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The Sunrise Movement, a youth-led climate organization, had plans to host an exchange with a Hong Kong activist called “Learning From Hong Kong.” The idea was to look comparatively at Hong Kong’s past year of resistance to share strategies with activists in the US joining Black Lives Matter protests.
When Sunrise Movement announced their event on Twitter, a faction of the Western Left flooded the comments with vitriol. One commenter, who had misidentified the guest panelist Johnson Yeung as Joshua Wong, shared pictures of the latter shaking hands with conservative politicians such as Marco Rubio and Josh Hawley. Others were quick to point out that Yeung had received funding from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). Another commenter even tweeted that the Hong Kong movement is an “insurgency [that] is led by right-wing pro-colonialist advocates who collaborate with racist Republicans.” Their motivation was clear: to discredit the Hong Kong movement and bully Sunrise Movement into cancelling the event.
The criticism of the event comes from a particular faction of the Left who parochially believe that any foreign state expressing any anti-US sentiment is worth supporting because they undermine US imperialism. As Vincent Wong explains, these groups “leverage the lack of trust with Western governments but perverts it to such an extent that it cannot deal with the possibility that there could be terrible repression or injustice in the absence of the US boogeyman.” As a result, they align with authoritarian regimes such as the Chinese Communist Party and the DPRK. Despite claiming to be leftists, this political view has resulted in odd commentary on the Hong Kong movement, such as support for police violence and condemnation of millions of Hongkongers’ demand for democracy.
It is important, however, to recognize that the US flag-waving Trump supporters in Hong Kong are real. Some Hongkongers have also pinned their hopes on lobbying the US. But these groups only make up a small section of the overall movement. Likewise, it would be dishonest to discredit the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement in the US just because the fascist white supremacist Boogaloo Boys have turned up at actions to co-opt anti-police, abolitionist struggles.
To point out NED’s minimal involvement in the Hong Kong movement in order to discredit Sunrise Movement’s event seems to signal something other than an issue with “foreign intervention”—namely the belief that Hong Kong people have no actual political agency (or contradictions, or tensions) in their struggle because they’re one homogenous mass. The idea that millions of people partaking in ongoing protests is impossible unless backed by the CIA supports the same infantilizing racism that considers all Chinese international students to be mindless agents of the CCP.
Indeed, it should be emphasized that the Hong Kong movement has no “leaders,” meaning that there is no political party or ideological faction issuing commands. This means that the continual, inaccurate assessment of Joshua Wong and others such as Johnson Yeung as “leaders” of the Hong Kong protests is completely disconnected from the most basic realities of the movement. These and other such inaccuracies often fly directly in the face of fact, and exploit reflexive reactions to further build out these China apologists’ own sense of credibility.
While the Hong Kong movement is far from perfect, these accusations against Sunrise Movement’s “Learn from Hong Kong” event, which claim that the entire Hong Kong movement is aligned with Trump and other right-wing Republicans, stem from a fundamentally racist logic that strips Hongkongers of their political agency.
Just as the US movement is ideologically diverse, Hong Kong leftists also occupy a small section of the Hong Kong movement, and have put decades of work into fighting the hyper-capitalist conditions of the city wrought by not only the US and Britain but now the PRC as well. These leftists have long done the dangerous work of supporting mainland activists struggling for political freedoms and better labor conditions. They have also already exchanged ideas with the Black Lives Matter movement such as sharing tips to defuse tear gas and circulating tutorials to build street barricades.
Letting pro-CCP nationalists on the Western left discredit other social movements—especially movements that are also fighting against police violence—is not the path forward. Instead, the transnational exchange of new strategies of resistance to militarized police brutality is an avenue to tangibly support movements against state violence—most pressingly now, amid the movement for Black liberation. In the end, the Sunrise Movement’s response to this social media controversy was the correct one: we must center Black lives and focus our attention on opposing anti-black violence everywhere.