Photo: Voice of America — Public Domain
The protests in Hong Kong have been big in the news recently, but many –not all– U.S. news media reports are telling only half the story, and are distorting the truth in critical ways. Think Venezuela, Haiti, Iran, Bush’s invasion of Iraq, the Gulf of Tonkin incident, and you get the idea.
Here’s more of the story: Hong Kong wants to extradite a murderer who killed his girlfriend while in Taiwan, chopped her body up and packed it in her suitcase, then escaped to Hong Kong.
Because of the “One China” policy, any law that allows Hong Kong to extradite to Taiwan also opens the door to China. On the one hand, the Hong Kong government cannot allow itself to become a haven for violent criminals. On the other hand, about half of Hong Kong citizens fear the law could be a first step towards opening the door for political cases in the future, while the other half of Hong Kong citizens support the government.
Both sides have legitimate concerns, but the legal situation is a tangled mess; there doesn’t seem to be a good clear solution. My concern, however, is that the American media makes it look like a clear black and white issue in which China is the “bad guy”; much of the coverage don’t actually portray the complexity of the situation. It’s a mix of both the truth and China bashing.
Let’s start at the beginning. The story began when two lovers from Hong Kong, a pregnant young woman and her boyfriend, went on a romantic getaway to Taiwan. The New York Times reported that the woman, “Poon Hiu-wing, 20, never returned to Hong Kong from that Valentine’s Day trip last year, but her boyfriend, Chan Tong-kai, 19, did.”
Investigating, the Hong Kong police eventually learned that the couple had an argument, she told him that she was pregnant by another man, they had a fight, and he killed her. The Times reported: “He would later tell the Hong Kong police that he had strangled her, stuffed her body in a suitcase and dumped it in a thicket of bushes near a subway station in Taipei.” Then he escaped back to Hong Kong, which does not have an extradition treaty with Taiwan (Hong Kong has extradition treaties with many countries including the US, but not with Taiwan, Macau, or mainland China). The Hong Kong police informed the Taiwan police, who found the body in the suitcase.
Thus, the proposed Hong Kong law was a response to a grisly murder, and an attempt to create a legal basis for returning a murderer to Taiwan. The law carefully stated that extraditable crimes must be crimes in both Hong Kong and the jurisdiction to which the person is being extradited to; the crime must be serious enough to be punishable by imprisonment for seven years or more, and all extraditions must first be approved by a Hong Kong court on a case by case basis and then confirmed by the Hong Kong Chief Executive. Political crimes are clearly excluded from extradition.
Contrary to some U.S. media reports, the proposed law was initiated by Hong Kong, not mainland China. The law was initiated by Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, who among other points said that her proposal was partly in response to Poon Hiu-wing’s mother, who begged Carrie Lam not to let her daughter’s murderer get away. Mainland China was initially silent on the issue until the British and U.S. governments started demanding that the law be withdrawn or consequences might follow. Then mainland China said that this was an internal Chinese issue, and other nations should butt out.
Hong Kong has numerous other criminals who have been hiding out there for years; many are wanted in other jurisdictions for serious crimes including murder and kidnapping, but remain safe in Hong Kong because they can’t be extradited and can only be charged in the jurisdiction in which the crime was committed. There have been large pro-Hong Kong police/government demonstrations as well, but the American media have not reported this.
Opinion in Hong Kong is divided, but this is not reported in the U.S. This refusal by the U.S. media to report both views of people in Hong Kong is unfair and scandalous. The political division within Hong Kong on the issue of Hong Kong’s relationship to mainland China is long standing, very deep, partly generational –young people more often have idealistic ideas about “American/British style democracy,” older people more often remember that they didn’t have democracy under British rule, and the century of colonialism– and is a kind of ongoing societal identity crisis.
The demonstrations against the extradition bill and the Hong Kong government escalated to violent levels beyond anything previously seen there in recent years, when anti-government protesters wearing black and often covering their faces began attacking police with bricks, homemade spears, and other objects. The protesters attacked the Hong Kong legislative building and trashed it causing extensive damage, while police backed off and did not stop them. This caused the South China Morning Post, which had initially been supportive of the protesters, to post a video condemning the destruction.
Some questioned why the police had held back, but the police were faced with the problem that if they used more force, the protesters and the Western media would accuse them of police brutality and call it a Beijing ordered crackdown, and protesters might use that as a rationale to escalate further.
However, as the police held back, the protests escalated and the police were accused of brutality anyway. The protesters went on to attack and trash the China Liaison office, surround a police station trapping the officers inside, and then moved to Yuen Long –a district known to be supportive of the government– and then the Hong Kong airport. At Yuen Long the protesters beat up a local resident, causing local men –some of them Triad members– to dress in white T-shirts and attack the protesters at a subway station with sticks and pipes, injuring many including both protesters and innocent commuters. The police, having been already deployed to cover a large protest on the other side of the city, took 40 minutes to respond, and didn’t immediately arrest the Yuen Long attackers, causing the protesters to accuse the police of collaboration with the Yuen Long attackers and escalating the tension even more. At the airport protesters chanted at disembarking passengers and handed out flyers. One old man who refused the flyers was surrounded by a group of black clad young men, and in a scene reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution, yelled at, threatened, and physically accosted by the protesters.
At various points in this process the police used tactics ranging from doing nothing, to verbally trying to calm people, to using tear gas, clubs, and rubber bullets. But nothing worked and the violence on all sides including the black clad protesters and white clad counter-protesters escalated. As of this writing, the trend seems to be toward further escalation with no end in sight. The black clad anti-government protesters are now accusing the police of both brutality and of doing nothing to protect them from the white clad counter-protesters.
There is evidence that U.S. government funding is going to organizations behind the extradition law protests via the National Endowment for Democracy, which funds pro-Western groups formerly funded by the CIA. A faction of anti-government protesters have been found to have been storing explosives and other weapons of terrorism, but the Western media have downplayed this. One BBC report showed the explosives the police discovered in an anti-government protester storeroom, but instead of expressing concern about the explosives being used for terrorism, the report expressed concern that the explosives might cause criticism of the protesters, and made the report’s headline the fact that a woman walking by accused the BBC of being “fake news”. The protesters also have displayed a degree of organization far above protesters almost anywhere else in the world, to the level of an almost military operation, raising questions about whether the leaders received training somewhere. But the Western media downplayed or did not investigate these aspects.
This is part of a pattern of the American media reporting only one side of many issues involving China and Asia, too often painting complex issues in black and white with China and Asia being judged purely by American values without regard to Chinese and Asian values and views, actual facts, situations, and ignoring the actual complexity and different sides of issues.
This is also a part of the U.S. Pivot to Asia, intended to “contain” China and maintain American dominance in Asia, which is part of the U.S. global aim to dominate the entire world whether it’s in the Middle East, Asia, Latin America, Africa, or anywhere.
Part of this strategy requires demonizing China and by extension, casting suspicion on anyone who advocate restraint or balance, including members of the Chinese community here in America. But as in our “forever wars,” we simply can’t dominate the whole world, people everywhere will resist. Peace and mutual cooperation are the only sane alternatives.
Note that I am not taking sides here on the question of what Hong Kong should do. As a Chinese American born and raised in the U.S., it is not my place –or America’s place– to tell other nations and peoples what they should do.
I am, however, calling on the American media to be fair and balanced, and to truthfully and fully tell the complete story, including the major positions and divisions of opinion and action within Hong Kong or anywhere. The American media should serve the truth, not the geo-political power plays of the U.S. 1%. My message to the U.S. media is simple: Tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Veterans for Peace, San Francisco