By Dave Lindorff
Hong Kong protests have shut down the city after police action (
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The US claims to be supporting democracy from Ukraine to Cuba, and from Somalia to Iraq, often by bombing the alleged opposition, or by supporting proxy wars and subversion. But one place where real democracy activists are battling against the forces of repression they are curiously getting no backing from the United States: Hong Kong.
There, student activists, a local occupy movement, and now the independent trade union movement, are mobilizing to prevent China from going back on a pledge made in 1997 to allow Hong Kong people in 2017 to elect their city's "mayor," called the chief executive, by popular vote.
The government in China, which assumed sovereignty over Hong Kong from Britain in 1997, at the time established what was called a Basic Law governing Hong Kong, and granting the former British Colony self-rule. As part of that Basic Law, the partially-elected, partially-appointed legislative council was dissolved, and new elections were held. The British governor was replaced with a chief executive appointed by a panel of business leaders and other prominent figures selected by the central government in Beijing. But over the course of the next 20 years, the number of members of the Legislative Council who are directly elected by the citizens of Hong Kong was to be gradually increased (it is currently 40 out of 70, with the balance elected by so-called functional constituencies, basically the professions like law, banking, etc.), and in 2017, the chief executive was to be directly elected.
Now China says that this last crucial democratic reform will be curtailed. Instead of picking their own "mayor" democratically, China says Hong Kong residents will have to choose between candidates who will first be vetted by the government in Beijing, which will only allow to run for office those deemed to be suitably "patriotic" and to "love China."
That backslide from true democracy has sparked a huge and growing protest in Hong Kong which began with students, who tried to occupy the grounds in front of the Legislative Council building. The students last week were joined by the large Hong Kong Occupy Central movement--the latter a local outgrowth of the 2011 global occupy movement. Earlier this week Hong Kong police, who have over the years generally have shown considerable restraint in dealing with public protests, acted more like today's militarized American cops, firing rounds of teargas into the peaceful crowds, spraying pepper spray into the faces of sitting protesters, and making large-scale arrests.
This repressive turn by police backfired, as normally passive and apolitical Hong Kong residents poured out to support the embattled young protesters, bringing them food, medical supplies and water, and even standing with the students and occupy activists. Then today, in a big development, the Hong Kong trade union movement joined the protests, with the Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, the only independent labor union in China, calling on its members to go on strike in support of the students and activists.
The confederation includes unions representing beverage workers, teachers and dockworkers.
It's a powerful movement, and one that clearly has China's leaders nervous, not just because of what it means for Hong Kong, and because of the image protest and police repression sends to people in Taiwan, the independent island nation that China considers to be an integral part of China and which it wants to lure into its fold, but because of concerns that the democracy protests might spill over into China, for example in the adjacent province of Guangdong, where people have ready access to Hong Kong television news broadcasts.
But while the US has actively worked to stoke rebellion in Ukraine, reportedly spending up to $5 billion to fund anti-government "civic organizations" that supported the putsch which ousted the elected government in Kiev earlier this year, has sought, and continues to seek the overthrow of the elected, if dictatorial leader of Syria, Basher al Assad through direct attacks, and is today bombing and rocketing ISIS in Iraq, allegedly in defense of the allegedly democratic government of Iraq, Washington has not offered even a word of support for the democracy activists of Hong Kong, whose struggle just to keep China to its word is a genuine battle for democratic freedom.
The US-backed coup in Ukraine brought in a neo-fascist government, later "elected" by only a portion of the country, which promptly launched a civil war against portions of the country's eastern region which rejected the coup and the rigged vote that followed. In Syria, the US a year ago came within a day of launching an air war against Assad aimed at "regime change," only backing down because of massive opposition among the American people to yet another war in the Middle East.
America is now bombing in Syria, claiming to be targeting ISIS, the very rebels it earlier had trained and armed to topple the Assad regime. The argument is that those ISIS rebels have turned their guns on Iraq, and are threatening to attack America too. But the strong suspicion, held even by many pro-American governments in Europe, is that this is a subterfuge designed to get a US air war going over Syria, after which the target will shift from ISIS to the Assad government and military.
Finally, in Iraq, the notion of an Iraqi democracy to defend is laughable. The US first had to orchestrate the ouster of Iraq's elected Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki before it would supply troops and aircraft for a defense of the Baghdad government. Some democracy!
All this give the lie to President Obama's claim in recent speeches in the UN and at a meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative "to stand with the courageous citizens and brave civil society groups who are working for equality and opportunity and justice and human dignity all over the world."
The US is clearly not standing with the courageous citizens and brave civil society groups of Hong Kong.