral damage from the spreading Black Lives Matter (BLM) protests that have engulfed the United States for over a week. Antiracism protests along with riots and looting have hit many major U.S. cities since George Floyd, a black man, died after being kneed down by a white police officer in Minneapolis on May 25.
Joshua Wong, largely recognised as the de facto leader among Hong Kongers pushing back against Chinese government control, broke his week-long silence yesterday to tweet his support for BLM.
“As a human-rights activist, I stand firmly on the side of the #BlackLivesMatter movement and oppose police brutality, wherever it may be,” he wrote.
Wong heads the Demosisto political party that is demanding “democratic self-determination” for Hong Kong even as Beijing is tightening its grip on the former British colony.
His support for BLM puts him at odds with some of his strongest backers in the U.S., including Republican senators Tom Cotton, Marco Rubio, and Josh Hawley. The senators are deeply opposed to the People's Republic of China government of President Xi Jinping.
Cotton has called for the use of U.S. military force to put down the protests and rioting.
“If local law enforcement is overwhelmed and needs backup, let’s see how tough these Antifa terrorists are when they're facing off with the 101st Airborne Division,” he wrote.
“We need to have zero tolerance for this destruction.”
Rubio also blamed the violence on “far-left groups” and “ethnic nationalists who promote race-based conflict”.
Demosisto’s chief researcher, Jeffrey Ngo, laid out the party’s support for BLM in a long tweet that was quickly endorsed by Wong.
Ngo’s comment will annoy U.S. conservatives who do not believe racism in the U.S. is serious or widespread.
“Systematic racism in the U.S. is real. The present moment has deep historical roots stretching back to before the country’s founding,” he wrote.
China mocks the U.S.
U.S. officials are finding themselves in an awkward position for supporting hardline police action to stop the destruction of their cities while condemning the Beijing-appointed Hong Kong government, which has also been using force against the democracy protesters.
The year-long protests in Hong Kong have grown increasingly violent, although no one has yet been deliberately targeted and killed. By contrast, the clashes between U.S. protesters and police are far more violent, resulting in a growing list of injured and dead.
The Chinese government has been quick to pounce on the U.S. dilemma.
“U.S. double standards on domestic riots and Hong Kong turmoil mocked on Chinese internet,” reported the official Beijing-based Global Times newspaper.
It said rioters in both the U.S. cities and Hong Kong behaved the same: “attacking the police, burning public facilities, looting shops and malls, smearing and burning national flags.”
In Hong Kong, both protesters and police have been blamed for not doing enough to restrain the use of violence among their ranks.
Demosisto’s losing position
With an eye on conservative America’s sensitivities, Demosisto’s Ngo, who is studying for a doctorate degree in Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., tried to justify his party’s support for BLM.
“While I’m weary (sic) of convenient juxtapositions of the protests here and back home—because their sociopolitical causes are incomparable—I do believe oppressed peoples everywhere share a common yearning for dignity and basic human rights.”
As the BLM protests raged on the past week, Demosisto found itself in a no-win position. Keeping silent was not an option as the party’s leaders had been under tremendous pressure to declare their stance.
If they had condemned the protests and violence, they would have pleased their most important supporters in the U.S. Republican Party. But that would have exposed Demosisto to possibly irreparable brand damage from the loss of credibility and the perception that it is controlled by U.S. politicians.
The decision to support BLM has given the four-year-old party some degree of independence, but possibly at the cost of vital support from some of its powerful U.S. backers.