The summer of 2019 has seen a series of events in Hong Kong beginning with two massive demonstrations that called for the withdrawal of the Extradition Bill to Macao, Taiwan and Mainland China. The demonstrations were peaceful and the bill was quickly “suspended” and labeled “dead” by the Hong Kong government and then withdrawn by summer’s end, meeting the demand of the demonstrations.
But that was not the end of the matter. Over the summer and to this day smaller demonstrations, of hundreds or at most a few thousand, broke out, mainly taking the form of marauding with Molotov cocktails and attacks on police stations, subway stations, police themselves and even on bystanders. Another four demands were added to the original demand to bury the extradition bill. Some, not the majority, called for the secession of Hong Kong from China of which it is legally a part.
But these events did not simply evolve internally in Hong Kong and the rest of China. Although internal forces were at work, the US government had a hand in these events.1 Unfortunately, this readily accessible material has barely been mentioned, if mentioned at all, in the US mainstream media. The most recent and in some ways most blatant examples of interference in the internal affairs of Hong Kong takes the form of the bipartisan “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act (HKHRD Act)” (H.R. 3289 and S. 1838, an identical bill in the Senate). On September 15 H.R. 3289 was passed in the House by a voice vote. By threat of sanctions and other economic and political measures, the HKHRD Act seeks to determine which laws the Chinese city of Hong Kong will legislate and which not. This is clearly interventionism on the part of the U.S. How would the US react to such threats from another country? How would the U.S. react if China informed us that it was going to put sanctions in place against the U.S. if we would did not change our laws that result in mass incarceration which is clearly racist in character?
Sadly, most peace activists in the US and the West have been silent on the US role in the Hong Kong riots. Or they have gone so far as to echo the narrative of events in Hong Kong put about by Pence, Pompeo, Pelosi and their ilk. For contrast, consider the situation in Venezuela where the US government, its proxies and the same chorus of politicians call for sanctions and other interventions. The peace community in general is clear on its opposition to US intervention of any sort in Venezuela whether from the machinations of the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) or sanctions or attacks on Venezuela’s financial system or actual armed intervention. Why the difference between Venezuela and Hong Kong?
In both Hong Kong and Venezuela, the interventionists tell us that human rights are at stake and an alleged “tyranny,” the Maduro government in one case and the Carrie Lam/Xi Jinping governments in the other, must be fought. So that cannot be the difference in the attitude of progressives to the two cases. Wherein lies the difference?
Here is the difference. Hong Kong is a part of China which presents a real challenge to US global hegemony and a force in the world which may balance the unrestrained power of the US Empire. With the world’s largest economy in PPP-GDP terms since November 2014, now roughly 125% that of the US and growing 2-3 times faster even at its “slowed” rate, China will inevitably have great military and soft power since the latter grow out of economic power. China also serves as an economic anchor for the developing world, an anchor that provides a viable alternative to the economic and financial hegemony of the US Empire. China opens the possibility of a multipolar world where no single nation can dictate to the entire world.
In contrast Venezuela is no threat to US hegemony. It instills no fear in the imperial Elite; if Venezuela maintains its independence, the Empire can roll on pretty much as before. As a consequence, a stance against US intervention in Venezuela will not meet with intense opposition from the US imperial Elite and its minions. Non-intervention in the case of Venezuela is the proper course and should be supported and praised. But such opposition can fall within the ambit of a loyal imperial “opposition,” that is, a harmless opposition if it is not accompanied by nonintervention in cases like that of China’s city of Hong Kong.
“US Hands Off Venezuela” is principled if it is accompanied by “US Hands Off Hong Kong.” By itself “US Hands Off Venezuela” can be seen as a kind of token anti-Empire stance. Such tokenism treats Venezuela not as a part of a powerful worldwide struggle against US hegemony but as a harmless effort which the loyal imperial opposition deigns to help. In short it is Paternalistic Non-interventionism, and DemocracyNow! is one good example of Paternalistic Non-interventionism. The Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity or the newsletter PopularResistance.org are good examples of principled non-interventionism.
One evidence of the difference between the two is that those who refuse to call for US Hands Off Hong Kong are also partisans for Russiagate, for US intervention in Syria and for US interference in Ukraine. (Or at the least they are silent on these issues.) Russia like China is a serious hindrance to the US drive for world hegemony and so the Paternalistic Non-interventionists cease to be non-interventionists when it comes to Syria, a state protected by Russia, or Ukraine, a country with which Russia must have good relations to live in peace.
Interventionism of the sort practiced by the NED in Hong Kong and the rest of China puts us on a road where antagonisms mount and ever sharper forms of conflict emerge with a major power rivaling the US. In short it puts us on a path to war since China is a full-fledged nuclear power now with a fully developed nuclear triad, that war could easily carry us to Armageddon.
At this moment “U.S. Hands Off Hong Kong” is the cutting edge of Principled Non-interventionism. Those who fail to take that stance, like the crew at DemocracyNow!, among many others, are at best Paternalistic Non-interventionists. They should make no claim to being antiwar or anti-Empire. They are not.