Under strict orders to spout nothing but lines from Beijing’s turgid and tattered script, government officials had no chance of ‘winning’ yesterday’s non-debate with pro-democracy students. All they could do was come across as impotent has-beens being kicked around by a bunch of geeky kids in T-shirts.
But it does represent a victory for the local administration – over Mainland cadres who have been micro-managing the fight against the pro-democracy movement. The Chinese Communist Party’s only conceivable response to opposition is to crush it, or at least freeze it out by orchestrating mass-hatred and smear campaigns. The failure of such tactics in Hong Kong must have sunk into even the thickest Beijing skull: over several months, United Front bullying and ultimately excessive police action turned Occupy Central from a dry academic exercise about to fizzle out into a glorious and globally acclaimed people’s uprising. Yesterday’s humiliating acknowledgment that the student activists exist suggests that the local bureaucrats are being allowed to run the day-to-day show again. (When historians get around to doing the Umbrella Revolution, they will want to explore the behind-the-scenes conflict between local and national governments.)
One of the students’ more powerful arguments was that the Hong Kong government’s report to Beijing on the need for political reform was a farce. As a concession to save face all round, the administration proposes to send an ‘informal’ note to the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office with an updated (as in ‘more truthful’) account of local views. Like the students-officials summit itself, this won’t lead to any substantial change, but it is a symbolic admission of a mistake by the government.
That was also, of course, Beijing’s doing. But wait! The Communist Party is infallible, so mistakes are by definition somebody else’s fault.
This means the hunt for foreign interference in Hong Kong must continue. Chief Executive CY Leung has promised to unveil the rogue barbarian subversives when it is ‘appropriate’.
The pro-Beijing camp has long accused pro-democrats of treachery. One favoured piece of evidence is veteran campaigner Martin Lee’s frequent visits over the decades to Washington DC to lobby in vain for his cause. A more recent one is pro-dem publisher Jimmy Lai’s business dealings with former US official Paul Wolfowitz, or the fact that his aide Mark Simon’s father’s best-friend’s neighbour’s great-aunt knew someone who worked at the CIA. They could make a fuss over pro-dems’ spouses’ foreign passports and kids’ education overseas – but they don’t because government officials have them too.
In search of something more convincing, fingers are now pointing at the National Endowment for Democracy, a Reagan-era, partly government-funded non-profit aimed at spreading liberty around the world. It rejects accusations of masterminding the (seriously disorganized) Occupy Central movement, explaining that it gives funding to some local groups like Human Rights Monitor (founded, I think, by now-Environment Under-Secretary Christine Loh).
It has also funded a thing called the National Democratic Institute, which is similarly dedicated to building up accountable government and apple pie across the world. Among its activities in Hong Kong, the NDI has provided training in subjects like media relations and polling techniques to political parties, including the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of HK and the Liberal Party – both of which are pro-Beijing. It was a while ago, and you’d need to dig around to find out more (this Wikileaks fragment alludes to it – NDI also worked a bit with Civic Exchange, also founded by Christine Loh). But if the powers of darkness do start smearing pro-dems for dealings with patronizing US foundations bringing truth and enlightenment to benighted little brown brothers overseas, it’s worth bearing in mind that pro-Beijing parties and a now-government official are similarly tainted.
(A very Mainland-style think tank called the Tianda Institute alleged something along these lines in a hilariously silly piece in yesterday’s South China Morning Post. To get an idea what sort of psychedelic drugs these guys are on, you should also check their Construction of Middle Class Ideology: A New Set of Universal Values. Hard to say sometimes whether the Communist Party is a sort of religion or an actual parallel universe.)
I think I’ve got it! Foreign organizations that are genuinely responsible for stirring up unrest among the Hong Kong people: Louis Vuitton, Prada, Audemars Piglet, Armani, Omega, L’Occitane, Gucci, etc, etc. etc, not to mention Cow & Gate, Wyeth, Abbott, etc, etc.