One of the most interesting elements of the developing situation in Hong Kong is the move, now several weeks old, by the Central Government authorities to build a very strong case that at the root of the conflicts in Hong Kong are agents provocateurs representing foreign powers. But not just any old foreign power--but the one foreign power with which China is currently engaged on multiple fronts in a fight for the redefinition of the relations between them. Of course I mean the United States.
In some respects Hong Kong offers a crisis form which China may well be tempted to seek advantage. One cannot blame them--the potential benefits are substantial. It provides a basis for legitimacy in intervention, it shifts focus form domestic conflict to foreign manipulation, and it may strengthen China's hand in both its current conflict with the United States over trade and in China's efforts to reshape the tenor and foundation of global international discourse (and China's place in the management of that narrative).
All of this is fair game, I suppose, within the rules of international engagement that have become the "new normal" after the rise of the current holders of positions of national leadership since 2014. A new historical era demands conformity to the rules (the "truths" of that era) that are manifested in the historical conditions within which states find themselves (the "facts" form which truth is derived). The Americans have themselves refined this technique for its own new era through the politics of "Russian interference" that has played a dominant role in the politics of discrediting the Trump administration. This is a tool that anyone, then, can use, to their own strategic ends.
This considers some of the actions that may point to the development by Chinese authorities of a coherent strategy to re-frame the situation in Hong Kong from one of domestic disturbance to one of foreign interference requiring the intervention of central authorities. To that end it is necessary to identify a plausible foreign adversary, to find character evidence that suggests that this adversary has already engaged in such conduct elsewhere; and lastly to marshal evidence from which local interference might be surmised.
In a prior post I noted the quite deliberate reference by Yang Guang (杨光) to the 黑手 [black hand] of foreign interference (A Warning "Stop the storm and Restore Order!" [“止暴制乱、恢复秩序”！]: Statement by the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council Official Views of Current State of Affairs in Hong Kong [国务院港澳办新闻发言人介绍对当前香港事态的看法]). The us eof the reference was made in this context:"我们还要向那些肆无忌惮的极少数暴力犯罪分子和他们背后的黑手发出警告; 中国一直称有外部的“黑手”卷入香港当前的事态; 这次政治风暴幕后黑手是--些敌视中国发展的势力 [We also want to warn those unscrupulous violent criminals and the black hands behind them; China has always said that there are external "black hands" involved in the current state of affairs in Hong Kong; The black hand behind the political storm is something that is hostile to China’s development.] ".
We can look for evidence or clues about what they are saying from public reports. Since the start of the revision of the Fugitive Offenders Regulations in February, some Western politicians and the Taiwan authorities have publicly stood at the forefront and made many remarks about reversing black and white and irresponsible remarks. Let's briefly review, for example, on March 21, the US State Department issued the "2019 US-Hong Kong Policy Law Report," which is much earlier than in previous years. It uses the word "regression" to describe Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy and has issued many statements. The rumors have threatened the rule of law in Hong Kong and eroded "one country, two systems." For example, in late March, the United States highly invited some of the opposition’s leading figures to visit the United States, and arranged for the Vice President and the Secretary of State to meet and support them. Less than two months later, senior US officials met with the so-called "anti-extradition amendments and the United States and Canada" led by the opposition figures. On June 13, some US lawmakers revisited the so-called "Hong Kong Bill of Rights on Human Rights and Democracy", arguing that they should regularly review or adjust their policies on Hong Kong and impose sanctions on relevant officials. In June, Pelosi said a famous saying, "The demonstrations in Hong Kong are a beautiful scenery." On June 25th, the former British Foreign Secretary Hunter asked Hong Kong to investigate the June 12 conflict. On July 8, the US Vice President and Secretary of State met with Li Zhiying respectively, openly discussing the issue of Hong Kong's amendments and Hong Kong's autonomy under "One Country, Two Systems." Wait a minute, there are still many, I will not go to read one by one, do not delay everyone's time. I think that these remarks have a common feature, that is, to support the demonstrators to support their strengths and encourage their efforts, and to point and intervene in the affairs of Hong Kong. The situation in Hong Kong has deteriorated to the point where it is today. Some violent militants dare to unscrupulously carry out illegal activities and dare to openly challenge the bottom line of the principle of "one country, two systems". I think this is inconsistent with the irresponsible remarks of some Western politicians and their ignorance. Open, their "contributions" to the chaos in Hong Kong are also very impressive.
Recently, Yang Jiechi, director of the Office of the Central Foreign Affairs Working Committee, State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi have all accused the Western forces of interfering in Hong Kong affairs. Mr. Tung Chee-hwa, vice chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, also pointed out that the black hand behind this political storm is hostile to China's development. The fundamental purpose of the forces is to make Hong Kong a battleground for the international game and to make Hong Kong a base against the Central Committee as a pawn to contain China. This voice is righteous and stern, and a word breaks their bad intentions.
近期，中央外事工作委员会办公室主任杨洁篪，国务委员、外交部长王毅都斥责西方势力对香港事务的干涉，全国政协副主席董建华先生也一针见血地指出，这次政治风暴幕后黑手是一些敌视中国发展的势力，其根本目的就是要令香港变成国际博弈的战场，令香港变成反抗中央的基地，作为牵制中国的棋子。这个声音义正辞严，一语道破了他们的不良居心。(A Warning "Stop the storm and Restore Order!" [“止暴制乱、恢复秩序”！]:
There are “signs of foreign forces behind the protests,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters Tuesday in Beijing. “I wonder if these U.S. officials can truthfully answer to the world the role the U.S. has played in recent events in Hong Kong.”
Her comments came after the U.S. State Department on Monday said attacks on protesters and other bystanders by criminal gangs was “particularly disturbing,” according to a Voice of America report. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi had blamed the “black hand” of Western forces for stirring up trouble in Hong Kong last month, without singling out the U.S. (Ibid.; see also here (Reuters)).
Chinese state media has run multiple editorials blaming the US for the chaos. The state-run tabloid Global Times alleged Monday that there had been "unprecedented levels of contact" between Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders and Western governments.
"It is an open secret in Hong Kong that the forces protesting the extradition bill have been sponsored by the US," the paper said.
North Korea has also leveled such claims at the US. In an editorial on Friday, state-run media Rodong Sinmun claimed the protests were the "outcome of a plot hatched by the US and other Western countries."
However, neither country has provided any evidence for its allegations. At the press conference, Hua only made reference to public meetings between well-known Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders and US politicians. (China is blaming the US for the Hong Kong protests. Can that really be true?).
At a regular press conference on August 7, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying was asked about recent statements from U.S. Senators Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah) expressing concern about the repression of protests in Hong Kong. Hua slammed the senators for “smear[ing] the just actions taken by the Hong Kong police.” She argued that “The recent protests and demonstrations in Hong Kong have turned into radical violent behaviors that seriously violate the law, undermine security and social order in Hong Kong, and endanger local people’s safety, property and normal life.” * * * Hua had a similar response when asked about comments from U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California):
Nancy Pelosi and some other U.S. politicians have been calling white black time and again, bolstering violent radical criminals and even justifying and whitewashing their behaviors. They’ve also wantonly smeared and vilified the just move of the SAR [special administrative region] government and police to uphold the rule of law and order. This is no different from covering up, conniving at and supporting illegal criminal behaviors, which again reveals their malicious intention of anti-China and messing up Hong Kong. (US Lawmakers Are Watching Hong Kong, and China Isn’t Happy About That).
This one is fairly easy. First China can point to the US Global Magnitsky Act projects as inherently designed to project US power (and thus interference) abroad. But recently China has sought to create the inference of the plausibility of Hong Kong interference by making claims about the tendency of the US to interfere in other places. Most recently that was noted by the high profile Central Government condemnation of what it termed US interference in Venezuela (China condemns U.S. 'interference' in Venezuela).
But interference claims go much deeper in China. They tie into old fears of the revival of US encirclement policies, which fueled opposition to TPP (see here). And it underlies Chinese sensitivities with respect to US-Taiwan relationships (Chinese State Media Slams U.S. 'Flagrant Interference' With Huge Taiwan Weapons Deal ("The People's Daily editorial suggested that the Taiwan weapons deal was just one element of American efforts to "contain China." It added that the "irresponsible practice of the U.S." will raise tensions, and warned that American leaders "should not take chances and keep walking on the wrong path."")). It has guided Chinese thinking in 2018 opposing portions of the North American trade deal (Chinese embassy in Canada condemns ‘US veto’ clause in North America trade deal). Taking a cue from Western discourse, Chinese diplomatic statements have become more pointed in a way recognizable to Western audiences.
China’s diplomats have become increasingly vocal and outspoken. This month, China’s ambassador to London, Liu Xiaoming, gave a rare televised statement accusing the British government of meddling in Hong Kong, the scene of mass protests against Beijing’s rule. Earlier this year, China’s envoy to Canada publicly accused his hosts of “white supremacy,” while the country’s chief envoy in South Africa said President Donald Trump’s policies were making the U.S. “the enemy of the whole world.” ('You Are a Racist Disgrace.' Former National Security Advisor Susan Rice Chides 'Ignorant' Diplomat on Twitter (July 2019)).
Also Thursday [8 August 2019], the Chinese foreign ministry's office in Hong Kong issued a formal protest over a reported meeting between U.S. consular officials in the city and opposition figures, including prominent activist Joshua Wong. The statement demanded the U.S. explain the purpose of the meeting and "immediately cease interfering in Hong Kong affairs." (China is blaming the US for the Hong Kong protests. Can that really be true?).CT Post reporting for Bloomberg provided more detail: "China's foreign ministry, which has previously said Hong Kong's ongoing unrest was "the creation of the U.S.," urged American diplomats in a statement to "draw a clear line with all anti-Chinese rioters, stop sending wrong signals to illegal violators, stop meddling in Hong Kong affairs, and stop going further down the wrong path."" (China warns U.S. after diplomat meets with prominent protesters).
The meeting was highlighted in a pro-Central Government newspaper (Wen Wei Po). But the response from Mr. Wong and U.S. officials was one of studied indifference. It was reported this way:
"Representatives of the United States Government meet regularly with a wide cross section of people across Hong Kong and Macau," said consulate spokesman Harvey Sernovitz. "For example, the day of this particular meeting, our diplomats also met with both pro-establishment and pan-democratic camp legislators, as well as members of the American business community and the consular corps."here). These suggest the possibility that the Central government or SAR authorities are already building cases for prosecutions against identified individuals that may in part be strengthened by the development of the "Black Hand" theory now circulated by the Central Government.
In a Facebook statement on Wednesday, Wong acknowledged that he had met with a U.S. diplomat but shrugged off allegations that the meeting was proof of foreign interference.
"In the past, I've also visited Washington and communicated directly with U.S. lawmakers," he wrote. "This meeting is nothing special."
They discussed the legislative process of passing the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, Wong said, adding that he also urged the U.S. to stop exporting tear gas and rubber bullets to the Hong Kong police. (China warns U.S. after diplomat meets with prominent protesters).
Still, the battle lines have been drawn. And the consultation on the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act can only add fuel to the Central Government's fire seeking to connect the dots between local protestors and the U.S. Yet again, it may make a difference to distinguish between direct interference and indirect engagement with local effects. One is reminded here of the way that the Chinese Foreign Ministry has continuously shrugged off Australian and New Zealand allegations of interference for its meetings, consultations, and statements directed toward Australian education (see, e.g., here, here, here, and here).