When a projectile struck a Hong Kong woman in the eye this week as protesters clashed with the police, China responded quickly: Its state television network reported that the woman had been injured not by one of the police’s bean bag rounds, but by a protester.
The network’s website went further: It posted what it said was a photo of the woman counting out cash on a Hong Kong sidewalk — insinuating, as Chinese reports have claimed before, that the protesters are merely paid provocateurs.
The assertion was more than just spin or fake news. The Communist Party exerts overwhelming control over media content inside China’s so-called Great Firewall, and it is now using it as a cudgel in an information war over the protests that have convulsed Hong Kong for months.
In recent days, China has more aggressively stirred up nationalist and anti-Western sentiment using state and social media, and it has manipulated the context of images and videos to undermine the protesters. Chinese officials have begun branding the demonstrations as a prelude to terrorism. [Continue reading…]
Since the protests in Hong Kong started two months ago, I have been struck by the coolness of the American response. I am referring not just to President Donald Trump, who has reiterated that the dispute is an internal Chinese matter. Both the social media I sample and the people I know have been fairly quiescent. I haven’t seen that much cheering and rooting for the protesters, nor have the major Democratic presidential candidates made a show of stressing their dissent from Trump on this issue.
Why the relative lack of interest? The Hong Kong protesters certainly seem to have a worthy cause. They have varied goals, but many of them favor independence and democratization. In the meantime, they would like to keep relative autonomy, for instance by holding off the originally proposed Chinese extradition law. They also have been remarkably peaceful and orderly, with few reports of them initiating violence. Some of the younger protesters have even been photographed doing their homework in their moments of downtime. As political causes go, this one seems pretty close to ideal.
The relative indifference may be especially hard to explain when it comes to Americans. After all, the U.S. owes its existence to a rebellion against the British Empire, and against especially long odds. America probably would not have won independence without direct French assistance, while Spain and other nations helped to distract the British on the broader global stage.
Some protesters in Hong Kong today are adopting the British Union Jack flag, the American flag and the “Star-Spangled Banner” as symbols, yet that doesn’t seem to have stirred our collective imaginations. We outsiders are remaining fairly mute and stoic, even with about two million people — more than a quarter of Hong Kong’s population — out in the streets or in some way participating in the demonstrations. [Continue reading…]