Beijing's problem in Hong Kong is not foreign interference but Western ideas

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 September, 2014, 5:22am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 September, 2014, 5:22am

Schopenhauer famously said that ideas, unlike taxis, take you where they want you to go. I am reminded of this observation by Beijing's incessant complaints about foreign interference in Hong Kong. It's not Western agents Beijing needs to worry about, but Western ideas, ideals and narratives. And these, once they have taken hold in people's minds, are difficult, if not impossible, to change.

There is no doubt there are close contacts between many pan-democrats and their friends in Taiwan and overseas, just as even some local pro-Beijing figures would have friendly relationships with current and former US officials. For example, we know media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying is a close pal of US neo-conservative former deputy defence secretary Paul Wolfowitz. But as a matter of foreign policy for Western countries, it's safe to conclude such influences are vastly exaggerated. London and Washington have essentially thrown in the towel by acknowledging Hong Kong's democratic development is China's internal affair. US National Security Adviser Susan Rice reportedly said as much during a visit to Beijing this month.

The problem for Beijing runs deeper. Most pan-democrats and their allies don't need to be run by foreign agents when they have long ago adopted the Western narratives on the city's democratic development and the country's one-party state. When it comes to such Western values and narratives, they are true believers compared to many Western policymakers and pundits who are far more realistic about Hong Kong vis-à-vis China. Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, the Civic Party chairwoman, thinks human rights are universal and inalienable. Benny Tai Yiu-ting thinks there are objective international standards for democracy.

Few leaders in Western capitals would want to see the downfall of the Communist Party at this time. That would introduce too much uncertainty and instability into the global economic and political systems. Yet I just passed through a Wan Chai protest in which hundreds of marchers all chanted "overthrow the party" and "down with the central government". If democracy is really the only legitimate form of government, the marchers have reached the only logical conclusion.