Keep well away from the U.S. presidential election|Stephen Vines

Published (HKT): 2020.10.19 10:12

Some Hong Kong democrats have taken to endorsing Donald Trumps' campaign to be re-elected as the U.S. President. This is a thoroughly bad idea.

They are doing so in the belief that a Trump victory is required to maintain support for Hong Kong’s democracy movement. It is hard to know whether the incumbent president will be more effective than his rival in this respect but what is most definitely known is that getting involved in the domestic politics of overseas countries is to be strenuously avoided by people who are trying to garner international support for human rights campaigns in their own countries.

The reality is that campaigners have to deal with the governments of the day. In democracies there is always the possibility that these governments will change but it is not the business of those overseas to try and influence the direction of change but to work with whoever comes out on top.

This may sound like boring pragmatism and will not appeal to those who favor what might be described as a more muscular approach to campaigning. However the advantages of getting involved in overseas politics are heavily outweighed by the disadvantages.

This can be seen with utmost clarity in the United States where support for Hong Kong’s democratic movement is one of the very few issues that crosses party lines.

Given that this is so why alienate US Democrats by endorsing Donald Trump? Many of those who have advocated human rights in China over a very long period are also bitter opponents of the incumbent president and very uncomfortable when Hong Kong democracy campaigners go out of their way to support a man they see as being no friend of the global human rights movement.

Moreover it is a matter of record that Trump has veered from searing endorsement of the Xi Jinping regime to searing criticism. Whether a President Joe Biden would be a better option is unknown as he does not seem to be that much engaged with what is going on in Hong Kong.

The bottom line however is that both candidates are far more engaged over what’s going on in America and consider foreign policy through the lens of what benefits the United States.

There is nothing special about U.S. politics in this regard, all politicians look first to their own national interests. That does not mean that they do not care about is happening overseas but they tend to consider how international events will impact their national interests.

The extraordinary achievement of the Hong Kong protests has been not only to focus global concern on the erosion of liberty but to have inspired others fighting autocratic governments and to have demonstrated that however powerful their opponents, those seeking change should not be cowed.

Because Hong Kong has such a high profile, citizens overseas have been pressuring their representatives to support the democracy movement, not necessarily because it is of strategic advantage to their nations but because the protest movement’s values are shared by lovers of freedom around the world.

There is, in other words, a vast amount of goodwill towards Hong Kong which should not be dissipated by getting involved in the politics of overseas elections.

Ironically, one of the main propaganda lines coming out of Beijing is that foreign nations should not “meddle” in China’s domestic affairs. This is rich coming from a government that meddles like mad overseas with ambitious projects to tie the PRC closer to foreign countries.

However, and this is a hard point for some democrats to concede, the largely hypocritical narrative coming out of Beijing is not entirely baseless. Supporters of democracy in Hong Kong cannot and should not expect foreign countries to do their job for them. Struggles for democracy can only succeed if the people themselves engage in the fight.

That is not to say that overseas support is not valuable. Indeed it is quite possible that were Hong Kong not in the international spotlight, the clampdown here would more closely resemble what is happening in Xinjiang where much goes on under the cover of darkness.

So Hong Kong needs to retain a high international profile but those fighting to preserve its freedom need to keep well away from getting involved in elections overseas.

(Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong-based journalist, writer and broadcaster and runs companies in the food sector. He was the founding editor of ‘Eastern Express’ and founding publisher of ‘Spike’. In London he was an editor at The Observer and in Asia has worked for international publications including, the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, BBC, Asia Times and The Independent and, during Hong Kong’s 2019/20 protests, for the Sunday Times. He hosts a weekly television current affairs programme: The Pulse"

Vines' latest book Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and the world’s largest dictatorship, will be published early next year by Hurst Publishing. He is the author of several books, including: Hong Kong: China’s New Colony, The Years of Living Dangerously - Asia from Crisis to the New Millennium, Market Panic and Food Gurus.)

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