The West’s Obsession With Hong Kong Protests

The obsession stems from a weakened faith in democracy

Photo by Ehud Neuhaus on Unsplash

Since they began in June, Hong Kong protests are regularly making front-page news in the West. However, the endless coverage of the protests has nothing meaningful to say about Hong Kong Chinese or the People’s Republic of China or their delicate historical relationship. The West’s infatuation with the protests in Hong Kong has more to do with the declining legitimacy of democracy within Western nations.

In the West, especially America, nothing is so cherished as much as the idea of one person, one vote, however irrational or barbaric or devastating such a system could lead to the crowning of a rich, corrupt and depraved individual. But in getting to where he is now, Trump has realized the divisive spiritedness of democratic politics, in which it is both profitable and possible to manipulate the mistrust and envy of the citizenry. Since getting elected by the people, Trump has used the office of the presidency to exacerbate social divisions, engendering hatred between blacks and whites, between women and men, and between natives and immigrants. Indeed, however flawed such a system, Western nations like America continue to promote democracy overseas, like Hong Kong. One wonders whether this blind and incessant promotion for democracy is done in good faith, to bring about a better Hong Kong.

As far as I know, Western nations pushing for democracy in Hong Kong means that they are hoping for a regime change. But this is disingenuous. They know that if such an event were to be realized, then it would be igniting a third world war.

Whatever their motives, it is far from attempting to create a better Hong Kong, as we know about those that beat the drum of righteousness the loudest are also its most determined pretenders. The promotion of democracy done by Western nations, thus, could not be done with the good faith that Hong Kong Chinese can live a better life in a politically independent state. It has been known for a long time now that Hong Kong is commercially practical for locals and foreigners because of its economic and political ties to China. Western nations disingenuously speak as if Hong Kong could exist without water, food and security provided by the People’s Republic of China. In 1949 when China was unified under Communist rule, Hong Kong was allowed to play the crucial middleman, one responsible for financing businesses and trade between mainland and the world. The island residents could not prosper without cheap raw materials, foodstuffs and Chinese immigrants from China. Hong Kong needs to adopt the Chinese economic model, for example, creating a tech industry in which high-paying jobs are made available for the young people of the city.

Nor does the biased Western coverage say anything meaningful about the People’s Republic of China. As many peoples of the world already know, democracy, now along with Hong Kong, has been used as a sort of caveman club by Western nations, the greatest purveyors of violence in human history, to discredit potential alternative models of choosing one’s leaders. America, the youngest of the gang, behaves like a petulant, spoiled child who often destroys things because of his undeveloped ability to think of others.

What is crucial for us to understand is that the Western public has not been made to think that there might be alternatives to the protests and to the promotion of democracy. We need to understand the Western mind in order to understand what Hong Kong symbolizes under Western eyes.

Western governments and media are encouraging the idea of one person, one vote in Hong Kong because they believe this change would allow the people there a better life. It is very clear to me that they have been lying about their motives. This obsession to push for democracy is about Western citizens in Hong Kong and, more importantly, Western audience in the home countries. For example, for the twenty thousand Americans living in Hong Kong, it is clear that they would like to maintain the status quo, in which their freedom and privilege to do business between the island and mainland is protected. It is understood well enough that they wish to avoid a similar fate that befell Huawei’s Meng Wangzhou.

But the issue of extradition is not the main reason why Western nations are obsessed with the protests in Hong Kong.

If one looks closely, the constant Western coverage says something important about the West’s obsession with clinging onto democratic politics as an ideal in which their imagined superior identity is based on. Therefore, such an effort to support the Hong Kong protests and promote democracy points back to the West herself and what she is currently facing and what she hopes to divert attention from. The news and opinions in the New York Times or the Guardian are meant to be read and understood by citizens of Western democracies.

Whether for commercial profits or geopolitics or stroking one’s ego, the dishonest intellectual activity surrounding the West’s promotion of democracy in Hong Kong, as James Baldwin would have said, is “a masturbatory delusion and a wicked and dangerous fraud.” It is a fraud because all the noise created by Western nations is meant to divert their citizens’ attention away from the fact that democracy, the idea of one person, one vote, is no longer the best political system to select the most capable leaders. It is a fraud because the constant advertisement of democratic politics creates a false belief that democracy helps shrink the widening gap between the rich and poor.

The West’s obsession with democracy and its promotion worldwide is not what democratic politics can do for non-Western people, in order for them to lead a good life. If the good life means examining one’s life, the life in the West is spent examining whether one’s team is a winner or loser. The citizens themselves are simply spectators. Democratic politics in Western democracies are often made out to be more important than they really are. But the electoral competition does perform one crucial function, which is to maintain a veneer of consensus.

The idea of one person, one vote is the West’s most sacred tradition and it is an institution that they believe elevate them above others. When I studied democracy as a political system in graduate school, I was told by my American professor that democracy should be an end and not as a means to a good life. My professor like most Americans believe there is no alternative to democracy. As a matter of fact, Western democracies have done well. But they have done so not because of anything inherently novel or sophisticated about the idea of one person, one vote. I can only speculate that Western nations have done well because of the legacy and wealth accumulated from the centuries of slavery, colonialism and imperialism. But the writing is on the wall for democratic politics. Citizens of Western nations refuse to go to the voting booth. Those who do go are angry or doing out of spite. Whoever wins or loses in the next American election, the losers will certainly be plotting their revenge. Once the stakes get high enough, it would be too risky for anyone to willingly let go of power. As democratic politics produces deep hatred across social divisions, Western nations are desperate to find others to adopt their divisive political system or at least show their own citizens that this system is still legitimate. Therefore, Hong Kong does not need democracy, but democracy needs Hong Kong.

PhD candidate of politics and philosophy at ECNU.Shanghai | Of Rivers and Mountains @