The Black Lives Matter protests in the United States and the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong have been met with militarized police responses, including the use of tear gas and heavily armed law enforcement.
These crackdowns have led activists in Hong Kong to share their methods for countering police actions, which BLM activists have begun to utilize.
But despite commonalities, the BLM movement has received a mixed reception in Hong Kong.
While some Hong Kong protestors have attempted to organize BLM protests, one of the most powerful pro-democracy voices in Hong Kong, Jimmy Lai, has denied any association between the movements, aligning instead with President Donald Trump and a far-right ideology often described as xenophobic.
Sharing protest methods
In Hong Kong, activists who want an autonomous Hong Kong unfettered by mainland China’s authority have regularly been met with tear gas. In response, protestors have adapted their methods to neutralize the chemical weapon.
On Twitter, users like @cuddlesjk have shared methods used by the protestors to protect themselves. One video shows protestors placing traffic cones over tear gas canisters to contain the gas. Another shows an image labeled “Hong Kong Protest Gear Summer 2019” with recommended gear including goggles, face masks, black t-shirts, lycra skin covers, elbow and knee pads and umbrellas.
Hong Kong protestors have also adopted the “be water” philosophy of martial artist Bruce Lee, which focuses on adaptability as a way of progressing. Lee’s philosophy was summed up by the expression, “pliability is life, rigidity is death.”
Since the Hong Kong protest methods have gone viral, many protestors in the BLM movement have adopted them. There are videos of BLM protestors containing tear gas with traffic cones and dispersing the smoke with leaf blowers. A Twitter user responded to one such video by saying, “Learn from Hong Kong and employ their tactics against unwarranted aggression.”
Similarly, Lee’s “be water” philosophy has been echoed by supporters of the BLM movement and used to directly connect the two protests.
Common ground between BLM and Hong Kong protests
Helen Davidson, a reporter for The Guardian who covers China and Hong Kong, says the movements are intrinsically similar.
“Both the US and Hong Kong protests are decentralised human rights movements with a huge focus on police brutality, with rallies marked by police attacks on the press. Both have enormous international support.”
On June 7, the Hong Kong Free Press published an op-ed entitled “The Hong Kong movement must stand with Black Lives Matter.” There was even an attempt to organize a BLM protest, which, Davidson reported, ultimately failed to come together.
That BLM protest was shut down largely due to members of the pro-democracy protests claiming that BLM supporters were being backed by outside forces and were only there to disrupt the Hong Kong protests.
The BLM movement in the US has similarly faced accusations that it is funded or controlled by “outside agitators.”
Hong Kong opposition to BLM
It is no coincidence that the BLM movement has faced similar criticism in both America and Hong Kong.
Some backers of the Hong Kong protests have aligned themselves with the far-right in the US, as well as President Donald Trump.
Perhaps the most visible anti-BLM, pro-democracy voice is that of Jimmy Lai, a billionaire media mogul who has been dubbed “the Rupert Murdoch of Asia” (a reference to the conservative Australian media mogul who once ran Fox News).
Lai has used his media empire and fortune to support the Hong Kong protests, but he has vehemently opposed any comparison between Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests and the BLM protests. On June 2, he tweeted a video by far-right Australian journalist Avi Yemeni, quoting, “The riots in America are nothing like Hong Kong, and comparing the two is bloody disgraceful.”
In Hong Kong, Lai has been praised for his “brave” pro-democracy stance, while those in mainland China have called him a traitor. Lai has also been called a xenophobe, a label commonly applied to Trump, with whom Lai met in July 2019.
Trump’s support for protests abroad
Trump has been supportive of the Hong Kong protests, even as he has tried to maintain an economically beneficial relationship with China’s President Xi Jinping.
On August 15, 2019, in a series of tweets, Trump called on Xi to seek an “enlightened ending to the Hong Kong problem” and advised the president to meet with the protestors in person. Trump added that he hoped China would “work humanely with Hong Kong.”
Trump has similarly voiced support for protesters in Iran, tweeting on January 11 that America was “inspired by your courage.” He also warned Iran’s government not to interfere with the protests and to allow human rights groups to monitor the action, stating, “The world is watching.”
This support for protests abroad is in stark contrast to how Trump has reacted to protests in the US, where Trump has been criticized for advocating the use of violence in response to BLM protests.
A May 28 tweet used the phrase, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” which pushed Twitter to take the unprecedented step of putting a warning on the tweet.
Trump has been critical of other forms of protest in the US as well.
In response to the kneeling protest of former National Football League quarterback Colin Kaepernick, Trump has repeatedly said kneeling during the National Anthem is “disrespectful.”
On June 7, Trump tweeted criticism of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell for apparently reversing his stance on forbidding players from kneeling during the National Anthem.
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