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Let’s Give Three Cheers for Those “Western Ears” 

Yesterday, I happened to catch a radio report by NPR’s Julie McCarthy on the latest round of protests in Hong Kong. While listening, I could not help but see the similarities between what is going on in that corner of Asia and what has been going on in the streets of Catalonia during the last month…. but with two important exceptions.

A) The Catalan protesters have been far less violent than the Hong Kong protesters have apparently become.

B) No one from major media that I know of has made a plea, as McCarthy clearly does at the end of her report, for the more powerful party (in her case the Beijing government, in Catalonia the Spanish central government) to sit down and negotiate with the protestors.

Clearly, what’s “good for the goose” in the realm of an official enemy like China is not “good for the gander” in a NATO ally like Spain.

McCarthy gives away the Orientalist logic of the US mainstream media complex she works within toward the end of report when she refers to the counsel the Chinese government recently received from a panel of some 400 outside experts:

They (the Chinese government officials) were being told that you’ve got to dialogue. And, in fact, you had some of them saying what you really need to do first of is meet the demands. Meet the demands. …which include an inquiry into the police and direct elections. But to Western ears, that may make a lot of sense. To ears in Beijing that involves great concessions. And if Xi Jinping is more concerned about control than amity, and in saving Hong Kong, he doesn’t grant them those concessions. It’s a difficult way for them to think. They lose a lot of face in the middle of all that. So hands off Hong Kong means a little less of that rejuvenation of the motherland that Xi Jinping is trumpeting.

Thank god for the existence of those “WESTERN EARS”, they are no doubt saying in Madrid.

Thanks to the concept of “western ears” (as well eyes) that Julie and so many members of her profession explicitly or implicitly believe in, we now know that  things like refusing to dialogue with, or grant concessions to, internal democratic movements while simultaneously loosing police brutality against them is a strictly “Eastern“ problem.

As is the concern about ”losing face” to a democratic movement that calls attention to the authoritarian underpinnings of your state. Or having a predilection among certain national elites—who by the way would never remotely entertain the idea of advice from outsider experts—toward “control” over “amity” when dealing with the defense of the “motherland” or the fatherland (patria).

What a relief to know this that when it comes to such unfortunate matters, what goes on in China, stays in China …and never affects “our” community of civilized nations.

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Thomas S. Harrington is a professor of Iberian Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut and the author of the recently released  A Citizen’s Democracy in Authoritarian Times: An American View on the Catalan Drive for Independence  (University of Valencia Press, 2018).

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