Yeah, right, let’s ask Donald Trump for help with Hong Kong’s human rights
Yonden Lhatoo suggests that the city’s young pro-democracy politicians should find new sources of inspiration because their traditional icons have become irrelevant
“Too simple, sometimes naive!” This infamous quote by former president Jiang Zemin (江澤民) became a catchphrase for Hong Kong back in 2000. He was ranting at the city’s young reporters after one of them got his goat with an inflammatory question.
Imagine Jiang now, if he were still in charge, updating that dismissive description to categorise our new generation of opposition politicians. “Total simpletons, seriously naive”, perhaps?
Take Joshua Wong Chi-fung, the student leader who made a name for himself at the forefront of the Occupy movement in 2014. He’s taken to calling on US President Donald Trump to scold President Xi Jinping (習近平) over human rights violations in Hong Kong.
That’s right. Young Joshua expects Trump, of all the people on this planet, to help Hong Kong achieve its democratic aspirations. I don’t know where to start. You’d get more sympathy for your broken Hello Kitty doll from Attila the Hun, or stand a better chance of putting a tutu on King Kong for a twinkle-toed pirouette performance.
Are these people aware there’s a real world beyond their Facebook and Instagram sandboxes? Are we talking about the same Donald Trump who is officially listed by Human Rights Watch as a threat to human rights? Who wants to revive the fine tradition of waterboarding to torture prisoners? Who has tried to slap an entry ban on Muslims? The first US president to openly admit that his own government is guilty of bloodshed?
It’s time for Wong and company to wake up and smell the coffee. Their tired old traditional icons of democracy have long passed their sell-by date. They need to find new role models and sources of inspiration to fight the good fight. But who and where? Look at what’s happening around the world, starting with the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Just last week, United Nations human rights investigators warned that Trump, with his intolerance for dissent, was seriously threatening Americans’ right to peaceful protest. In some states, lawmakers from the Republican Party are pushing for legislation to crack down on protesters who block traffic. Protesters like Wong.
In North Dakota, they’re seeking to make it OK for drivers to run over and kill demonstrators who get in the way – as long as it’s accidental. Someone tell that to our Occupy heroes, who were allowed to block roads with impunity for 79 straight days and still can’t see the wood for the trees.
The Economist Intelligence Unit’s Democracy Index lists the US as a “flawed democracy” nowadays, but it’s not just America. All around the globe, multiple barometers point to democracy in decline. Countries that once embraced “freedom” are sliding into authoritarian rule. Growing disillusionment with democratic institutions and governments is breeding populist leaders who end up rolling back civil liberties.
China ramps up offensive against US on human rights record, accusing it of racism and fuelling terrorism
The truth is, putting the entire democracy paradigm into context, the average Hongkonger is so free and fearless, so protected, so acutely aware of our rights, and so entitled to dissent that we often put advanced democracies to shame. Sure, we could do better, but to go crying to the US or UK for help – like they have any bandwidth to set us straight? There’s a fine line between blinkered ideology and buffoonery.
I’ve written in this space before that I don’t see why idealistic youngsters like Wong can’t be the future leaders of Hong Kong some day. But that is subject to a bit of growing up on their part. And the acquisition of basic knowledge and wisdom along the way.
Jiang may be irrelevant to Hong Kong these days, but so is Trump to improving human rights here.
Yonden Lhatoo is a senior editor at the Post