25 votes

There are growing signs that something truly horrific is about to happen in Hong Kong, and President Trump has essentially given China’s rulers a green light to crush the pro-democracy protests.

4 comments

  1. [3]
    tempestoftruth Link
    I dislike the title of this article and the focus it puts on Trump's strategic or moral failure to condemn imminent violence against civilians in a foreign country. The title has obvious clickbait...

    I dislike the title of this article and the focus it puts on Trump's strategic or moral failure to condemn imminent violence against civilians in a foreign country. The title has obvious clickbait elements, give me details rather than just the words "truly horrific". But moving past that, the focus on Trump's choice not to criticize China kind of plays into the "United States good, China bad" discourse by asking why or how Trump isn't fulfilling his part in that performative expectation. The United States also breaks up protests and demonstrations that it doesn't like and that threaten state power, they have no moral authority to criticize another government for doing the same. Not to mention that expecting this kind of behavior from Trump this late in the game and then writing an article about him not fulfilling the expectations of the office feels like a waste of time. The thing that's gone wrong here is not that Trump isn't criticizing China for threatening the Hong Kong protests -- it's that China is threatening the Hong Kong protests. I actually didn't know about the specifics, which are handily placed early in the article, quite possibly on purpose, to get people to click for the article title and then read the information that actually matters, but that's perhaps a bit generous.

    9 votes
    1. [2]
      Sahasrahla Link Parent
      I think the role of the US president and other foreign leaders in this is more than performative. These protests are perceived as a threat to the authority of the mainland government (the...

      I think the role of the US president and other foreign leaders in this is more than performative. These protests are perceived as a threat to the authority of the mainland government (the protesters' demands include true representative democracy in Hong Kong and for Beijing to respect their autonomy; protesters have also defaced symbols of Beijing's authority and some have even called for independence) and the worrying precedent for how the Chinese government might respond is the 1989 massacre that broke up the Tiananmen Square protests.

      In deciding whether or not to send in soldiers to quell the protests (i.e. to massacre civilians) the Chinese government will consider not only the fallout in Hong Kong and the mainland but they'll consider the international response as well. No one will go to war with China over this but economic sanctions and the use of the Magnitsky Act to target individuals could be harmful or even destabilizing. With Beijing recently hinting at their willingness to deploy troops it speaks volumes for the US president to use the same language as Beijing to characterize the protests ("riots") and to essentially say he considers the whole thing, use of troops included, as an internal matter of China. With carte blanche from Trump to do as they wish what other nation would want to stand up to China alone without American support?

      The United States also breaks up protests and demonstrations that it doesn't like and that threaten state power, they have no moral authority to criticize another government for doing the same.

      I strongly disagree with this for a couple of reasons. One is that there have been no mass protests in modern US history that threaten state power in the same way as these protests in Hong Kong do. The largest protests in recent American history (anti-Trump, civil rights, anti- Iraq or Vietnam wars) have been about changing policy or changing administrations but they don't threaten the state itself. To find a large scale popular movement that threatened the American state you'd have to go back to the Civil War. (Arguably you might also count certain strikes in the early 20th century but I don't know much about that.)

      In China, though, the (only) ruling party is the state and the leader of the party is the leader of the country. If you are against Xi Jinping or the Chinese Communist Party you are threatening the state; conversely, you can be against Trump or the Republicans without being against the federal government itself. In the specific case of Hong Kong these protests are pushing back against the erosion of Hong Kong's autonomy and demanding that the democratic will of the people be represented, both ideas which greatly challenge the authority of the central government in a way that American protests against certain policies don't.

      The second point (to bring things back to the original quote) is that with regard to "break[ing] up protests" there's no equivalency between what might happen in Hong Kong (Tiananmen 2.0) and what the US has done to their own protests in living memory. Closer parallels could be drawn between what's happened so far in Hong Kong and the worst actions of the US against their protesters but how close those parallels are is a different topic than the one at hand (i.e. the US response to Beijing's apparent threat to use overwhelming military force against the protesters).

      As for arguments about whether or not the US has "moral authority" to criticize another government, that's a pretty big topic, so I'll limit myself to saying that we shouldn't let accusations of hypocrisy or ulterior motives be excuses to ignore basic human rights or to justify the actions of states who would abuse those rights. It would not be okay to kill thousands of innocent people for the 'crime' of standing up for their rights (NB: I'm definitely not saying the comment I'm replying to is advocating for or justifying that) and it would not be wrong for the US president or other world leaders to condemn the possibility of such actions.

      9 votes
      1. tempestoftruth Link Parent
        The reason I use the word "performative" is twofold: because the United States and its leaders don't actually believe in the principles underlying the rhetoric they use against authoritarian...

        The reason I use the word "performative" is twofold: because the United States and its leaders don't actually believe in the principles underlying the rhetoric they use against authoritarian governments like China, and because the actions they take in response to these kinds of events are often nothing more than symbolic. These rhetorical criticisms have historically been about strategic interests; the United States wants to destabilize overseas rivals. The actions you're describing, that perhaps presidents before Trump might have considered, are not really impactful to the situation. The United States and China are far too economically intertwined for there to be any real kind of economic sanctions or meaningful application of the Magnitsky Act. Ultimately, it doesn't matter whether the rhetoric is employed or any action is taken, because it wasn't going to be doing much anyway, and it's not because anyone wants to protect the human rights of the people of Hong Kong, it's out of self-interest.

        With carte blanche from Trump to do as they wish what other nation would want to stand up to China alone without American support?

        You're getting close to "we need to stop China" rhetoric, which happens to be a whole other discussion we could have about the United States as the world's policeman, how that plays into racist tropes and white supremacy, and so on.

        to essentially say he considers the whole thing, use of troops included, as an internal matter of China

        It sucks for the situation, but Hong Kong is under Chinese sovereignty, and therefore, it is an internal matter of China. I'm not saying that we as individuals can't speak out against authoritarian crimes against the people, that we as citizens of the world should not help Hong Kong in the ways that we can, but when the President does, the context of the criticism is one of self-interest, of a desire to weaken the enemy, not out of real commitment to democracy or a genuine desire to help. For the record, I do support the demonstrators 100%, they're inspiring heroes, and I hope that China will not crush the demonstrations.

        I just want to note that the last two points I've made are related: to believe that another country's internal affairs are something that you can meddle with if you believe they're governing themselves wrong, you have to believe that they aren't equal to you, that they are savages who need your guidance in order to show them how they should govern, or rather, be governed over. I'm not saying that you support this exact kind of thinking, I'm not saying that you're a racist, I don't want you to get personally offended: I'm just trying to point out that this is the kind of logic that underlies the argument that you are using here when you include the historical context.

        no mass protests in modern US history that threaten state power

        There was the long, hot summer of 1967, which forced the President to organize the Kerner Commission, which came to some pretty damning conclusions about the nature of American society. In spite of the example, I think we'll need to disagree of the nature of protests in the two countries; but I do acknowledge your point that I can't remember the last time the United States used tanks against its own people.

        To your last paragraph: it's less that "you can't criticize anyone violating human rights because you did it too" and more "your criticisms of other people's violations of human rights have nothing to do with your commitment to human rights and everything to do with what you have to gain from the situation". What that means is that any action that the United States may potentially take is strictly for self-benefit, whether tangible or perceived. It's not about equivalency, it's not about hypocrisy, it's about evaluating reality and coming to conclusions that are unmarred by the propaganda being spewed from both sides.

        2 votes
  2. Arshan Link
    The article makes some obvious connections between the protests in Hong Kong and the protests in Tiananmen Square. I am not saying they have nothing in common, but I am saying none of the...

    The article makes some obvious connections between the protests in Hong Kong and the protests in Tiananmen Square. I am not saying they have nothing in common, but I am saying none of the similarities matter. Hong Kong has an explicit legal right to autonomy and democracy until 2047. If China invades Hong Kong with the PLA, it will be an illegal invasion. I doubt any countries would do anything about it, other than empty statements. However, I would be dumbfounded if any significant portion of native Hong Kongers sided with a Mainland invasion. Hong Kong, to my knowledge, is fiercely independent from China; the debate, again to my knowledge, is largely focused on the level of that independence. There is a significant difference from Mainland China having a strong influence on politics and having an army there. It would give credence to everything the protestors are saying; clearly, Mainland China might still invade, I would just say it would be a mistake for them. Overall, I am incredibly impressed with the protests; they aren't caving like most democratic movements.

    1 vote