Defending democracy: A beautiful sight to behold

January 14, 2021 06:00
Photo: Reuters

Last Wednesday, when supporters of President Donald Trump stormed the Congress building, mainland social media erupted with glee. The foreign ministry and Communist Party mouthpieces, including the Global Times, mocked the US. Other authoritarian states gloated, proclaiming the demise of Western democracy.

To those who wrote off democracy as a brittle political model, and to those who said the storming of Congress proved the US never had moral authority, I say this: he who laughs last laughs the longest and the loudest.

The attack on the Congress building provided fodder for dictators to brainwash oppressed citizens into believing authoritarian rule is superior to democracy. Brainwashing is not hard in repressive states where free speech, media freedom, and the internet are strictly controlled.

I agree the storming of Congress will remain a stain on American democracy. It gave an excuse to authoritarian governments to boast controlled stability trumps freedom. If that were true, the world would not have refugees fleeing oppression.

It is the fear of lost freedoms that are making many Hongkongers emigrate. Beijing has warned it may not recognize the British National (Overseas) passport if Hongkongers take up Britain’s offer to give BNO passport holders a path to citizenship.

But why? If Beijing believes its system, which it is gradually exporting to Hong Kong, is superior, it should allow those who don’t believe in it to leave without threatening to strip them of their rights as Hongkongers. Beijing can easily replace those who leave with mainlanders, a great way to test if the global community will still have faith in Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy.

To understand the storming of the US Congress, we need to understand both sides believed they were defending democracy. Trump supporters who attacked the building believed widespread voter fraud caused him to lose the election.

They believed they were saving democracy by storming the building to prevent final Congressional certification that Joe Biden won. Those who condemned the attack likewise believed they were defending democracy. To them, Trump supporters had attacked democracy by trying to overturn the result of a democratic election.

China’s foreign ministry officials, mainland media, and Beijing loyalists in Hong Kong who equate the storming of the US Congress with the storming of the Legislative Council on July 1 2019 are clutching at straws. The two can’t be more different.

Democracy is the bedrock of America. Those who stormed the US Congress and those who opposed the attack both believed the other side had undermined democracy and they had to protect it.

Hong Kong does not have democracy. Those who broke into Legco were fighting for democracy after Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor ignored peaceful marches by millions. Those who can’t, or refuse, to see the difference between protecting democracy and fighting for it prefer blind propaganda to facts.

Twisting facts was exactly what mainland China’s mouthpiece media, including the Global Times, did with the now familiar “a beautiful sight to behold” quote by US Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. They and mainland netizens attributed Pelosi’s quote to the storming of Legco, gleefully mocking her to use the same quote for the storming of Congress.

Let me put the record straight. Pelosi never used the quote to describe the storming of Legco. She used it on June 4 2019, the 30th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown, during a congressional human rights hearing when showed a picture of the annual candlelight vigil in Victoria Park to commemorate the crackdown. She used the quote again later in the same month after an estimated one million Hongkongers marched peacefully against the now-dead extradition bill. Both times she described peaceful protests in Hong Kong, not violent ones, as a beautiful sight to behold.

A simple Google search would show that. But how can you expect mainland netizens to tell fact from fiction when Google is banned on the mainland and the so-called great firewall tightly censors China’s internet?

To prove loyalty to her mainland masters, Carrie Lam jumped on the bandwagon on Tuesday by accusing the US and other Western countries of double-standards on national security by protecting their own but criticizing Hong Kong’s security laws.

I agree every country, including China, has a right to protect national security. Lam cited the West’s criticism of the arrests of over 50 democracy figures on security grounds as a double standard. Let me enlighten Lam about how the US applies its national security law.

It targets foreign and domestic terrorists. The law goes after people posing a genuine threat to security. It does not go after young people peacefully singing protest songs or chanting slogans such as “five demands, not one less”.

A manufacturer that made yellow facemasks with the letters FDNOL for “five demands, not one less” was forced to close after mainland media accused it of violating security laws. Just this week a judge ordered people in his courtroom to remove such masks.

The US would not use its security law to arrest democracy activists for holding an unofficial primary to choose candidates for an election. Lam’s government did exactly that. So please don’t talk about double standards. It is apples and oranges.

American democracy knows how to self-reflect and do the right thing, unlike authoritarian regimes. It’s doing that now. It will emerge with an even stronger democracy. It will then have the last laugh. That laugh will be long and loud.

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A Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London.