The trash can of history awaits the useful idiots|Stephen Vines

Published (HKT): 2021.01.04 10:00

Rapists are infamous for justifying their depravity by claiming that their victims have only themselves to blame for their fate.

Almost as bad as the rapists are their defenders who argue that the way victims dress or the way they live is so provocative as to have incited the suffering they have endured.

This repulsive way of thinking is not confined to the heinous crime of rape but has been extended to the political sphere. Throughout history repressive governments have been flanked by apologists who are only ready to blame their victims for having provoked them.

Here in Hong Kong, where the thud of jackboots is echoing ever louder as the machinery of repression gathers pace, the apologists for the crackdown have been in full flow.

The most cowardly cower under the tattered canopy of being, as they say, neither blue nor yellow and seek to occupy the moral high ground by asserting that they do not take sides but seek to be objective and able to see clearly through the malaise of society’s deep divisions to find a middle way.

One of their favorite claims is that the Communist Party would never have unleashed the wave of white terror pulsating through Hong Kong were it not for the irresponsibility of the democrats in 2014 when they shunned the offer of a reformed election system for choosing the Chief Executive.

Defying everything that we know about the Communist Party, they claim that this reform would have set Hong Kong on the gradual path to democracy. They brush aside the simple fact that the outcome of this so-called reform would have been an election system in which the Party would have controlled eligibility to stand, making a mockery of the claim that universal suffrage would have flowed from this.

Fast forward to today and we can now clearly see that fixing the outcome of the election is in fact the plan for all levels of elected office to be enforced with maximum vigor.

And, in case anyone missed the spurious bleating of the apologists back in 2014, they sprung back into action in 2019 criticizing the democrats for their temerity in having finally got their act together to secure a sweeping victory in the District Council elections.

Oh dear, they moaned, how could the democrats have been so foolishly provocative as to have humbled the pro-China camp in this way? Surely, they must have known that Beijing would not tolerate an election allowing the public to demonstrate where public sentiment lay?

Instead of provoking the dragon in Beijing, they bleated, Hongkongers should have been keeping their heads down avoiding confrontation or any other kind of expression that overtly challenged the dictatorship.

What is chilling about this line of reasoning is that exactly it echoes the reasoning of apologists for autocracies throughout the modern age.

Students of the rise of Nazism in Germany in the 1930s know full well that so-called well-meaning advocates of an imaginary middle way claimed that if the Socialists and Communists had not been so aggressive in winning elections and had they not taken to the streets in their hundreds of thousands, the Nazi putsch which brought Hitler to power would never have happened. Even after the consequences of Nazism provided gruesome testimony to the savagery of fascism, they could still be heard twittering about how a more reasonable approach would have avoided this catastrophe.

The thuggery of autocrats can never be contained by waving the white flag of surrender or by raising a flag emblazoned with another pastel color. Like bullies of every kind dictators will carry on bullying until they meet resistance.

Elie Wiesel, a survivor of the Nazi Holocaust, said, when receiving the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986: ‘Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.’

The brave and defiant people of Hong Kong who refuse to remain silent are now filling the jails, being thrown out of jobs and find themselves subject to all manner of persecution by the regime’s willing hands who have lost patience with even pretending that any kind of opposition is still tolerated.

If any of those well-meaning middle of the roaders can cite a single example of a repressive regime being swept away and replaced by a more reasonable kind of government as a result of the citizenry keeping their heads down, now would be the time to proffer this example. If they cannot do so, silence would be their best option.

And, by the way, these so-called moderates, who are useful to the dictators, also tend to be despised by them. Lenin famously called them “useful idiots”.

(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.)

We invite you to join the conversation by submitting columns to our opinion section:

Apple Daily reserves the right to refuse, abridge, alter or edit guest opinion columns for accuracy, length, clarity, and style, and the right to withdraw and withhold columns based on the discretion of our editorial page editors.

The opinions of the writers do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editorial board.


Apple Daily’s all-new English Edition is now available on the mobile app:

To download the latest version,



Or search Appledaily in App Store or Google Play

Follow #AppleDailyENG on twitter