The Soft-power of Hong Kong Protesters

Freedoms not enjoyed by Americans, Brits, Canadians, and Australians

In a recent international human rights forum at Oslo where Julian Assange, Edward Snowden, Bradley Manning and other jailed Occupy Wall Street protesters such as Cecily McMillan were not invited,  a BBC report (21 Oct 2014) revealed that, “it is an open secret at this meeting that plans were hatched for the demonstrations (in Hong Kong) nearly two years ago, perhaps more than 1,000 of them have been given specific training to help make the campaign as effective as possible.”  The forum is filled exclusively by well funded non-western “dissidents” demonstrating no interest in echoing the voices of the 5,500 anti-US military protesters in Okinawa;  or the suffering of the victims of U.S. nuclear tests in the Pacific without compensation; or the extrajudicial killing of almost a thousand unarmed civilians and children within five years by U.S. drones operation in Pakistan alone.  The protesters in Hong Kong enjoyed overwhelming support from the Oslo Freedom Forum, while  the death of 5,000 civilians across America since 9/11 by the brutal and trigger happy U.S. police forces were ignored.  

The power of Occupy Hong Kong protesters

Above Picture: Images of  “pro-democracy” protesters in Hong Kong ignored by the Western media

Above Picture: Images of “pro-democracy” protesters in Hong Kong ignored by the Western media

Thousands of uncompromised protesters in Hong Kong have strategically and successfully occupied and erected barricades in a number of main thoroughfares (Central, Causeway Bay, and Mongkok) causing chaos to traffic, businesses, and residents living in and around the protest zones for over a month now. What most western media failed to report is that, at the beginning of the protests, 3,000 public servants were unable to go to work; there are still 37 bank branches that remain closed in the protest zones a month later; tourist arrivals were down during the Golden Week in October with up to a 40% reduction in sales to the retail industry. Shops in the protest zones desperate for business, offered a 50% store-wide discount and saw few customers. A report by BBC at the beginning of the protest (3 Oct) reported the ANZ bank estimated that the protests may have cost the city’s retailers more than HK$2bn.

As a result of the barricades, ambulances on emergency calls were unable to travel to the nearest hospital causing the death of a patient.  Residents in the protest zones complain about the disruption to their daily life as public transport and taxis were not available for them to travel to work and send their children to school; an elderly woman with difficulty walking was reportedly forced on foot to visit hospital for her medications.

The arrangement of open debates on TV for the protesters to directly air their views to the government and public failed to satisfy the protesters.

An order issued by the High Court on 21 October 2014 to end the illegal assembly has been ignored.

Images of protesters playing mah-jong and table tennis right in the middle of the streets, having carnival-like-fun, enjoying hotpots, where some even brought in their beds and mattresses were basically ignored by the western media.

The Time report titled ‘The Main Hong Kong Protest Site is a Perfect Anarchist Collective’ has an accurate description of the protests: “There are no leaders, but everything, from the supply tents to the recycling stations, runs just beautifully.”

The powerless majority

Two months before the planned Occupy Central protest, over a million signatures had been collected in Hong Kong in opposition to the planned protests. In August, hundreds of thousands rallied against the planned Occupy movement. At the beginning of the Occupy protests, 1.5 million Hong Kong people again signed a petition to demand peace and reject the Occupy Central protest. A Facebook site in the name of ‘Silent Majority for Hong Kong’ is liked by more than 90,000 people. On 6 October, a Hong Konger was videoed emotionally kowtowing to student protesters telling them: “Please go home, we have kids to feed”. On 13 October, some out-of-patience truck and taxi drivers and unions tried to talk to the student protesters and tear down the barricades, but the students wouldn’t listen. Reuters (UK) described the hundreds of people who tore down protest barriers as “look[ing] like gangsters”. On 14 October, an 88-year-old elderly man was reported kneeling in front the student protesters urging them to “open up the road so that people can go to school and work as usual.” The frustration against the dictatorial and unreasoning protesters by the average Hong Konger can be felt by simply viewing the daily video footage on Hong Kong TV (not the Western media). That same day, a number of police officers were reportedly removed from positions after an alleged beating of a protester was caught on video.  On 28 October, 550 Hong Kong doctors likened the Occupy movement to ‘cancer’ in a petition calling for an end to the protests. On 4 November, a report by the Straits Times revealed that the Alliance for Peace and Democracy collected more than 1.83 million signatures within 9 days in a campaign to end the Occupy protests.

Protesters’ soft-power and the “Free” world leaders, NGOs and media

Earlier on, when Hong Kong police tried unsuccessfully to remove protesters with tear gas and arrests, Human Rights Watch emailed to subscribers an article titled ‘Hong Kong: Free Protesters, Avoid Excessive Force’.  Amnesty International did the same with a series of articles such as ‘China: Immediately release supporters of Hong Kong protests’ and ‘Hong Kong: alarming Police response to student pro-democracy protest’. Western leaders also took turns to condemn the Hong Kong authorities and Beijing against the crackdown on protesters. For example, David Cameron said, “UK will stand up for Hong Kong Protesters’ rights.”  The US Congress released a special Congressional report on Hong Kong openly supporting the protesters. So did Canada and the surprisingly (this time only) less aggressive Australia. Western media (just to name a few, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, Murdoch’s News, and the Washington Post) likened the crackdown as possibly another Tiananmen Square massacre in the making. They all ignored the confessions made by a number of their own journalists, declassified western government documents, the work of historians and eye witnesses accounts about the fact that “no one died at Tiananmen Square” in 1989, and that the violence was started by the so-called “unarmed” and “peaceful” protesters. Click here for an example of how the BBC manufactured the perception of a “Massacre” without having to show their viewers a single shot of a dead person.

What China can learn from the “Free” world about protest management

In the eyes of the “Free” world and their so-called “NGOs” and “Free” media, the freedom of the Western trained Hong Kong protesters to disrupt the city economy and the daily life of the average Hong Kong people out weighted the rights of the entire population freedom to use those public spaces.

The Chinese leadership may have been too busy dealing with dignitaries across the world hoping to build a 21st Century Silk Road through their high speed rail diplomacy, BRICS’ Bank, the 4th Plenum, and the APEC summit in Beijing;  their lack of attention and silence on the Hong Kong protests did not exempt them from the smear campaign by the Western media.

As a researcher of media disinformation, I always believe in the power of comparisons. Human rights and freedom are not single sum games, the only way to objectively assess the issues is to compare what others did given the similar circumstances.

During the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests in America, anti-protests laws were strengthened to ban serving food and setting up tents across the country. This is to ensure that the protesters were unable to sustain their protests. As a result, homeless communities across America became the collateral victims of the new laws.  As the US economy continues to struggle with more and more angry people among the population, in 2014, more and more cities across America joined the ranks to make it illegal to hand out food to the homeless.

In sharp contrast to the protests in Hong Kong and Tiananmen Square in 1989, where the protesters were the ones who erected the barricades, in the land of “Freedom” it was actually the US government who erected the barricades against the protesters. The so-called anti-Wall Street protests actually did not took place at Wall Street as they were not allowed to. In August, 2014, it was reported that ‘Protests in New York City lead to police barricades and arrests.’

Ironically, while the Hong Kong government arranged a live telecast meeting with the protesters, so as the Beijing government (through Premier Li Peng) during the 1989 Tiananmen incident, the US president not only did not border to address the concerns of the protesters in regards to the issue of 99% vs. 1%; in an incident when President Obama arrived at a protest venue to address the 1% who were paying up to $35,800 each for a diner with him, the protesters were reportedly “penned in an enclosure of barricades, informed that the area has been designated a ‘frozen zone’ until the president departure.”

While the “free” world leaders defended the rights of Hong Kong protesters to continue occupying and obstructing the rights and freedom of the entire Hong Kong population by barricading roads, it is a known reality that, the laws in the entire western “free” world criminalised protesters who obstruct traffic during a protest. One classic example is that, during the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests in New York, the protesters who marched across Brooklyn Bridge were reportedly blocked off by police after actually being allowed onto the roadway. Once they met the police line, they ended up being arrested one-by-one for obstruction of traffic. Over 700 were arrested in this way.

A website documented the arrests of Occupy protesters across America with hyperlinks to the sources of each arrest found that almost 8,000 arrested in 122 cities. If one clicks through all the links on the website to view the respective reports, images, and videos, one will notice the media-trivialized weapons used by the US authorities against the protesters include (but not exclusively):

  1. Pepper spray and other chemical weapons
  2. Pepper ball guns
  3. Rubber bullets
  4. Tasers
  5. Drugging
  6. Punches to the face
  7. Teargas
  8. Batons
  9. Flash-bang devices
  10. Bean bag guns

The names of these media-trvialized weapons may sound harmless, however, if one researches Wikipedia using the respective name of the weapons, one will learn that many of the media-trvialized weapons are extremely painful and harmful to their victims with yearly cases of reported deaths and permanent injuries.

The same situation exists in Canada; in order to prevent the spread of the anti-capitalist movement, the Canadian government indiscriminately arrested 1,100 protesters in 2011. A year later, only 24 of them were convicted for violating any law.  At a time of economic hardship and rising social anger, the Harper government enacted a new law in 2013 threatening masked protesters with a ten-year jail terms.  Arresting protesters in Canada is as common as in the US; an incident in March 2014 alone saw 300 arrested at Montreal for protesting against police brutality.

The Australia government is also fair and just toward protesters. At a time of rising social dissatisfaction, new anti-protest laws were introduced in the past year. Just to name a few, in 2013, the State of Queensland enacted ‘anti-association laws’; in 2014, Victoria introduced ‘move on laws’, so that  police could arrest any protester who refused to obey their order to leave;  in Tasmania, the new anti-protesters laws were criticised by the United Nations as “contraven[ing] Australia’s human rights obligations.” A recent report by The Australian revealed that a special Brisbane court will be operating around-the-clock starting 10 November, five days before the G20 summit, to handle potential mass arrests against anti-capitalism protesters. The new anti-protest laws, G20 (Safety and Security) Act 2013, that governed the Brisbane operation were passed in October 2013.

In Britain, despite PM Cameron’s pledge to defend the rights of Hong Kong protesters in early October, Euro News reported (20 October) that merely 3 days into the protests, the Westminster police had already decided to removed the tents and protesters under a new laws which forbid anyone sleeping on the green opposite parliament.

Perhaps Beijing and Hong Kong authorities should learn from the “free” world in enacting new laws and removing protesters who break the laws with decisiveness. The perception of freedom and human rights as western values is nothing more than the propaganda power of the western media. Protesters in Hong Kong and other developing nations should be realistic with their expectations. Freedom to protest must go hand in hand with social responsibility. The freedom of others to use those public spaces should also be respected.

Wei Ling Chua is an accredited INS and ANFS Freelance Journalist. He is also the author of Tiananmen Square 'Massacre’? and Democracy: What the west can learn from China. He can be reached at: Twitter: OcastJournalist. Read other articles by Wei Ling, or visit Wei Ling's website.