The Chinese government, for the first time, has explicitly accused the US and UK of being behind the “pro-democracy” protests in Hong Kong, perhaps funding and organizing them through non-profit organizations such as the National Endowment for Democracy. Whether the charge is true is unclear, but the huge amount of money, logistics and organization required to support the protesters would suggest that only foreign governments or wealthy individuals who might profit from them were behind the protests.
There is also a history of US and UK efforts to destabilize China.
For example, a Chinese-language newspaper estimated that during the 2014 “Umbrella Movement” it cost more than HK$200 million (US$25.5 million) just to feed the protesters alone, a sum that many in the territory seemed to suggest the students did not have. Then there was the question of whether the students had the logistical resources and organizational skill to mount the mass protests.
Furthermore, the UK was accused of “setting up” a time bomb for Hong Kong prior to returning it to the mainland in 1997. The last colonial governor, Chris Patten, was labeled a “sinner of a thousand years” by Lu Ping, head of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the Chinese State Council, for fomenting democratic parties.
Chinese intelligence was said to have informed Deng Xiaoping that a foreign power instigated the Tienanmen Square “pro-democracy” protests in 1989. Though no proof was ever publicly produced, the student protest leaders were reported to have been promised an education at the most prestigious universities in the US and UK. Whether the student leaders of the Hong Kong protests were promised places at US or UK universities is unclear.
US and UK interests
But what possible reasons are there for the US and UK to spend a lot of money and go through so much trouble to fund and organize protests against the Hong Kong or the Chinese government? What could they possibly gain by disrupting or even destroying Hong Kong’s economy, polity and society?
Indeed, at least on the surface, destabilizing China might hurt American and British economic prospects. China is the United States’ biggest trade partner and source of international students, after all. What’s more, the two economies are intertwined, making decoupling extremely costly to some of America’s largest enterprises. China is America’ factory and market. With regard to the UK, China is increasingly important to its economic well-being in light of Brexit.
The only possible motive is that the US, perhaps with the help of or collusion with the UK, is determined to prevent China for challenging its global supremacy. America has tried every trick under the sun, but failed miserably each time.
Unable to recruit or incite mainland Chinese after the Tienanmen Square protest (the “6/4 Incident,” as China preferred to call it) to do its bidding, a small minority of Hong Kong Chinese appeared eager and willing to help the US and their former colonial master to destabilize or even topple China. In this sense, using some of these people to do the job proved viable.
Another reason might be that the US has not been able to “contain” China through trade. Instead, the trade war is slowing US economic growth, putting farmers on the brink of financial disaster, and increasing poverty and homelessness, just to list a few outcomes.
The US has also failed on the geopolitical and technology fronts. Instead of recruiting allies into its “Indo-Pacific” strategy, it has seen India and Japan seeking rapprochement with China. Even its most staunch ally, Australia, has been balancing its relationship between the “security guarantor” and “economic savior.” Instead of Huawei being put out of business by US policies, the company announced a 30% rise in revenue and has signed 50 5G (fifth-generation wireless) contracts, 28 of which were in Europe, so far this year.
China is being hurt by the trade and technology wars as well as the US, but that might be only short term. For example, exports to the US represent only 4% of the country’s GDP and those products could easily be channeled to the country’s 1.4-billion-strong domestic market and countries participating in its Belt and Road Initiative.
What’s more, the majority of “exports” to the US were American products outsourced to China for assembly or production. When President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on the goods, he was in fact taxing American products, taxes paid by the country’s businesses and consumers.
US foreign policies have further strengthened the Chinese accusations. Democratic and Republican lawmakers may fight like cats and dogs over domestic issues, but they are united on foreign policies, particularly those related to China. The latest is lawmakers from both political parties proposing legislation requiring the US president to seek congressional approval before allowing American technology firms to do business with their Chinese counterparts, Huawei in particular. The purpose of the proposed legislation is clear: Prevent China from surpassing US technological superiority.
In many ways, containing China is a priority over everything else, including economic losses. For example, Republican President Donald Trump and his Democratic predecessor Barack Obama both treated China as a “strategic competitor,” though the two presidents’ manner or approach with which to contain the Asian giant differed. Trump is more direct, labeling China an “existential threat” and establishing the “Indo-Pacific” strategy to curb its rise. Obama applied “soft power” such as lobbying allies into signing the Trans-Pacific Partnership to exclude the “communist” country.
If the Chinese accusation that the US and UK were behind the “pro-democracy” protests is true, they will likely be more intense and violent in the future. The sad part is that the youth of Hong Kong who cannot leave the territory will pay the price. A destabilized Hong Kong would doom their future.