Patterns of Western intervention in global democratization

January 06, 2020 17:29
File picture of a massive pro-democracy march on  New Year's Day. The ongoing social tensions in Hong Kong have been, to a certain extent, triggered by the great power rivalry between the United States and China, the author notes. Photo: HKEJ

The Brookings Institution, a foreign policy think tank based in Washington, D.C., recently published a report on the state of global democratization. It was written by a team led by Norman Eisen, a retired US ambassador who has served in the White House as special counsel and special assistant to former president Barack Obama.

The report covers the so-called “third wave” of global democratization from the 1970s to the 1990s, and the period afterwards that stretches until the present day.

This article touches on some patterns in the way external forces intervened in the democratization process of other countries, particularly those in the Middle East.

Let’s talk about the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 by US-led Western coalition forces.

After the Taliban and Saddam Hussein regimes were overthrown by the allied troops, the United States began to install democratic governments in the two countries amid a state of anarchy through radical means such as:

1. Exporting hostile liberal and democratic ideologies to these countries in order to undermine the conceptual and cultural authority of Middle East regimes;

2. Inciting the “maltreated groups” in these countries to stage revolutions to topple their own governments by exploiting the unequal socio-economic structure of the Middle East society; and

3. Directly sending troops to invade these countries and oust the regimes in order to build new democratic governments amid the anarchy and chaos.

One can actually find some patterns in the ways the West interfered in the democratization process of other countries not only in the Middle East but also in other parts of the world.

1. The West would often provide funding and training for non-governmental organizations or the “maltreated groups” in these countries with a view to empowering them to mount bottom-up resistance against their own governments using liberal and democratic values.

2. Once social unrest erupted in these countries, the NGOs sponsored by the West and other external forces would take advantage of some of the social issues, such as the disparity between the rich and the poor and the corruption which the existing regimes had failed to address, in order to mount either a “Color Revolution” or insurgency to topple them.

3. After the regimes were overthrown, both the domestic and foreign organizations orchestrating the subversion behind the scenes would support figures who belong to their blocs to enter the newly installed administration and seize power.

In my view, the ongoing social tensions in Hong Kong have been, to a certain extent, triggered by the great power rivalry between the United States and China.

Worse still, the wealth gap in our city has continued to deteriorate since the 1997 handover, largely because the post-colonial administration has adopted the same governing approach of maintaining close partnership with the business community put in place by the former British colonial authorities.

As a result, these deep-rooted social issues have provided the necessary environmental conditions for hostile foreign forces to empower the “maltreated groups” in Hong Kong to mount a resistance against the SAR authorities.

And amid the resistance movement, some members of Hong Kong’s civil society sponsored by external forces began to cut ties with the political establishment backed by Beijing, and hence the ongoing political turmoil.

As such, in order to resolve the current crisis, Hong Kong authorities should root out the scourge of poverty, among other issues, in society so as to eliminate the potential risk factors for social unrest that may be utilized by foreign powers to their advantage.

For instance, after the outbreak of the anti-extradition bill movement, a diplomat representing the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) told me bluntly that the phenomenon of subdivided flats in Hong Kong is likely to damage the international image of our city and the “one country, two systems”.

That being said, it might be good for Beijing, the SAR government, the pro-establishment camp and even the pan-democratic bloc to study the public housing policies of Singapore and Malaysia for reference in order to work together and turn the issue of subdivided flats into a thing of the past.

Only by doing so can Hong Kong truly achieve long-term stability and prosperity.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec 25

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Dr Bryan Wong Pak-nung, Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, Department of Politics, Languages and International Studies, University of Bath, UK