Is the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong really just a devious foreign plot to undermine the future prosperity of China?

Ignore the argument, blame the foreigners
14 October 2014

One of the repeated themes from Beijing and its supporters in the current battle for democracy in HK is that the whole democracy movement is just a foreign plot executed by foreign agents in Hong Kong. Whenever someone who is not a Chinese national speaks on the subject, they are carrying out "foreign interference in Chinese affairs", unless they happen to coincide with Beijing's view, in which case they are likely to be welcomed with open arms and have their views promoted through official media.

Attacks on the motives, backgrounds or source of funds of critics are the last resort of any government (elected or not) that cannot defend its policies, whatever the subject. Rather than address the arguments and defend the indefensible, they just attack the critics, and it's always easier to do that if the critics are foreign, or can be linked to foreigners. Just wrap yourself in the flag and blame foreign influence.

So Argentina's government blames its debt default on foreigners rather than on its past economic policies; Venezuela's government blames the USA for its economic collapse and blames Spiderman (yes really) for its violent crime wave; and China's government blames foreigners for "making" HK citizens want democracy and supporting their efforts financially. The Central People's Government insults the intelligence of HK Chinese citizens by claiming that they are mere tools of foreigners.

Democratic societies, almost by definition, believe (by majority) that democracy is a good thing, or at least better than authoritarianism, otherwise they would vote (for one last time) to abolish democracy and that would be the end of it. So it is not surprising then, that through their governments, they openly, and sometimes covertly, seek to promote these ideas to non-democratic parts of the world.

The US Government partly funds the National Endowment for Democracy and the US and many other governments partly fund the National Democratic Institute. The European Endowment for Democracy is funded by the European Union and many member states. Other support for democracy comes from individual philanthropy such as George Soros' Open Society Foundations, and yes, from sometimes covert sources to avoid the very attacks we are talking about. These organisations in turn are fully entitled to support those who agree with their views.

China is, similarly, fully entitled to advance its world view through its overseas media channels, by funding overseas NGOs, or whatever methods it chooses, as long as it complies with local laws. So if it wants to establish or fund NGOs which advocate a one-party state and abolition of civic freedoms in the USA or EU, then it is perfectly entitled to do so. We don't think these ideas would gain much traction though, and ironically China would only be able to make its case because the USA and EU have those civic freedoms which China lacks.

Closer to home, it is an open secret that pro-Beijing business people have long-financed the best-funded party in HK, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of HK. We published their latest accounts yesterday. They even hold dinners where they pay silly prices for autographs by senior mainland officials here. That's a win-win proposition - make the officials feel good about their brushwork while pouring money into the party coffers and gaining some goodwill. That's all fine with us - but when a pro-democracy business person donates to pro-democracy parties, then he gets accused of corrupting politicians and is publicly visited by the ICAC.

Meanwhile back in the People's Republic, the Government denies its people the right to speak, assemble and publish freely, and denies them access to all independent media coverage of the debate in Hong Kong. If the Chinese leadership truly believed that its authoritarian system of Government is better suited to China today than democracy would be, then it would have no fear of removing mainland reporting restrictions, removing censorship of the internet, and letting its own people debate the way forward and then conclude that the unelected government of the Communist Party of China is indeed a better way forward than democracy. But that's not what the leadership truly believes, is it?

©, 2014

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