The America of Hong Kong's Protestors
Cover image source: Studio Incendo via Flickr, https://www.flickr.com/photos/studiokanu/48698939703.
As thousands of people flood the streets of Hong Kong each day, songs spring from the protestors’ lips as they proudly hold their flags high in defiance of what they perceive as a threat to Hong Kong’s autonomy and a threat to its more democratic system of governance. Among the songs that have been added to the musical repertoire of the Hong Kong protestors is the U.S. national anthem, and the American flag is now held aloft alongside Hong Kong’s. However, contrary to the narrative spun by President Xi Jinping and his government, protestors aren’t waving the American flag because they’re engaging in a US-backed ‘color revolution’, as it was described by the state-run newspaper China Daily, but it instead represents a genuine grassroots movement pushing for increased democratic rights in Hong Kong. There was, of course, a time when the United States would have emphatically supported such a movement. However, those days seem to be long gone. Rather than give the protestors their full-throated endorsement or impose harsher sanctions on China for its government’s decision to move troops across the border into Hong Kong, the West Wing has not taken a particularly strong stance on this issue. In fact, the most forceful language with regards to the situation in Hong Kong has come from officials at the Department of State while President Trump, in contrast, just congratulated President Xi on seventy years of communist rule in China via Twitter. In the wake of the death of one protestor due to a member of the HK Police firing a live bullet at them, Trump’s post seems tone deaf and could be seen as part of a pattern of the current administration cozying up to authoritarian regimes while alienating America’s democratic allies. It is time that America lives up to its liberal founding principles of liberty, equality, and democracy, rather than allowing Beijing to continue to violate the rights of Hongkongers with impunity.
Whether it was Civil Rights Movement or US involvement in Operation Desert Storm, when America has risen to the challenge set before it by the Founding Fathers in the late 18th century, it has done so spectacularly, and, when the US has chosen the seemingly politically shrewder option, such as choosing to continue fighting in Vietnam years after then-Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara warned President Johnson that the war was unwinnable, these decisions have always been to the eventual chagrin of future generations. When faced with a similar situation to the one that Trump is faced with today, President George H.W. Bush recalled the American ambassador to China and the US Congress voted to impose sanctions on the Chinese government a mere three weeks after hundreds of protestors were shot in Tiananmen Square and thousands more were arrested after the Chinese government’s brutal crackdown in 1989. As we look back on the Tiananmen Square protests thirty years later and tensions rapidly rise on Hong Kong Island, a forceful stance on the part of the United States could potentially provide a strong deterrent from cracking down in a more forceful way for Xi’s government and serve as a beacon of hope for those in Hong Kong and around the world in their fight against authoritarianism. While an American President may not have the power to completely deter Beijing from taking more drastic action against those that it views as ideologically opposed to its “socialist values”, the actions of the US government, especially the Executive Branch, still matter a great deal given America’s hegemonic status in the international system. President Trump cannot truly claim to be the “Leader of the Free World” when he refuses to take up the mantle of leadership that this position demands, especially when he has seemingly had little trouble challenging China on a multitude of other fronts. It is, therefore, imperative that the United States stand up for the people of Hong Kong in an effort to aid protestors in their fight for the same ideals that American colonists fought for nearly two-hundred-and-fifty years ago. To those occupying the streets of Hong Kong, the United States represents the very ideals that they want to see imbued into Hong Kong’s government, and it is time that the American nation become that idealized version of itself that the Hong Kong protestors perceive it to be.