Numerous alternative media outlets, including WikiLeaks, have pointed out the connections between Occupy Central and the United States government through an organization called the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). I am not surprised at this, nor do I welcome it, given the United States’ questionable record (to put it nicely) at bringing “democracy” to countries where it has intervened in the past. It is most likely in Hong Kongers’ best interests that the US withdraw its monetary support for Occupy Central, as unlikely as this is to happen.
The same outlets, however, have been openly hostile towards Occupy Central for these reasons alone. Tony Cartalucci recently claimed that the protests “masquerade as a “pro-democracy” movement seeking “universal suffrage” and “full democracy,” but are really backed by “a deep and insidious network of foreign financial, political, and media support”. This assessment doesn’t do Hong Kong justice for two reasons: firstly, it portrays Hong Kongers’ grievances at the status quo as fictional and illegitimate, when they are in fact real, and it treats the protesters as pawns, when many in fact are taking to the streets of their own accord. Secondly, by treating the US as the sole independent actor in the movement and focusing entirely on analyzing and criticizing its actions in other countries, it only strengthens a United States-centred worldview that the mainstream media likewise seeks to disseminate.
None of the support provided by the NED for Occupy Central changes the reality of the economic situation facing middle- and working-class Hong Kongers today, brought about by the most extreme form of capitalism that the world has ever seen – to the extent that the extreme-right-wing Heritage Foundation dubs it “the world’s freest economy” year after year. It is poor journalism to even attempt to analyze the roots of discontent in Hong Kong while paying no attention to the structural factors involved, and yet the alternative media, like the mainstream media, have been guilty of doing so. Foreign writers who claim the movement is orchestrated purely by Americans are naive to believe Hong Kongers can simply be co-opted by an external force to demonstrate. This type of thinking is unfortunately symptomatic of a neocolonial conviction that somehow only “Westerners” are capable of thinking for themselves and acting of their own accord. Hong Kongers, like the Ukrainians, Syrians, Iraqis, Libyans and Venezuelans, are merely being manipulated by the “West”. Of course they are. After all, only those protesting against regimes in the “West” or backed by the “West” are legitimate – the rest are mere agents for “regime change”!
I will admit that I am not at all optimistic about the prospects of Occupy Central bringing genuine social change to Hong Kong. These prospects are only diminished by the involvement of the United States, with its own neoliberal and far-less-than-democratic agenda. They are further diminished by the absence of any radical groups calling explicitly for a more equitable distribution of income and wealth and end to the state’s collusion with established local and Chinese elites. But what is evident is that the status quo leaves no room for Hong Kongers to decide on how their territory is run, and that attaining the vote provides the opportunity, though far from a guarantee, for genuine socioeconomic reform, by deposing the established political and economic elite from their position of power. Who we will replace them with must be ours to choose, and that is precisely why the United States, as with China, must step back and allow Hong Kongers to decide their own fate.
Ming Chun Tang is a Hong Kong-born writer and a student at Hamilton College (New York), currently at the London School of Economics. He blogs at Clearing the Rubble.