I was in Hong Kong a few weeks before the Umbrella Movement broke out. And I made a prediction: The protests would change nothing, China would do nothing, there would be a lot of noise, then it would fizzle out and the 2017 elections would go forward as planned. It looks like I was right.
I don’t agree or disagree with this, it was merely a prediction. Now, what do I think about the “democracy” protests in Taiwan and Hong Kong…
I think countries need to deal with their own problems. America is running dry on money because they prop up democracies all over the world, rather then giving people the freedom to pursue their own dreams. All this so-called “help” that America “gives [with obligation]” cripples nations like an over-protective mother smothering her children from being able to stand on their own.
No one helped America run their own country. That’s true democracy. “Helping” other democracies isn’t democratic. I absolutely support true democracy, which is why I won’t help Taiwan or Hong Kong with theirs. If you help the egg hatch, you kill the chick who stands to benefit from the struggle.
Generally, it makes me sad when I see Westerners in Hong Kong talking about how they enjoyed the Umbrella Movement. It’s interference, as I see it, and it won’t help achieve anything from any perspective—peace, democracy, economics.
As for Beijing, they can’t win by anyone’s standard. If they give Hong Kong the free democracy they want, they would loose face. If Hong Kong became a democracy, they would need to provide their own military, which no one seems to be interested in discussing. But Beijing won’t allow Hong Kongers to join the PLA military of China—after seeing these protests this is apparently for good reason. Then, if a non-military country was given its own democracy just for disrupting traffic, they might elect a bad leader like many democracies have been doing recently. That would also be a problem because Beijing wants Hong Kong to prosper. No matter what Beijing does, someone will say they are wrong.
This week, Beijing still can’t win in anyone’s view as the Umbrella Movement leaders are being pursued in court for charges relating to unlawful assembly—they really did cause traffic and commuting problems. If authorities don’t enforce those laws, then they appear weak. If they punish the leaders, merely for being a disturbance to traffic, then those leaders have more attention in the press—and all press is good press in any press war.
One thing the Umbrella Movement has done is draw attention. By those standards, they won. This is different from Taiwan’s Sunflower movement, which, while it gained attention in the press, that attention was mostly in Taiwan. Sunflowers had to run an add in the New York Times to get American attention. They pushed for a legal change, then declared victory and went home when they got it. Sunflowers got local and real change. But, the Umbrellas… Marry Poppins, anyone?
The Umbrella Movement seemed to be engaged in a media war from the beginning. Asian media boss, Jimmy Lai, reportedly funded many of the events behind the Umbrella Movement and was quick to get camera flyover video footage of the large gatherings in Central. Today, Joshua Wang still capitalizes on the charges against him by making headlines. The thrill for attention reminds me of the musical Chicago.
While I applaud anyone for being skilled enough to turn bad press into good press—something American Christians could do better at—I have a small problem with the Hong Kong protests. Unlike the Sunflower Movement, the Umbrella Movement’s occupation of main highways disrupted civilian life. They affected the wrong people. By contrast, Taiwan’s Sunflower Movement only occupied the Legislature and the small streets next to it, not the main highways nearby. There are occasional large gatherings on the main roads, but those are done with a permit, which was not the three-week Sunflower occupancy. And, while some locals complained about the demonstrations in the streets, they were local. Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement disrupted the whole city’s traffic.
The Sunflower Movement also lasted three weeks, then they left voluntarily after a simple concession for transparency. The Umbrella Movement lasted two months until it ran out of resources. Lastly, something everyone overlooks: Military controls every country. America, Taiwan, and Sparta all had strong democracies because the people serve their own country. Hong Kong doesn’t and they weren’t asking to serve.
Beijing’s position, though I don’t entirely agree with it, makes a lot of sense. They want to vet politicians to make sure Hong Kong doesn’t make the same mistakes that many democracies often make with elections, ergo the last two decades. Again, Hong Kong needs China to pay the military bill, so Beijing should have some say. Russia was overwhelmed with instant democracy when the Berlin Wall fell, and that failed. Beijing, knowing history, doesn’t want Hong Kong to be another Russia.
Beijing is moving Hong Kong in a positive direction, having increased the Hong Kongers’ freedom steadily since leaving British Tyranny—something Americans should be able to identify with. The students in Hong Kong weren’t angry about the direction of Hong Kong’s move toward democracy, they objected to the speed. They wanted the same kinds of freedoms coming in 2017 to be bigger and faster.
Ultimately, it’s not true democracy in 2017, but it isn’t unreasonable either. The problem is that Beijing promised not to interfere with Hong Kong’s governance. So, we’re at a standoff. Beijing can’t make Hong Kong happy as long as Hong Kong us under China’s rule. But the other option would be to remain under British rule, which had much less freedom. If Hong Kong were an independent country, it would surely be targeted by other countries, such as Iran and North Korea. So, neither Hong Kong or Beijing can win in anyone’s opinion. It’s a catch-22.
Did Beijing break their promise? Arguably, but not as much other countries do every day. In all fairness, and to prove that I’m not just a Beijing minion, I need to offer some criticism of the Communists. But I can’t criticize China for anything for which America doesn’t deserve equal criticism: Global domination isn’t a solution to domestic problems.
Beijing believes that Western ideas are infiltrating their country, that the protests in their own borders are caused by Western thought and media, and their solution is to control their neighboring islands and territories. Similarly, Washington DC sees hatred in the world and thinks the solution is always to justify another war, resulting in another permanent US military base in someone else’s backyard.
But, China and America, both, would see things simmer down in their own borders if they just focused on fortifying and properly managing the home front. I criticize China and America equally: Fix your own home first. I want peace.
Other than that, I can’t tell China what to do about their polluted air and their protest problems. That’s China’s home and their problems to solve. I just think we should solve our problems at home instead of expanding our homes. So many people—even pastors and business leaders—think that the solution to their problems is to take over someone else’s stuff, gossip about someone else’s problems, or “help” someone else who is doing better than they are. Most Americans and Chinese people seem to think the same thing.
Conflict in the Pacific is brewing. But, it won’t be China v US, it will be Beijing v Washington. And that’s something else that both governments should think about in their calculations. If war breaks out in the Pacific, it will mean domestic violence in both America and China. So, in calculating for war in the Pacific, they need to determine if they have what it takes to keep peace at home when the people don’t want to be dragged into a city-to-city global domination game.
I have a strong personal policy of non-interference. It’s not political correctness. It’s not fear of reprisal. I don’t want to meddle in someone else’ domestic affairs. And, even if democratic progress will help, then it must develop on its own. The same is true for Christian missionaries. The Chinese kicked-out American missionaries and the Chinese Church thrived ever since. Christians are another group that needs to manage the home front first. As Jesus said, “Pluck the log from your own eye first, then you can see clearly to help your brother.” Too many self-absorbed American Christians want to take the message of Jesus, but they don’t want to obey it.
When I was in Taipei to see what was happening with the Sunflower Movement, some people asked me to give a speech. But I profusely refused. “No way!” I said. “You don’t need my help. It would be interfering. I’m a guest in your country. And you need to do this on your own.” They didn’t like that. But, I’m not here to make friends. I don’t love peace, but I’m determined to make it. Loving peace and making peace are two different things.
I came to Asia to understand other countries. And, when history was in the making, the Sunflower Movement demonstrations were a perfect opportunity for me to break out of my American self-absorbed bubble.
I was kindly allowed to enter Taiwan’s occupied legislature by the Taiwan police. I was there as a writer who wanted to see what was happening with my own eyes. My main observation: Everyone was peaceful, students and police alike. This seemed strange to me as an America who comes from a culture more addicted to escalation than an alcoholic is addicted to… well, alcohol. My hat was off to the Taiwanese for being so peaceful.
The only other protest that I saw in person was an apparent fake protest of fake Taiwanese in Hong Kong. Two groups of about ten people each stood in a side street in Causeway Bay. The fake Taiwanese wore yellow t-shirts and flew as many Taiwanese flags as they could, as often as they could. They were supposedly angry about something, but no one really knew what. Another group came to protest the fake protestors, carrying a laminated sign that had all the pictures of the fake Taiwanese protestors. The protestors protesting the protestors said that the protestors were impostors paid to be there.
So, when I tried to see if the fake protestors were indeed fake, I tried to speak to them in Mandarin, but they just looked at me like they couldn’t understand. They didn’t look or act like Taiwanese (and I know Taiwanese and Hong Kongers well). And something else was wrong: They lacked spirit. Taiwanese protestors have passion and vibrance. These impostors were more interested in playing on their smartphones.
Why were they there? Was someone paying them—someone who needed to sell newspapers? Could they have been paid by someone like Jimmy Lai or one of his competitors among the many newspapers in Hong Kong’s saturated news market? A local seemed Hong Kong man seemed to think so.
Looking at the Hong Kong protests from the perspective of the West, it is easy to think that democracy was the main drive. But, in Hong Kong, there are always “other” business factors that Westerners don’t normally experience in their own countries. That’s when I foresaw that the then “Occupy Central” movement, which would become the Umbrella Movement, would likely be inflated by local media and obsessed over by the West. The prediction of a fizzle-and-pop, with no change, was easy to make.
Do I think less of Joshua Wang? No. Was he fake? I don’t know him, but I think he’s most likely genuine. He could become a great entrepreneur, writer, speaker, or all three, once he finishes his 10,000 hours of mastery. We all should respect what he’s done. But we should let his work stand on its own. Hong Kong doesn’t need “help” with their democratic goals because that wouldn’t be democratic. And Americans need to drop the messiah complex and focus on their own country’s problems rather than distracting themselves by “helping” others.
That day, in Causeway Bay one late September, the Hong Kong police were peaceful as they have always been every time I have seen them. They focused on keeping the protestors from attacking each other and wanted to clear the street so cars and shoppers could pass.
At one point, a man and woman started screaming at each other. The police didn’t want to interfere too much, but were definitely worried. So, I took the initiative and stepped between them and looked the other way. I figured, as a Westerner, I stood out and, thus, might be able to “stand between”, just to keep the peace. They split up and the lady accused me of being uninterested in the truth. Their fight ended and I made my prediction.
I wasn’t there for the Umbrella Movement. Honestly, I didn’t want to be. I don’t travel to Hong Kong as a reporter. I go to Hong Kong to get inspiration for business ideas. Since Britain left, Hong Kong has developed its own entrepreneurial culture that New York has long since forgotten. In a sense, Hong Kong, under Beijing rule, taught me what it means to be an American.
As for abuse from police, in Hong Kong and in Taiwan, it wasn’t normal. Taiwan’s Premier, who appeared in court concerning the beatings outside his office, resigned following the 2014 mid-term elections. Police beatings are a bigger problem in America with young hot-head police trying to boss around seasoned citizens. Asia doesn’t have that generational clash, however. Hong Kong’s police beatings were reportedly somewhat more frequent than Taiwan’s, but not much. Taiwanese protestors did not harm police, while Hong Kong protestors did, though this, too, was rare.
The only thing I saw in Hong Kong, months before the Umbrella Movement, were fake protestors, protestors of fake protestors, and police who didn’t want violence. I tip my had to Taiwan and Hong Kong for keeping peace. That is the one thing I hope we all can learn.