The situation in Hong Kong this week is extremely complicated. It’s a real shame neither the US nor the UK have a government worthy of the name that can act as an agent of calm, but for the most part it’s not about us, it’s about tensions within China itself coming to a head.
US politicians and media especially like to label China “a communist dictatorship” and pretend that nothing’s changed since millions of identically clad workers marched around holding aloft Mao’s red book. In reality China is very much something different. “Authoritarian state capitalism” might work. Deng Xiaoping, modern China’s founding father (far more so than Mao), coined many turns of phrase such as “it does not matter whether a cat is black or white, so long as it catches mice” and “to get rich is glorious”, neither of which imply a great deal of Marxist theory.
While China is authoritarian, there is a thriving market of opinion, which the state does not ignore. The government does insist on some “red line” (heh) orthodoxies, such as the unity of the state (thus Tibet and Xinjiang are verboten discussion topics, as is Taiwanese independence), support for outcasted dissident groups (such as the Falun Gong sect) and challenging the primacy of the state directly (which is why Tiananmen is a forbidden subject). But other than that, political discussion happens often, and sometimes, as when poisoned milk was circulated that caused a huge scandal, it can blow back on government officials.
One of the more interesting voices in this environment is the editor of a nationalist foreign policy newsletter. Called “Global Times”, It appears in English, so has quite a bit of heft outside of China, and the editor, Hu Xijin, has been making himself more identifiably a “voice” of the paper. Often times Global Times is even more nationalist than the government itself – comparing it to, say, Fox News wouldn’t be completely off base. Note: the source of the armored columns approaching Hong Kong’s border this weekend? Hu’s Twitter.
In the midst of all this, yesterday a reporter for Global Times, Fu Guohao, was in the Hong Kong airport during its shutdown. Apparently some protestors either recognized him, or he provoked them, or some very bad confluence of the two, because the usually nonviolent protestors proceeded to beat him to within an inch of his life. The beating was captured on video.
In response, Hu Xijin has made Fu Guohao a hero. Trending on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter, right now is the phrase caught on video that he defiantly yelled at his attackers: “I support the Hong Kong police. You can beat me now.”
Wherever this ends, it will almost certainly not end well.