The Associated Press is doing its best to make the Hong Kong police look bad by describing an incident without its context:
Late at night Saturday, video from Hong Kong broadcaster TVB showed police on the platform of Prince Edward subway station swinging batons at passengers who backed into one end of a train car behind umbrellas. The video also shows pepper spray being shot through an open door at a group seated on the floor while one man holds up his hands.
Police officers said at a briefing Monday that they rejected accusations that they “beat up” ordinary citizens without first confirming their identities. They said they specifically targeted those who they believed to be rioters, including those who had changed out of their black protester outfits, and arrested 63 people on suspicion of illegal assembly and possessing explosives and offensive weapons.
The incident described in the first paragraph above did indeed happen. But it was only the last part of a larger story which the AP fails to mention. Here is how it started:
The violence in Prince Edward Station began during a dispute between protesters and some older men who were insulting them. One of the men swung a hammer at the protesters, who threw water bottles and umbrellas and later appeared to set off fire extinguishers in the car. After the clashes, the subway system suspended service across much of Hong Kong. Three stations remained closed on Sunday.
Some 30 black clad people with gas masks and helmets had entered a train to ride to another place to create another of their usual flash mob riots. The other passengers clearly disagree with the rioters' plans. Some made remarks the black clad youth disliked.
The latter dismounted the train but an argument continued. The black clad people reacted quite aggressively. They stopped the train from leaving by blocking its doors. They threw stuff at the middle aged passengers and tried to hit them with umbrellas and sticks. Some of them rushed back into the train, hit some passengers and were again pushed out. This went back and forth for a full ten minutes. Finally someone of the black clad crowd snatched a fire extinguisher and let it go off within the subway car. The passengers then tried to get out and more scuffle ensued.
A full 10 minutes long video of the scene can be watched here.
It was the above incident that led the MTR, the public Mass Transit Railway operator, to stop the traffic at the station and to call up the police. When the riot police entered the station it immediately faced resistance:
This train then departed and protesters used umbrellas as a screen to change their clothes, before crossing the platform and boarding a Central-bound train. Before this train left, the Raptors arrived shortly before 11pm.
Protesters confronted the elite force with umbrellas and hard objects while police fought back with pepper spray and batons.
After the Raptors left the train, it was stopped at Yau Ma Tei station and all passengers were asked to leave. Police intercepted and arrested seven people and seized two bags of slingshots and metal balls on the platform.
A badly cut SCMP video of the event is here (scroll down).
The whole scene was not an isolated incident. Black clad folks ripped wastebaskets off the wall and threw them on the rail tacks. They smashed customer service centers, vandalized subway entry gates and hit regular passengers who disliked their behavior. This happened not only in one subway station but was part of a systematic attempt to disrupt the whole service:
The MTR Corporation later issued a statement strongly condemning the continuous vandalism at stations. It said a number of stations including Tung Chung, Tsing Yi, Lam Tin, Kwun Tong, Diamond Hill, Lok Fu, Tsuen Wan, Lai King, Sha Tin, Sha Tin Wai, Siu Hong and Tin Shui Wai were targeted on Sunday, with CCTV cameras, ticket issuing machines and other facilities damaged.
On Saturday, protesters severely damaged facilities at 32 stations.
The intent was obviously not to protest but a well planned and coordinated sabotage campaign against the city's indispensable mass transport system. Sabotaging infrastructure is an old CIA tactic to "harass and demoralize enemy administrators and police".
Which brings me to a Lambert Strether's piece at Naked Capitalism which he headlined:
Strether asserts that there are no outside forces fueling the protests in Hong Kong:
[T]his post will have a simple thesis: The people of Hong Kong have considerable experience in running protests, and we don’t need to multiply invisible entities (“hidden hands”) to give an account of what they’re doing. For example, it’s not necessary to postulate that the participants in the 2019 Hong Kong anti-extradition bill protests consulted CIA handlers on tactics; their tactics are often available, in open source, on the Internet; other tactics are based on Hong Kong material culture, things and situations that come readily to hand and can be adapted by creative people (which the protesters clearly are).
If one ignores the evidence of U.S. influence one can indeed come that conclusion.
A commentator to Strether's piece correctly notes that this is not a question of either - or:
I am genuinely puzzled, and I have to say concerned, about the way this issue has been framed here. One does not have to accept the argument that *either* (1) the protests are completely spontaneous and genuine; *or* (2) the protests are mainly the product of CIA manipulation of otherwise clueless dupes (a whole lot of them apparently!). This is a false dichotomy. None of the critics of the mainstream Hong Kong narrative that I am familiar with take a position any where close to (2). It is a straw-man position if applied to most reputable “skeptics.”
Rather, the argument I have seen most often among these skeptics (including some commenters here) is that, while the protests *were* authentic and directed at real issues of concern to protesters, there have also been efforts on the part of Western agents to manipulate this situation. This included support of particular, strategically significant leaders and groups and, of course, control of the Western media narrative. We have pictures and stories in even the mainstream press of US officials and representatives of western NGOs meeting with such individuals. Hell, we have US politicians bragging about it.
(There are indeed two distinct groups of protesters which I hope to discuss soon in another piece.)
To claim that the U.S. is not heavily involved in the events in Hong Kong is nonsense. It is obviously not by chance that the U.S. sponsored Hong Kong rabble rouser Joshua Wong gets published in the New York Times with a call for U.S. Congress action against China:
American legislators are supposed to vote on a bill, the Human Rights and Democracy Act, that would give the president of the United States power to penalize Chinese officials who interfere in Hong Kong’s affairs. The law could also allow the United States to revoke the special economic treatment that Hong Kong enjoys, as separate from the mainland.
If the United States Congress passes the bill, it will be delivering a firm message both to other silent allies of Hong Kong and to China’s dictators. The clock is ticking in Hong Kong. Our future is being determined now.
The Trump administration strategy towards the new super villain China is a general decoupling between the 'west' and China. The violent protests in Hong Kong are obviously one instrument it applies to achieve that.
The Trump administration and the rioters hope that the Chinese military intervenes and creates another Tianamen situation:
Some of the frustration of the protesters – and I read this more than once in LIHKG.com, the go-to online forum for the city’s disaffected youth – comes from Beijing not having sent in mainland troops. For all their efforts and perceived self-sacrifice, many of them would rather face Chinese troops than Hong Kong police because the latter, though considered evil or illegitimate by some in the city, are at least seen as doing their job by most foreign observers. But the presence of Chinese troops in the city, no matter what they do, would immediately cause global condemnation while legitimising and glorifying the local resistance movement universally.
Well, if you wonder why the central government hasn’t sent troops, it’s because they think along the same line as the protesters.
Tianamen was, as we now know, a CIA led color revolution attempt, set up within a background of general protests, in which the U.S. regime change mastermind Gene Sharp was directly involved. The mostly falsely reported incident, during which soldiers were lynched and protesters gunned down, led to 'western' sanctions against China.
Beijing is not going to fall for the same trick twice.
The Joshua Wong op-ed shows that the aim has now been lowered. The riots and the inevitable police response to them are now supposed to push Congress to give the Treasury a tool to sanction Chinese officials for interfering in a Chinese(!) city's affairs.
Imagine the possibilities!
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