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Libeling a democracy movement: Accusing Hong Kong Activists of Being Tools of US Policy is Both Ignorant and Dangerous

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By Dave Lindorff


Are all these people dupes of the NED? Some US journalists think so ( by ThisCantBeHappening!)

A number of progressive and left-leaning writers in the US have jumped on a report by Wikileaks that the neo-con dominated National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and various other US-government linked organizations with a history of subversion and sowing discord abroad are operating in Hong Kong and on that basis are making the leap of "logic" that the democracy protests in Hong Kong must therefore be a creation of US policy-makers.

As a progressive, Chinese-fluent journalist who has spent years working in China and especially Hong Kong, and who has spent decades exposing the secret workings of US agencies and their network of fake NGOs in support of US empire, as well as their anti-democratic activities here in the US, I can understand why people might be suspicious, but I want to explain that Hong Kong is not Ukraine or even Venezuela or Brazil.

Long a colony of Great Britain, Hong Kong has a more than century-long tradition of people fighting for their freedom and for the right to have a government elected by themselves, and not simply appointed to rule over them. Especially in the years of the 1960s-'90s, as the time drew ever closer when the British would have to leave and an increasingly powerful and assertive China would assume sovereignty over this British colony, they won freedom of speech, press, religion, assembly and a legal system that largely protected them from arbitrary arrest and detention without charge. They even won a small degree of democratic power, as the British agreed grudgingly to allow a minority of the seats in the city's Legislative Council (Legco) to be elected by popular vote by district. Britain did not, right up to the handover of sovereignty to China in July 1997, allow Hong Kongers to elect the city's "mayor," known as Governor, who remained a crown appointee of the UK right to the lowering of the Union Jack.

But because of the militant demands of Hong Kong people, who regularly took to the streets en masse to demand that freedom and democracy both be not just protected but expanded after the handover, China was forced -- by its need to reassure foreign investors and companies that political stability and rule of law would be continued in Hong Kong under Chinese rule -- to grant those demands. Thus the Basic Law that governs the relationship between China and what is now called the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, assures the democratic election by popular vote of 40 of Legco's 70 seats (the remainder are "elected" or chosen by various occupational sectors like law, banking, etc.). The Basic Law also guarantees the continuation of the key freedoms won by Hong Kong people: speech, press, religion, assembly, etc., including labor rights like the right to join unions and to strike. Significantly, nearly all of the elected seats in Legco have been won repeatedly by representatives of the various pro-democracy parties, which have the overwhelming support of Hong Kong residents.

I give this history to make it clear that there is a multigenerational history of struggling for and defending individual rights and of fighting for democratic rights in Hong Kong. Hong Kong people are not new to this stuff, and as an educated population with access to a world of information in their open media and wide open internet, they are not a population that is readily susceptible to the kind of manipulation and subversion practiced typically by the likes of the NED.

Certainly in a time like this, the NED, USAID (and the CIA), could be expected to try to gain some influence. Why not? But saying that they are active in Hong Kong and trying to have influence is a far cry from saying they are "behind" the protests or that they have "orchestrated" the protests. Those who make this leap are, I believe, exhibiting unintentionally an attitude of Western cultural superiority that assumes that "We Americans" are smart enough to see this kind of subversion, but Hong Kong people wouldn't notice how they are being used.

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To suggest, for example, that long-tested leaders of Hong Kong's democracy movement like Martin Lee Chu Ming, Emily Lau, or labor and democracy activist Lee Cheuk Yan, are "in bed with" the NED because they might have attended some NED event or that 17-year-old student protest leader Joshua Wong Chi-fung is working for the US because he and his father allegedly once visited the US Consulate in Hong Kong, is both nonsense, and the height of imperial-minded arrogance. Lee, Lau and Lee are virtually the MLK, Mother Jones and Cesar Chavez of the Hong Kong freedom struggle and worked at great personal sacrifice to win more freedom and local control from the British long before China was in charge of the territory! And Wong, despite his tender years, clearly has courage and a mind of his own. Visiting the US Consulate is a commonplace event in Hong Kong, and that action signifies nothing. (By the way, what are the odds the NED or CIA would opt to go with a 17-year-old kid to organize this massive protest? Seriously? That's about as likely as that the International Muslim Conspiracy to Create a Sharia Law America would have selected a young Kenyan-born black child as their vehicle to become their Manchurian-candidate president and then subvert the US. The truth is this kid, who won his organizing spurs at 14 opposing a politically-guided Hong Kong history curriculum, has won his current surprising position of influence through conviction, intellect, guts and charisma.)

Let me tell a personal story to illustrate what I'm talking about with respect to jumping to conclusions:

Back in 1990, when my wife and I were between jobs, I applied for and was awarded a one-year Fulbright post in Shanghai, where I would be teaching journalism at Fudan University, one of China's top schools.

Over that year I came to know my students, and some of my teaching colleagues, well. The kids were smart, and for the most part dedicated to being good journalists. There was one ardent Maoist from an important Communist family in the class, whom I learned along the way had been required to deliver the students' papers to monitors in the school's foreign affairs office (waiban) for vetting before they were turned in to me. Most of these kids were quite sophisticated politically. They were interested in the world and in the US, but were well aware of America's crimes as well as of its virtues, just as they were aware of the good and bad aspects of their own country's culture and politics.

Midway through the year, there was a gathering of all 20 Fulbright professors at a tourist spot in Kunming. The event was hosted by the office of press and cultural affairs of the US Embassy in Beijing.

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It soon became apparent that there was a big issue for us to confront. One colleague, a professor of economics from a university in Texas, had run afoul of the Chinese authorities at his school and in Beijing because he had given his students an assignment to write a paper analyzing the relative competitive benefit, if any, to one country using prison labor to produce products for export to another country. There was at that time a big scandal where Newsweek magazine had exposed a chain of Chinese prisons that were using forced prison labor to produce products for export to the US--including products owned by US companies that had moved their production facilities to China. (That edition of the magazine had been banned in China, but he had distributed copies of the article to his students.)

The university had ordered the professor to turn over his students' essays to them, and his students, who had waxed passionate against the prison and legal system in China, and against the widespread practice of "re-education through labor," were pleading with him not to turn over their papers. He had refused to do so, and was being threatened with deportation and termination of his Fulbright appointment.

The embassy, which the Fulbright Program had asked to mediate, was pressuring this professor to cave in and to sacrifice his students "for the sake of the program," but the other 19 Fulbrighters, myself included, protested. I proposed that we take a vote to support him and we then unanimously demanded that academic freedom be respected and that the professor not be required to turn in the papers. We also demanded that the US oppose his deportation, with some of us saying we'd rather all be sent home in solidarity than have him forced out for defending his students from retaliation or worse.

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Dave Lindorff is a founding member of the collectively-owned, journalist-run online newspaper www.thiscantbehappening.net. He is a columnist for Counterpunch, is author of several recent books ("This Can't Be Happening! Resisting the (more...)
 

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