Showing posts with label hong_kong_politics. Show all posts
Showing posts with label hong_kong_politics. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

How To Choose A Side

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This is about us against them. 



After yesterday’s horrifying events in Hong Kong, I spent a fair amount of time on my couch bawling. The day before, police had terrorized shopping malls, beating people up randomly - some of whom were just shopping. Yesterday, the police ramped up their campaign of brutality by shooting at unarmed protesters (including hitting one in the abdomen with a live round), trying to mow protesters down on a motorbike and thanking protesters for coming out “so they could shoot at them” and laid siege to the CUHK campus for no discernible reason. 



In addition, protesters themselves had set on fire a man who was arguing with them after an extended dispute. From the video, which you absolutely should not watch, they were not defending themselves as it was one man against several of them. The man is in critical condition (as was the teenager who was shot in the chest by police). 



I cried not only for Hong Kong, but because earlier that day I had walked through my neighborhood in the late afternoon. It was balmy and breezy. Young lovers canoodled on an old bench in my courtyard. Retirees and their care workers and dogs loitered at picnic tables under the broad umbrellas. Outside my complex, a woman helped her elderly father walk slowly down the footpath, under the hanging vines from an old tree in a sidewalk planting patch. Two construction workers joked on break. 

A group of pedestrians tapped their smartphones waiting for the light to change, a decorative cement compass showing the four cardinal directions was embedded in the footpath behind them. An MRT train whizzed by on the tracks overhead. 

And all I could think was "these streets could be on fire in just a few months”. 



Listening to BBC World Service that evening, the reporter interviewed both activist leader Joshua Wong as well as an anti-protest legislator. 

Wong, as with everyone I’ve heard comment on this tragic event (with one unfortunate counter-example) emphasized that neither he nor other activists and organizers approved of what was done to the man who argued with demonstrators. They not only refused to condone such actions, they actively condemned them. And they are right to do so - it was a stupid, useless move that will cost them local and international sympathy and make people question how ‘peaceful’ these protesters really are. There is no benefit in it - it was something done out of pure rage. The rage itself is justified, but the actions taken as a result are not. 

Even as Wong decried police actions yesterday and in previous weeks and months, he was very clear about this. That the man was ‘wrong’ doesn’t matter - it shouldn't have to be said that never acceptable to set someone on fire. 



The thing is, I haven’t really heard anyone on the protesters’ side defend what those individuals did. This is one of the very few times that the protesters attacked without needing to, rather than fighting in self-defense or going after the police who are going after them (which at this point I think might be justified given the widespread police brutality). In each case where this has happened - protesters and their allies have engaged in long public discussions of whether such actions were right or wrong, and even apologized publicly in one case. 



Looking at the other side, they don’t extend the same courtesy. Following Joshua Wong, the pro-China legislator - I didn’t catch her name - spent her entire interview time ranting about the violent, radical “rioters” and really hammered home that they’d set a man on fire. Her criticism is justified, but she refused to do the simple, humane thing that Joshua Wong had done and admit that her ‘side’ had committed numerous brutal acts as well - including being implicated in the death of protester Chan Tsz-lok among the crimes named above. To her, all police action was justifiable; none of it consisted of mindless brutalization. 

Wong acknowledged the humanity of the man attacked by protesters and condemned such treatment of the movement’s opponents. The lawmaker would not do the same - they’re all just mindless rioters and they have what’s coming to them so we can “keep the peace”. One imagines she thinks that Beijing’s oppressive peace is not only preferable to today’s Hong Kong, but that it’s desirable in its own right as well. She cannot see that - or why - so many of her fellow Hong Kongers disagree. 



Carrie Lam’s press conference followed a similar rationale: the protesters are violent, their demands have gone beyond a call for democracy (except they haven’t, because democracy has not been promised), they are the “enemy of the people" and will be “stopped”. Stopped for what? I have to ask. Stopped so Hong Kong can lose what really matters - its freedom? They will destroy this city, she said - as though allowing China to swallow it whole isn't another form of destruction. 



And that is the difference between us and them. 

We make mistakes. We have overly-aggressive and radical elements. We’re not even close to perfect. But we step back, we acknowledge our wrongs, we engage in discussion of our motives and actions, we’re willing to criticize and even condemn our own (which, by the way, is why it's also so hard to organize our own. It’s not that we’re wrong; that’s just the nature of the double-edged sword of self-criticism.) We evaluate our means vis-a-vis our ends. The difference isn’t that we’re angels and they’re demons - it’s that we’re all flawed, but at least our flaws are not systematic and planned, and we admit it and try to do better. 



Them? They engage not in one-off mistakes, but systematic brutalization and murder. Their goal is to deny Hong Kong the rights and freedoms they currently have, let alone any hope for democracy. You can’t look at those videos of police actions and see otherwise, so they must be aware of this, but they won’t admit it. They don't discuss it, and they certainly don’t apologize for it. 



And that’s a big part of why they are wrong and we are right. Period. There are not two sides here. There never have been. 



These events hold some important lessons for Taiwan, too. 



This wave is coming for us. Don’t pretend it isn’t - China is hell-bent on annexation, and while they may not succeed, they will attempt it in some form. It may not be full-scale invasion, but then Hong Kong didn't experience that either and look where they are. There is no such thing as peaceful unification, which means there will be protests. Those protests may turn violent, especially if we have elected a government that is more likely to excuse police violence. 

We need to prepare and organize now. 

We need to clarify our means and our ends now, too. It's imperative to make a commitment to peaceful protest, with fighting in self-defense only. Hong Kong balks at the notion of violent protest; non-participatory Taiwanese are likely to react similarly, if not more conservatively because the fight will seem at a greater distance, with China across the water holding no official sovereignty over Taiwan. Culturally, I also suspect Taiwan is in a place in its history that doesn’t look kindly on violent protests, even though it has a history of rebellions, many of which were violent. As the tsunami rolls in, we need to figuratively seek higher ground. 



It's also important to remember that despite our best efforts, such things may occur. We need to be ready to condemn them even as we stand together. We need to be ready for the ‘other side’ to condemn us even as they refuse to admit their own brutality, even if it is more systemic, more widespread, more hateful, and in the service of a totalitarian, anti-liberty goal. 



Finally, as we accept that this is coming for us, we need to make some hard personal calculations. Do we stay or go? If we stay, do we join the fight? A lot of people are going to have to decide to risk their lives to stay and fight if we have any chance of weathering this. A lot of us are going to have to risk our lives only to be maligned by ‘them’ as ‘violent rioters’. 



We're already at us vs. them, though I’m not always sure who will fall on what side. Hong Kong is learning what makes a side the right one, and what the risks really are. It's learning what it means to dig in and fight. 

Taiwan's going to have to learn that too, and soon. 

Monday, September 23, 2019

Let's keep highlighting women in Asian pro-democracy activism

Denise Ho at the US Capitol 2019
Denise Ho (Wikimedia Commons)

I'd like to start by saying that this is not a complaining post. I actually have something positive to say, so let's get the negative stuff out of the way first.

Back in 2017, the New Power Party held a forum with Hong Kong activists Joshua Wong and Nathan Law. The event itself was kind of forgettable, although I suppose it was important to demonstrate that activists from Taiwan and Hong Kong do have strong ties. You may remember that they were attacked at the airport by pro-China people of dubious affiliation when they arrived.

For something that wasn't too memorable, this event sticks in my head for an unrelated reason: the whole thing was a massive sausage fest, and no-one seemed to notice, at least not publicly.



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Source: New Power Party 


No, really: 

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Source: New Power Party Facebook page

Seriously, did you guys serve ketchup and mustard at that absolute hot dog stand of an event? Did you really (unintentionally, I'm sure) shove the one unsmiling woman off to the side?

This was just one event that I happen to remember for this reason, but it's indicative of a trend.

This, to me, looked a lot like the male-dominated social movements of 2014: in Hong Kong, the leaders who emerged from the Umbrella Movement were the aforementioned Wong and Law. From the Sunflowers, if you're not someone who closely follows this corner of Taiwanese politics, can you name any prominent figures beyond Lin Fei-fan, Chen Wei-ting and Huang Kuo-chang? Of course women were involved and some did play prominent roles, including going on to political involvement, but the media and general public seem to have mostly forgotten about them.

I've thought, over these years, that this was a two-pronged (heh) problem. The first is unintentional but deeply problematic: that long-forgotten 2017 event that nobody questioned as being exceedingly male made it quite clear that few involved in these movements was actively invested in encouraging more gender-balanced participation. Few were pointing out that sausage-festiness of it all or paying attention to disproportionate and unfair media representation (though some did - New Bloom is good at consistently drawing attention to this issue), and fewer were trying to make it right. Nobody was reaching out to women who wanted to get involved. It wasn't malicious, but it had the effect, combined with the public's tendency to listen to male voices over female ones, of making it seem like a bit of a boys' club.

The second was more malicious at an individual level. I've mentioned this before, and I'll say it again: there are multiple stories I simply cannot tell publicly about women I know who have been treated like dirt by the supposed 'good guys'. From being casually dismissed to treated like a secretary to unwelcome come-ons, and having nobody to turn to who really cared enough to stand up against such behavior alongside them, I am aware that, while some of 'the good guys' are genuinely good guys, others are not always all that great. 


But don't think that this is a grousing or whining post - things are getting better. I want to point that out and highlight this fact, to encourage you all to keep an eye on both the women involved in activism in Asia, and to be part of the push that encourages more women to get involved.

I was so happy to see Hong Kong singer and activist Denise Ho go to Washington DC earlier this week to testify before Congress along with Joshua Wong. I was even happier to see that Ho got just as much press for her remarks (which I personally thought were more powerful, but that's really a matter of opinion). In some cases, she got the spotlight. (The original article is from Reuters).

One of the bright sides - in a season of protests with very few bright sides - is that women just as much as men are now being seen in activist roles, even though the protests themselves are officially leaderless.

The #ProtestToo event called attention to allegations of sexual harassment and assault of female protesters by police - the first time I think a whole movement like this, in Asia, has taken an interest in a gender issue. I'm delighted to see not just Wong and Law, but also Agnes Chow Ting taking leading roles - and Yau Wai Ching before her.

Agnes Chow being interviewed in Jan 2018
Agnes Chow being interviewed in 2018 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

I think Taiwan is waking up too, and starting to actively seek out female activist voices (the News Lens article on Meredith Huang linked far above is from early 2019), but we'll have to wait and see.

That doesn't mean we've completely turned things around, though. That trip to DC where Denise Ho made the news? Yeah, well:


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Source: Joshua Wong's Facebook page
Huh. Maybe not so righteously feminist after all.

I've seen regular old journalists referred to on Twitter as "female journalists" covering Hong Kong for no discernible reason and thought - shall we also refer to 'male journalists'? 
Why not?


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Source: right there in the image, it's all over Facebook

I've also felt in some cases, however, that images of (mostly attractive) women protesting in Hong Kong have been used to rally people or draw sympathy simply because they are female, which - to me - doesn't really honor the reasons why those women are on the streets in the first place. I can't be too upset about this, after all, one of the most iconic figures of the protests has been Grandma Wong (who has apparently not been seen since August 13). On the other hand, it does seem like female images are used when they are either young and pretty, or venerable elders.

And yet, it's a (tiny) step forward. I can only hope the trend continues, and does something to kick the dudes here into action.

Monday, September 9, 2019

"This movement has a large youth following? Let's use sex to discredit them again!"

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A tale as old as time: a social movement with broad support that is either youth-led or has lots of youth visibility breaks out, challenging the power structures that seek to actively move some part of Asia towards illiberalism or outright authoritarianism.

Then, the conservative underpinning of that power structure - and it is always conservative, whether that's due to age, money, religion or some combination of these - realizes it can't make a convincing case to the broader public that the protesters are wrong and the status quo is better. So it appeals to the base conservative instincts many still hold through a massive straw man: discrediting the youth vanguard of these movements by accusing them of doing lots of very bad very wrong immoral dirty sexy sex.

And a legitimate fight for social and political change, this thinking goes, can't come from young people and their raging hormones because their movement has now been tainted by evil, bad sex and therefore can't actually be about social and political change, because sex! Therefore, they must be wrong. QED.


The rubber mallet is thus applied to the public's knee and the inherently conservative among them jump to attention just as they're expected to. Moral degeneracy!

They did it during the Sunflowers, and they're doing it again in Hong Kong



It's truly an ancient story: people in power are challenged by people with better ideas but less power, the powerful folks know they can't win by attacking the better ideas, so they do a ceremonial dance around those ideas to find some totally random thing to criticize about their challengers that will get the dullards who support the status quo all riled up. It's misogynist and supremacist - it reeks of patriarchy.

I could go look up the old gossip rag news from 2014, but I won't bother. We all know that it was full of stories of activists hooking up, or just joining the Sunflowers "for the sex". I don't know how much of it actually went on, and to be frank, I don't care. The sexual harassment/assault allegations against Chen Wei-ting are the most serious thing I've heard about (though I don't hear everything), and nothing reported on all this sex going on in the Legislative Yuan made it sound as though any of it was non-consensual. So who cares? People are free to do what they want with their bodies as long as everybody involved agrees, and it doesn't make their cause any less legitimate.

Of course, more recently, the same sort of (generally allied) people tried to do the same thing to fight marriage equality in Taiwan: realizing that denying the basic humanity of LGBT people wasn't working, they turned to a combination of "but all the gay sex! Diseases! And won't someone think of the children?" I'm not sure it occurred to them that all the gay sex was going to happen whether or not the people having it could get married.

And now, with Hong Kong, we have 'blue ribbon' uptight Dolores Umbridge Fanny Law decrying the "free sex" being "offered" to protesters as though this - if true - delegitimizes what the protesters are fighting for (it doesn't).

First, she provides no source for her claim (I'm sorry, this is not a 'source'). "I think we have confirmed that this is a true case" is something anyone can say. Where's the proof, Aunt Fanny?

Second, even if it is true, she's taking on the guise of a concerned advocate for these women while actually peddling misogynist sexual norms: the idea that these women can't possibly have decided to have sex in a way you wouldn't approve of on their own, with full mental faculties intact. No, because this is the "wrong" kind of sex, apparently, they must have been "misled" by these big, bad protester men. It's almost the opposite of a healthy attitude towards sexuality: whether both parties consent doesn't seem to matter, if it's the "wrong kind" of sex, she is essentially calling the men involved rapists (and the women involved incapable of making independent decisions)! That is offensive and makes it harder for women to speak up about actual rape or sexual assault they may have experienced.

Third, "young girls"? So, Aunt Fanny, are they underaged girls which is a truly serious issue and must be investigated, or are you calling women of legal age "young girls" in order to infantilize them? If it's the former, then you are implying that statutory rape is happening, which seems tonally inconsistent with your throwaway comment. What are these "confirmed cases"? What proof can we use to investigate this?

Let's say there is a bunch of free (assumed consensual) sex happening while, I dunno, tear gas billows overhead. I think it would be hard to get in the mood with those masks on and people running down the street while police brutalize them indiscriminately, but okay.

So what? Even if that is "moral degeneracy" (it's not), it doesn't take away from the validity of their cause - it didn't for the Sunflowers and it doesn't in Hong Kong now.

Of course, the conservative power structure knows that the cause is ultimately just, and will win over quite a few of their own support base if the message gets spread too widely, so they go after the evil bad immoral sex that Grandma would not approve of and peddle regressive gender politics and morality instead. Those always have some takers.

So of course Aunt Fanny has to paint this as dissolute immoral men and vapid unthinking "girls" because she, like many conservatives, doesn't understand consent. To her, whether sex is "the right kind" or "the wrong kind" has more to do with the social roles in which it takes place (in the confines of a married monogamous relationship = the right kind; everything else = the wrong kind) than whether the people involved actively agree to engage (consensual sex between people with no outstanding commitments = the right kind; non-consensual sex regardless of social role or relationship = the wrong kind).

So of course "free sex" - if this is even a thing, which it probably isn't - would be seen as "the wrong kind" of sex to her, but the power structure she resides within allows police to sexually assault female protesters without punishment (so far), dallied until 2002 before making marital rape illegal (marital rape is still legal in China - you know, that country that intends to fully absorb Taiwan by 2047) and allows a real domestic violence problem to fester. Those are all non-priorities to someone like her, but young men and women gettin' jiggy during protests? Oh no! The sky is falling! 




And so it goes.

If you think there isn't a direct thread between her talk about "young girls being misled into free sex" and illiberal, pro-authoritarian moralmongering, she couches that assertion in a long-winded interview in which she decries "violence" among the youth (ignoring the fact that it's the police who are instigating the violence and the youth who are pushing back against it) and calls for "civility" (as the protesters have not been violent and are fighting for values that are vital to a healthy civilization, this must mean "shut up and do what you're told, fighting back in any way is 'uncivil'"). She basically makes it sound like Hong Kong is going to hell not because a powerful, anti-democracy, anti-human rights behemoth who treats the city like a colonial possession is tightening the screws, but because a few kids weren't spanked enough by their parents so now they're running around throwin' bombs and havin' sex. What those kids stand for doesn't matter to her.

It's just another way for the power structure to try to hold on to that power: by telling us what we can say and how we can say it, where we can go, what we can wear, what we should think, what we should learn, and now, how and were we can fuck. Sex - like food, money and speech - is just another way to control us. In fact, a huge chunk of the history of the world is just people with power trying to control how other people have sex, as a way of controlling the rest of their lives as well.

When the next youth-led movement in Taiwan rises - and there will probably be one, as the threats we face have not receded - you can expect more shrieks and howls about all that terrible, dirty sex those terrible young children are having. Mark my words.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

If the Hong Kong government delegitimizes protests now, what happens in 2047?

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I try to take a break for a day then Carrie "Lizard Woman" Lam makes me work. Damn it, Carrie. 

News broke today that Carrie Lam has announced the full withdrawal of the controversial bill that would have allowed extraditions of suspected criminals in Hong Kong to China, which has a deeply flawed justice system (China has a conviction rate of 99+% and lacks an independent judiciary). As the bill was already essentially dead, it's being called a symbolic gesture of conciliation to the Hong Kong protesters in an attempt to quell rising unrest in the city.

So...great. Right?

The thing is, this solves nothing. The extradition bill was the match set to dry kindling. Saying "the match has been put out" can't stop the fire it's started. 


First, this is likely the easiest move for the government to make vis-a-vis the protesters' demands, and is likely a maneuver to delegitimize further protest in the eyes of the greater Hong Kong public and the world community. Many will see it as a "victory" for the protesters, and wonder, if they've "won", why they're still on the streets (if the demonstrations continue)? They'll start to question the purpose of mass gatherings that have routinely ground crucial city infrastructure to a halt. More conservative locals will consider the protesters an inconvenience - many already do. The huge turnouts we've been seeing will turn to a trickle, without a clear rallying cry, and those who are left will be labeled as "radicals".

This is exactly the intent of the government: give them the thing that is already a fait accompli, so that further demonstrations can be delegitimized.

Much of the international media will probably play along, because they don't know how to narrate the truth of the matter: that Hong Kong may be legally part of China but that 'legality' is a form of barely-disguised colonialism, and China is not and can never be an appropriate steward for Hong Kong.

Meanwhile, the arrests will quietly continue, and those targeted will start to slowly disappear. Sentences will be harsh, because the government won't have retracted the term "rioters" to describe them. Police who have engaged in unconscionable brutality and violence will keep their jobs; there will be no full inquiry if the government can help it.

If the government retracts the term "riot", that entails forcing them to admit that this sort of large scale social movement and civil disobedience is acceptable, not just to the Hong Kong government, but also their masters in Beijing. And if there's one thing Beijing wants to make it clear is unacceptable to them, it's exactly this. Plus, they'd have no grounds to execute (perhaps literally) their plan above to begin arresting and disappearing protesters.

What's more, they'd have less justification for taking those same actions later, as the end of the 50-year "One Country Two Systems" draws closer and creates more unrest. They know perfectly well they're going to have to deal with escalating protests, and they want to ensure that there's precedent to label the protesters 'separatists'
, 'radicals' and 'rioters' so as to more easily punish them.

Remember how they didn't outlaw freedom of speech in Hong Kong but slowly went after journalists and publishers through abduction, stabbing, threats and other, subtler means? In such a way that it could never be definitively linked back to the government?

Yeah, like that. That's also their plan for Taiwan, by the way.

If the government opens a full inquiry into police violence, that amounts to admitting that the police engaged in unreasonable violence: opening such an inquiry and then concluding that inquiry with "well, we didn't find any instances of police violence! They used reasonable force!" will just spark more protests. It also would require scores of police officers to lose their jobs, which would look bad for the government.

When the protesters - dissidents, really - rightly claim that trust between the police and the public has broken down, the government will gaslight them, and portray them to more conservative Hong Kongers and the world as unreasonable and hotheaded.

Think of it this way: why would a government that fully intends to become authoritarian within the next 30 years admit that the police were violent and the protesters were right? They're going to need those police officers to beat up more protesters over the next few decades, and those officers need to know that acts of brutality against pro-democracy demonstrators will go unpunished. There's no other way for a planned authoritarian state to prepare for what's to come.

Much better to try to wrest back the narrative from the protests now, so that they lose local and international support. There's already a far-too-loud contingent of tankies who are shouting that this is all a CIA plot, or that the protesters are Western imperialism-loving neoliberal scum (or whatever), and they should just shut up and learn to love living under an unfree dictatorship because 'if the West is bad, China must be good'. 


Nevermind that all the protesters are asking for are the same rights and freedoms that Westerners enjoy - only the evil West can "do imperialism", and I guess human rights are just for white people or something (barf).

Those voices will gain more traction. This is what China wants. 


The whole time, both the government and the protesters will know that the movement has in fact failed, and the government will have successfully taken away the ability of the protesters to garner international support.

You know how people who know about the Sunflower Movement often consider it a success because the trade bill that sparked the occupation was essentially killed? And how the Sunflowers themselves have been known to refer to it as a failure, because it brought about no lasting change in Taiwanese politics? Yeah, like that.

Because, of course, the ultimate desire of the Sunflowers was to reshape the way we approach political dialogue and Taiwanese identity vis-a-vis China. The ultimate goal of the Hong Kong is even clearer: true democracy. It was never wholly about extradition to China, not even when this began.

Which leads me to the last part - universal suffrage and 2047.

Seriously, if the protests hadn't broken out now, what did you expect was going to happen 28 years from now?

The Hong Kong China government was never going to offer true universal suffrage or true democracy. It wasn't willing to do that in 2014, and it's not willing to do that now. It has never intended for Hong Kong to move towards universal suffrage; the intent was always to veer away from that, and towards authoritarian rule. The plan is still on for China and Hong Kong to fully integrate in 2047, and the essential problem remains that Hong Kongers simply do not want to live under a fully Chinese political system. They don't want it now, and they'll never want it.

Even scarier, if China did offer Hong Kong more democratic reforms, ultimately they'd try to control that democracy through subtler means - the same way they've been interfering in Taiwanese elections despite having no authority in Taiwan. 


That's a problem that has no solution - there is no middle ground. Even if there were, the CCP is not a trustworthy negotiating partner. As I've said before, there's no emulsifying ingredient for compromise between China's oil and Hong Kong's water. What China plans in the long term is wholly unacceptable to Hong Kong, and what Hong Kong demands is wholly unacceptable to China. Period, hard stop, brick wall, what now?

So while Hong Kong China tries to stave off current protests, the larger problem still looms: what exactly are we going to do as we approach 2047? 


I've said it before and I'll say it again - we all know how this ends. Even if the protests die out tomorrow, in the long run it either ends in a broken Hong Kong, or it ends in a bent-and-cowed China that allows true democracy to flourish within its borders.

Which do you honestly think is more likely? 

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Being a democracy activist in Asia is an act of extreme courage

Screen Shot 2019-08-31 at 12.19.45 AM


Asia woke up this morning to the news that several Hong Kong activists were being arrested or attacked for their alleged roles in the ongoing protest movement there. Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow Ting, Andy Chan, Jimmy Sham, Althea Suen and more (including some pro-democracy lawmakers) have been targeted in various ways - cornered and beaten, shoved into private cars and taken to police stations to face charges or arrested at the airport before a planned trip abroad. One activist was released from police custody and then attacked.

These are only the high-profile arrests. Hundreds more have been quietly arrested in previous weeks:



Notably, the Civil Human Rights Front march that Jimmy Sham was likely involved in organizing hasn't taken place yet. 

What that means is that these activists are being targeted - arrested or beaten - in some cases for things that China Hong Kong anticipates their doing, not things they have already allegedly done.


I cannot stress this enough. It's full-on Minority Report, as a friend put it: arresting someone for a "crime" that has not been committed (yet, allegedly, not that a peaceful march is a crime at all.)

That's not the sort of thing well-functioning societies do; it's the sort of thing fascist states do. It's White Terror. It's pre-massacre. If that alarms you, it should. 

The march has been officially canceled but I'll be very interested to see what actually happens tomorrow. 

These demonstrations are officially 'leaderless', and while organizers certainly exist, it sure looks to me like the Chinese Hong Kong government just decided to go after former protest leaders and other activists almost randomly, either assuming that they must be somehow involved or not caring and just looking to arrest some public pro-democracy figures on whatever charges they could drum up. 

In fact, there are serious doubts as to whether Joshua Wong had a leading role in the Wan Chai demonstration:



That this sudden crackdown on pro-democracy activists happened right before this weekend's planned march hints at China Hong Kong's true intentions: not to actually bring 'leaders' of these demonstrations 'to justice', but rather to scare demonstrators into ending the movement.

Add to this the detention in China of British Consulate employee Simon Cheng on unclear grounds (Cheng has since been released) and the disappearance of Taiwanese activist Morrison Lee after entering Shenzhen (in China) from Taiwan, and you've got yourself quite the 'crackdown' list indeed. What's more, with Cathay Pacific now stating that any employee who protests this weekend or joins the planned general strike next week may face termination, other companies are likely to follow suit. Even more than that, there are rumors of Hong Kong locking down its Internet access much in the way China does its own.

Perhaps most terrifying of all, Lizard Person Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that "all laws" were on the table as possible tools to end the protests. This includes the absolutely terrifying Emergency Regulations Ordinance, which is basically a state of Martial Law:


Such regulations grant a wide range of powers, including on arrests, detentions and deportations, the control of ports and all transport, the appropriation of property, and authorising the entry and search of premises and the censorship and suppression of publications and communications. 
The ordinance also allows the chief executive to decide on the penalties for the offences drawn under the emergency regulations, with a maximum of life imprisonment.

All of this was done by the Hong Kong government officially, but we know who's really running the show. To wit:


The Chinese central government rejected Lam’s proposal to withdraw the extradition bill and ordered her not to yield to any of the protesters’ other demands at that time, three individuals with direct knowledge of the matter told Reuters.... 
Beijing’s rebuff of Lam’s proposal for how to resolve the crisis, detailed for the first time by Reuters, represents concrete evidence of the extent to which China is controlling the Hong Kong government’s response to the unrest.

Of course, it's unclear what China hopes to gain by escalating rather than choosing a path that would bring peace (do not think for a moment that they couldn't choose such a path; they just don't want to. Don't pretend that Beijing is not responsible for its own choices.)

Is it a trap to provoke protesters into actions that could be spun by Chinese state media as "violence" and used as justification for further crackdowns?





Or, perhaps China Hong Kong isn't sure at all what to do about a leaderless protest with very specific demands - including the one thing they are completely opposed to offering (that is, true democracy) - is desperate to stop it, has started panicking and has started randomly arresting figureheads thinking they're all the same kind of 'roaches' anyway. Or, perhaps,  China Hong Kong law enforcement really is stupid enough to believe that these arrests along with talk of 'emergency powers', random attacks and disappearances and more will 'scare' democracy activists away and end the protests. (It won't.)

I don't know, and I'll be watching social media carefully this weekend just like everyone else to find out what the effects will be.

Given all of this, all I can say is - it takes guts of steel to be a democracy activist in Asia these days. Not a dilettante at a keyboard like me, but the ones in gas masks on the streets, the ones likely to be arrested, attacked or disappeared. That's true regardless of where you come from in Asia, and is especially true in Hong Kong now.

It's dangerous to travel, as you never know which countries might detain you at China's request as Thailand did with Joshua Wong. A Taiwanese activist friend of mine has said that as a result, he worries about travel to other parts of Asia. The Philippines, an ostensibly democratic nation, is turning 'death squads' on political activists. Constant threat of attack, detainment or disappearance bring both pride and anguish to their families. Taiwanese and Hong Kong activists now disappear in China regularly - Lee Ming-che, Simon Cheng, Morrison Lee - those who are banned from China got the better deal than those allowed to enter only to be thrown in a cell.

And yet, the protests must go on. The activism must continue. Having guts of steel is necessary, because giving in is not an option. They are not wrong - China is - and it's therefore on China to do the right thing. (They won't.)

For a part of the world that is relatively politically stable (well, outside China) and well-developed, it's an absolute tragedy that this is what one risks when one stands up for the basic right of self-determination, even in the Asian countries that protect such rights.

That leads me to a darker thought. During the 2016 US presidential campaign, I remember Hillary Clinton making an off-the-cuff remark (spoken, and I can't find video) about how the international affairs landscape had changed since the '90s - she said something like "we all believed it was supposed to be the End of History", admitting through her maudlin tone that it had not and would not come to pass. 


I remember Clinton shrugging it off, like "oh well, guess we got that one wrong", as though that's all there was to it. A scholar wrote a thing, we believed that thing, we acted according to our belief in that thing but...haha funny story, turns out he wasn't quite right that free markets under neoliberal capitalism through globalization and wealth creation would bring about liberal democratic reforms in currently illiberal nations and that didn't actually happen lol  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ !

But sitting here in Asia watching people I follow on social media - and in a few cases have some mutual friends with - be arrested or attacked for things that either haven't been done yet or would not be crimes even if they've committed them, it makes me furious. Beliefs like that led the rest of the world to praise China's rapid (if uneven, unreliably measured and volatile) economic development while not saying much at all about continued political oppression there, their escalating nationalist and fascist rhetoric, including 'moral education', and increasingly aggressive expansionism.

And now that big, mean giant is trying to call the shots in Asia well beyond its own borders, and is actively threatening exactly the democracy activists those '90s wonks would have wanted - nay, expected - to succeed.

Basically, the West's oopsie! on believing that freer markets would lead to freer societies has instead led straight to all of the dangers - including threats to their lives - that these brave activists must now face. Believing in hackneyed political philosophy and acting on that, it turns out, has real consequences.

Most of the blame for the poor current state of freedom and human rights in Asia lies with China. Some lies with a few other nations, but none are as powerful as China. But some of it lies with us - the West. We could have figured out in 1989 - the year of both Fukuyama's essay on The End of History and the Tiananmen Square Massacre - that we couldn't just rely on China to liberalize, and that freedoms must be consistently fought for and sometimes paid for with blood. We could have done right by Hong Kong before 1997, actually giving Hong Kongers a say and a true democracy then, rather than relying on China to do the right thing when it was so very clear that it would not. We could have woken up to the need to stand by Taiwan far earlier (some still haven't woken up).

But we didn't. Oops. And Asia suffered for it. 


Another bit of ‘90s era claptrap that hobbles today’s activists in Asia is the notion of ‘Asian-style democracy’ - relentlessly prompted by people like Lee Kuan-yew. This preposterous notion that it’s OK for democracy in Asia to be a bit more authoritarian and much less free ‘because of culture’ - which is what its rationale boils down to - made it that much harder for the millions in Asia, who never consented to this quasi-authoritarian model of limited democracy, to fight for the same freedoms that Westerners expect and enjoy. And it made life more dangerous for activists working for those goals, and who understand that human rights are not ‘cultural’, but universal. That they exist in large numbers and persist in their goals shows that the ‘different cultures’ argument is ultimately specious. 



Asian strongmen - the ones who benefit from the normalizing of this belief - still use the ‘Asian-style democracy’ argument to justify their tactics, China uses the ‘East-West values’ argument, and some Westerners, especially lefties and liberals, lap it up. It allows them to feel good about themselves for understanding ‘cultural differences’ while offering them an excuse to sit back and do nothing without moral guilt. Meanwhile, people who share their vision in Asia fight, are injured, disappear and die, ignored. 

Alongside ‘the end of history’, the troublesome persistence of the ‘Asian values’ paradigm has actively hurt democracy activism here, and continues to harm them. 

Arguably the logic behind the Handover was rooted somewhat in these beliefs (they were popular notions when it was being negotiated in the ‘80s and ‘90s). And now, Hong Kongers are feeling the result. Bad beliefs aren’t just oopsies. They have consequences. 

And now, thanks in some small part to us,  must be very brave and willing to risk everything to fight for democracy in Asia, and we are going to need a lot of gas masks, a lot of umbrellas, and wave upon wave of courageous people.

It should bother you, then, that the people - many of them young, some even teenagers - who are fighting on the front lines of the battle for democracy against authoritarianism are not fighting just for themselves, but for you. This is the front line but if you think China's not coming to subvert your democratic norms too, you're blinkered. In some cases, they already are. It should bother you a lot that they're fighting for themselves and for you, when you helped create a world where it was necessary for them to stand up in the face of bullets, 'private cars', trumped-up arrest charges, water cannons and tear gas. It should bother you that they're risking their livelihoods and their lives to fix a problem you helped create.

And it should bother you that the rest of the world is not standing with them as much as they should. It takes courage to be a democracy activist in Asia, and even greater courage to continue to fight when the world does not necessarily have your back.

So, fellow Westerners, global middle and upper classes, and political influencers. The next time you pat yourself on the back for buying into something that sounds so very clever, think about how many Joshua Wongs are going to end up disappeared, in jail or dead if you are wrong. Think about how many people might have to be brave because you wanted to think yourself smart. 

Friday, August 9, 2019

Hong Kong's in for a weekend of protests, so go check out Taipei's Lennon Wall


The post-it on the right shows a Hong Kong bauhinia with a drawing of Taiwan and says:
"We stand together forever"
Honestly that brought tears to my eyes. To the right, the big characters simply say "freedom". 


I don't have a big post to write here, this is more of a photo essay. 

As you might know already, a Lennon Wall (a wall of pictures, post-its and other written messages inspired by a Beatles-themed wall in Prague) has popped up in Taipei, mimicking several Lennon Walls that have appeared (and are sometimes taken down by pro-China dissenters) in Hong Kong since protests began.


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I'm posting it because not everyone is able to go see the wall - a lot of my readers are not in Taipei, or are perhaps simply not able to make it to Gongguan. I want those people to be able to look at the messages of support written for Hong Kong by the people of Taiwan.

I want to say here that anyone who is unable to go to the wall but would like to add a message of support can leave a comment on this post or on Lao Ren Cha's Facebook page (which you are cordially invited to 'like', by the way) with what you want to say, and I will personally go to the wall, post your message of support, and take a photo to send to you. Seriously - I don't live that far away and I'm pretty free next week. Just ask. 



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The wall is located near MRT Gongguan Station and National Taiwan University's southwestern edge, in the underpass that lets pedestrians traverse the Roosevelt Road/Xinsheng South Road intersection.

I'm not sure why sticky notes are the vehicle of choice for these sentiments, but my guess is that it's because they're easy - the stickiness is right there - they're cheap, they can go up quickly, they're colorful and they won't cause any damage. I don't know about Hong Kong but in Taipei an added advantage is that people can leave blocks of sticky notes behind for others who'd like to add to the wall but haven't brought materials.



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When Brendan went to check it out several days before I did, as I'd been in China, it seemed a lot smaller than it is now. It's absolutely burgeoning with messages now, and I imagine it will only get bigger.

There are volunteers who watch over the wall - after all, Taiwan also has pro-China thugs who tear things like this down out of sheer petty childish vindictiveness. Plus, there are markers, pens and sticky notes made available so anyone can come by and write a message without preparing in advance. 



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The messages come from around the world - Brendan and I are not the only foreigners to have left them - in a variety of languages (though mostly Mandarin, Cantonese, Taiwanese and English).

They are mostly in support of Hong Kong and the protests there - many of them pointing out that what happens in Hong Kong affects Taiwan and we are all in this together in the fight for freedom. Some, however, explicitly reference Taiwan and call for Taiwanese de jure independence.

There's some conflict as well: 



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That's understandable as many Americans in Taiwan (and many Americans in general!) support Taiwan and Hong Kong, but the governments of some countries have been slow to act or show support. 
And, as you can see, while most of the messages are positive and call for peace and non-violence, others take an (also-justified) angrier tone, lashing out at Carrie Lam, Xi Jin-ping, the KMT and the Hong Kong police. 


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A few of them explicitly reference previous social movements in Taiwan and Hong Kong, with pictures depicting yellow umbrellas for Hong Kong's Umbrella Movement and Sunflowers for Taiwan's Sunflower Movement, both of which occurred in 2014.

Those movements, while not entirely successful in changing the political climate long-term in either Taiwan or Hong Kong, have had a lasting impact on activism in both places.

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In several places, the five demands of Hong Kong protesters are laid out: 


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Some point out that protests have grown less peaceful (mostly in defense as the police have unleashed violence on protesters) because "if peaceful protest worked, we wouldn't have to come out every weekend". 


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Others clarify that this fight isn't just about the China extradition bill - Hong Kong wants democracy and it's at a tipping point. The scope of what protesters are fighting for has widened, which is both wonderful and dangerous (and something they were going to have to eventually fight for, which I suspect most people had known already but not necessarily previously articulated.)


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Of course, issues facing Taiwan, Hong Kong, Tibet, Xinjiang and other places are intertwined, as all of us are locked in a battle against an expansionist, aggressive, human-rights-abusing dictatorship that seeks to control us: 


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Similarities between the KMT in Taiwan and the CCP - and the KMT's closeness with China - are also pointed out. Underneath the Winnie the Pooh (Xi Jin-ping) with a KMT sun on his chest, are the words "don't throw your vote away" (literally "don't vote messily/carelessly"). 


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"Today Hong Kong, Tomorrow Taiwan"


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This one speaks for itself.

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A Cantonese version of "Do You Hear The People Sing" has become a popular protest anthem in Hong Kong. I can't help but draw a connection between the hopelessness of the protest in Les Miserables and the protests in Hong Kong. Though Hong Kongers seem to be doing a better job than Enjolras, Marius & the gang. 


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Taoist hexes (I think) being placed on a picture of Carrie Lam. One is about long life, the other says "retrocession for Hong Kong" (back to the UK? Toward independence? I'm not sure). 


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This slogan (on the black paper) was popular during Taiwan's Sunflower Movement:




A memorial for the poncho-clad protester killed as a result of being hit with several water cannons early in the protests. Yellow ponchos have also become a symbol of protest for Hong Kong as a result. 





Pens and post-its are available for anyone who comes unprepared. 


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