An revealing moment in this struggle came when the head of the press and cultural affairs office at the US Embassy, a Special Forces veteran of the Vietnam War and, I suspect, a CIA officer who was using his official post as cover at the Embassy, lectured us saying, "Remember: You Fulbrighters are all special forces personnel parachuted behind enemy lines here in China."
While we were shocked to hear such a thing said about us, we were not surprised to learn that we were viewed in Washington as being cogs in America's foreign policy strategy. Most of us came through the 1960s as anti-war and civil rights activists, after all, and we shared at least a jaded, or in many cases like my own, an oppositional view of US foreign policy. But none of us were cooperative "agents." This guy was roundly denounced for saying what he had said about us, and we assured him we were not doing his bidding, but rather would act on our own -- as we were all doing in our role as visiting professors. No one went along with his "orders" to surrender our colleague and his students.
I tell this story to illustrate how the mere fact that someone participates, or at some point in the past participated, in a US government program, whether it's the Peace Corps, the Fulbright Program, or some other project or conference sponsored by some organization like USAID or NED, does not mean that person is "bought" or "controlled" or even "influenced" by those organizations.
Another story: After I had finished my year in China as a Fulbrighter, and was living in Hong Kong, working as a free-lance correspondent for Business Week, I was called by someone claiming he was a correspondent for Chronicle of Higher Education, a US journal for academics. He came to our house and started interviewing me about my experience as a Fulbright professor in Shanghai.
As the interview progressed, his questions started veering into areas that seemed curious, such as the ideological position of my students and faculty colleagues at Fudan, and my opinion about what Chinese students, faculty and ordinary people thought about their government. I found an excuse to end the interview, and then, after he had left, began investigating him. I called the Chronicle for Higher Education and found that there was no such contributor writing for them. They had never heard of him. The business card he gave me had a number that was not working. Asking around in Hong Kong, I learned that this guy was fairly well known in the foreign press corps as a US government operative -- probably CIA.
Clearly, the agents of US imperialism are tireless -- and utterly without principle, as using journalists was barred by law -- in their efforts to use people. Equally clearly, outfits like the NED or NID are going to try to take advantage of movements like the current one in Hong Kong to make trouble for a country like China that is viewed as a US enemy, opponent or rival. But the mere fact that such efforts are made does not mean that they succeed.
Particularly where there is an educated, well informed populace as in Hong Kong, and/or where there is a long tradition of popular movements in defense of liberty, as is also the case in Hong Kong, it a kind of Western arrogance to suggest that a moment like this must be the creation of US imperialism and its agents.
I find the gullibility of journalists and bloggers who glibly make such charges -- most of whom have little if any knowledge of Hong Kong and its history of struggle -- and the gullibility of some readers, who all to quickly are ready to believe the wildest of conspiracy claims on the flimsiest of evidence, disappointing and disturbing.