Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung’s promise to reveal the ‘foreign interference’ behind the pro-democracy Occupy movement comes to nothing. All we get is a suggestion that activist-academic Benny Tai received a donation via an extremely sinister HSBC branch in that hotbed of international espionage, Kwun Tong. Benny, speaking from his organization’s secret headquarters inside a volcano in nearby Kowloon Bay, says it’s a joke – but of course he would, wouldn’t he? It would help if Legislative Council President Tsang Yok-sing – widely presumed to be a leading member of Hong Kong’s underground Communist Party – agreed that evidence of such external intervention exists. But, inconveniently, he has said he can’t see any. And CY’s colleagues in government are keeping their heads down on the matter, as if there were something a bit embarrassing about it.
It’s particularly disappointing that CY didn’t produce the extensive report on the US National Endowment for Democracy NGO that landed on my desk a month ago. Some poor wretch put a lot of hard Internet-trawling into it.
CY’s line is that evidence for foreign meddling is significant but he can’t divulge it (national security, you know). Of course, if the national leadership really knew of CIA projects aimed at toppling the Communist regime, they wouldn’t let CY (or anyone else) know that they know. So the ‘evil foreign forces’ accusation may just be a smear – and quite an effective one among xenophobes. Alternatively, we could view it as simply the default response the Chinese government always uses when things go wrong: the Communist Party is perfect, therefore any trouble must be due to hostile elements.
But we should also consider the possibility that Beijing officials really are seeing unfriendly overseas influences at work. To keep the Party in power amid economic and geopolitical change, Xi Jinping’s regime is putting unprecedented effort into creating a new and clear reality for 1.3 billion people. This involves tightly managing media coverage of all political and social issues, making words vanish from on-line searches, and even trying to eliminate discussion, if not knowledge, of whole concepts (the ‘seven don’t mentions’). China’s leaders see ideas as dangerous. The ones they fear the most tend to be widely accepted in the West, and from universal suffrage to nonviolent civil disobedience, they are at large in Hong Kong – sovereign territory separated by just a thin line.
In a climate like this, a planned Occupy Central movement and/or a spontaneous Umbrella Revolution looks and feels like a threat, if you’re a paranoiac (or hyper-sensitive realist who got through an attempted assassination/coup by Bo Xilai and Zhou Yongkang). One rumour is that the PLA were all ready to go in when the students looked set to take over the government offices in Tamar (the seat of power in Hong Kong, and next door to the PLA’s local HQ), and we have CY to thank for convincing Beijing that our own cops could save the day through relatively benign tear gas and beatings. Hard to believe. But property tycoon Thomas Kwok is in prison, and Stanley Ho’s nephew is under arrest for all those leggy bulbous hookers who’ve prowled the Lisboa for years. Normal times stopped a couple of years back, and anything can happen.
Just to make things interesting, an Occupy-related group says it received a donation from a Communist Party member.