Should Washington “Speak Out” On Hong Kong?

Pace the WaPo editorial board, Larison doesn’t want the US to involve itself in the standoff, which he calls “exactly the sort of tense, potentially explosive situation in another country that the administration shouldn’t be talking about publicly”:

It would be appropriate for the administration to convey its concerns to Beijing through diplomatic channels, and perhaps they have already been doing this, but there is absolutely no need for public declarations or “explicit support” for the protesters. How could that benefit the protesters? The Post doesn’t even pretend that it would. As ever, the desire to have our government “speak out” in support of foreign protesters trumps all other considerations. It’s not as if Beijing will react well to be warned by Washington about how it conducts its own affairs. We know very well that the Chinese government reacts angrily to any hint of foreign interference in their internal politics. Indeed, there are few governments in the world less likely to respond well to statements from U.S. officials about its internal affairs than the Chinese government.

Before meeting with John Kerry yesterday, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned Washington to back off and respect Chinese sovereignty. There is also a conspiracy theory, encouraged in the pro-Beijing press, that the protest movement is an American plot. David Wertime situates this theory within the context of negative reactions to the demonstrations on the mainland:

A vocal but not negligible minority genuinely believes that foreign forces are behind recent events. A widely circulating article, originally penned in June and republished Oct. 1 on, a major news portal, ably summarizes the attitude of some Chinese conservatives toward Hong Kong. The accusation-packed piece, called “Who really is the black hand behind Hong Kong independence?” begins, “Recently, gangdu – Chinese for Hong Kong separatists, who do not appear to actually be a driving force behind the current protests — “have been happily making trouble, and behind it is an America hoping to push [the movement] to its height.” It goes on to name a great many bogeymen: Paul Wolfowitz, the National Endowment for Democracy, George Soros, and the CIA. The article accuses the West of making “cultural products” in a “war of ideals” that it then foists on unsuspecting overseas populations. The goal, the article declares, is to then “stimulate Taiwanese independence, Xinjiang independence, and Tibetan independence” to cause “multiple troubles for China, making China unable to pay attention to its great power struggle with the United States.”

Noting that Russian state television is also on board with this theory, Bershidsky compares it to similar mutterings about the massive protests in Moscow in 2012 and the Euromaidan revolution in Kiev:

The problem with the U.S. conspiracy theory is that it’s impossible to buy if, like me, you experienced the Moscow and Kiev demonstrations first hand. The leaders were weak and non-essential. The protests would have gone on without them. If not through the leaders, how could any puppeteer exert influence? People took to the streets because they felt cheated, and in every case the deception was real. In Moscow, Putin’s party blatantly stole a parliamentary election. In Kiev, the president reneged on his promise to sign a trade pact that would have put Ukraine on a path toward European integration. In Hong Kong, a plan to vet candidates for the city’s chief executive nullified Beijing’s promise of universal suffrage.

The U.S. neither perpetrated the deceptions nor opened people’s eyes to them. People aren’t as dumb as authoritarian leaders think. The creation of symbols, organization against common ills and the desire to keep protest camps clean are instinctive and universal. They require no more conspiracy or outside influence than a swarm of bees does to organize a new hive.