Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Resentful Subjects

By David G. Young

Washington, DC, November 26, 2019 --  

China has earned the hatred of the people of Hong Kong. An electoral rebuke has dashed any hopes of bringing them around.

When polls closed in Hong Kong for local elections, the Chinese Communist Party propaganda machine was still in overdrive.  Six months of anti-communist and pro-democracy protests driven by Hong Kong's youth had become increasingly violent.  According to the party line, elections would show that the silent majority stood with the central government against the rioters and for stability.

That official narrative proved utterly wrong.  A stunningly massive victory by pro-democracy candidates with record turnout shows that the silent majority stands firmly against the Chinese Communist Party and with the protesting youth.  Pro-democracy parties won nearly 90 percent of the 452 seats open for election, a many fold increase from the previous poll.1

Anyone who didn't buy into mainland propoganda could see this coming.   Throughout the summer and fall, mainland politicians denounced Hong Kong's restless youth as rioters, even in early days when mass protests were overwhelmingly peaceful.  But as time went on, and clashes with police intensified, those in the movement's radical core asserted themselves.  In recent months, frustrated protesters began wielding bricks, Molotov cocktails, and arrows against the hated police force.    It seemed that the angry and misguided youth of Hong Kong were playing into Communist hands by actually becoming the violent rioters they had always been accused of being. Surely, public opinion would turn against the increasingly violent rebellion.

But it never did. A public opinion poll conducted by the Independent shows that most Hong Kongers have remained sympathetic with the violently rebellious youth against the police and pro-Beijing government2 The polls found that only about 40 percent think the protesters as excessively violent, compared with 70 percent thinking the police have been excessively violent.3 This view has remained steady despite the increasingly violent behavior of protesters. The police force,.deservedly or not, has become a symbol of mainland China's imposition of power over Hong Kong, and the protesters a symbol of the struggle against it. Violence against Beijing's rule, many Hong Kongers apparently believe, is now justified.

Sunday's elections results are.simply a reflection of this hardened public opinion.  But because elections are also a legal expression of public will, they makes it extraordinarily difficult for the Chinese Communist Party to deny the results. The people of Hong Kong have said clearly and loudly just how much they despise their overlords in Beijing. The violent demonstrators are burning the flag of Communist China in the streets, and the public is okay with that.

To be clear, this is absolutely a reflection of unique local attitudes in Hong Kong and does not reflect attitudes in China as a whole. Yet the ruling party is still going nuts. Had an equivalent local election rebuke taken place in a democracy like the United States ,officials would have dismissed them with an eye roll.  Washington power brokers hardly care when lefties in Berkeley, California and Takoma Park, Maryland declare themselves nuclear free zones and denounce the ruling elite.

But China's government is utterly inexperienced with democracy and is paranoid about any opposition.  What's more, Hong Kong has importance that far exceeds its size. It is a center of Western economics that provides China a bridge to the West. And it serves as a "two systems" prototype for how Taiwan might be brought back under mainland rule.

The latter reason for Hong Kong's importance makes recent events especially troubling for Beijing. How can China hope to convince the Taiwanese to follow in Hong Kong's footsteps, when Hong Kongers make it abundantly clear they despise mainland rule? And given the trouble Beijing has had with their resentful subjects in Hong Kong, why on earth would the communists want three times as much trouble from three times at many Taiwanese?

Related Web Columns:

Cowed and Bamboozled, September 3, 2019

The Other China, June 18, 2019


1. Reuters, Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Parties Take 390 of 452 District Council Seats: RTHK, November 24, 2019

2. The Independent, Our Research in Hong Kong Reveals What People Really Think of the Protesters -- and the Police, October 16, 2019

3. ibid