Caution needed before the U.S. gets involved in Hong Kong

A glimmer of hope emerged in Hong Kong last week after the formal withdrawal of the extradition bill by Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Demonstrations have been ongoing since June when protestors took to the streets in opposition to the bill, which they claim erodes the legal system. As of now, it appears the withdrawal of the bill has done nothing to placate demonstrators.

Another round of violence between protesters and police broke out on Sunday night which ended with a volunteer aid worker shot by police with a bean bag round or rubber bullet. Riot officers lobbed multiple tear gas canisters at demonstrators gathered near a department store. One reporter was injured when a Hong Kong police officer almost casually tossed a tear gas bomb. Video does not show any protesters standing near officers.

It all started with a march urging the United States to get more involved in the Hong Kong-Beijing dispute. Demonstrators gathered near the US Consulate-General for a rally on the Hong Kong Human Rights Act currently in the U.S. Congress. The bill would allow sanctions on some political leaders in Hong Kong and China. The peaceful event featured American flags and calls for democracy in Hong Kong. Police decided to break up the rally early with RTHK blaming three protesters who pointed lasers at officers.

There are mixed feelings about the potential U.S. law in Hong Kong. Those who support U.S. involvement may be in the minority in the struggle for Hong Kong independence.

“As the United States becomes more vocal over the Hong Kong protests, we ought to remember that any change must come from within the city itself,” a student under the pseudonym ‘Malcolm Wong’ wrote in Hong Kong Free Press on Sunday. “In many ways, this does not need to be stated. The US flag-wavers do not represent the majority of Hongkongers who participate in the protests. Indeed, any substantive interview with any of the flag-bearers discloses the animosity they receive from fellow protesters. After all, how can they support self-determination if they are calling on a foreign power to help them determine their future?”

It should be pointed out ‘Wong’ is worried about what might happen if Hong Kong approves policies which go against U.S. interests.

“All these undeniably positive aspects of the bill, the very things that millions of Hong Kong protesters are fighting for, must be achieved by Hongkongers themselves,” ‘Wong’ explained while noting he supports almost everything within the Hong Kong Human Rights Act. “Currently, the views of US politicians and Hong Kong protesters may broadly align, but we cannot assume that will always be the case. The fact is a negative report to Congress could trigger a wide range of foreign policy options responding to the implementation of local Hong Kong laws that the US government does not agree with.”

South China Morning Post columnist Alex Lo was more explicit his condemnation of the legislation.

“Every year, Hong Kong will be put on the examination table by the Americans, who will effectively be the judge, jury and executioner – to decide on whether “one country two systems” stands or fails for the rest of the world,” Lo opined Sunday while also calling Civic Party leadership “useful idiots” for the United States. “Our Civic Party lawmakers respect the sovereignty of America whereas they denigrate their own country. In a letter to US politicians, they wrote: “The contents of the bill are of course entirely within the prerogative of [US] Congress.” To mess up Hong Kong?”

Lo’s position on the Hong Kong protests tends to fluctuate between peaceful protesters and the government. He has pushed for reform but wants it to come from Hongkongers, not the West.

Some believe the U.S. and the West should show a little more spine in the dispute between the Hong Kong government, China, and the protesters.

“Many Hong Kong people think that it is kind of international help that is very important because it help Hong Kong government be held accountable to the international community and the Chinese government too,” Johns Hopkins professor Ho-Fung Hung said in an interview on Matt Lewis and the News on FTR Radio this past week. “[T]he Chinese government cannot afford [to destroy] Hong Kong’s financial center status yet. So there’s some room that the international community can do to stand with Hong Kong people who want to seek freedom and democracy.”

The legislation could work but concerns about the current climate between the United States and China cannot be ignored. The United Kingdom is too busy with Brexit even though their treaty set up the “one nation, two systems” government in Hong Kong. Sanctions are not necessarily a wise measure. It might be best to support protesters in other ways including donations or diplomacy.

Hong Kong cannot be ignored. These are people standing up for freedom against totalitarianism. The solutions may not come from government but individuals doing what they can to help.