China accuses West of fostering Hong Kong protests

The Chinese government has national security concerns about Hong Kong — and pervasive suspicions among Chinese officials, their local allies and a segment of the public that the protesters receive foreign support. Officials contend that the United States and Britain wield so much influence in Hong Kong that China cannot open the nomination process for candidates to succeed Hong Kong’s chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, in 2017 as protesters have demanded. Doing so, they argue, risks allowing voters to be manipulated and a puppet of the West to take power.

“Strategically, there is an American pivot to Asia still going on, so can you imagine it will not make use of the current turmoil?” asked Lau Nai-keung, a member of a Hong Kong committee that advises China’s legislature.. “This is how the Beijing leadership views what is going on.”

Many who back the government insist these worries are justified given the 155 years Hong Kong spent as a British colony and the unique autonomy it enjoys in China, not to mention the mixed record of the United States in toppling governments overseas in the name of spreading democracy.

Demographics are a cause for concern, too. Three-fifths of the population in Hong Kong grew up and went to school while it was governed by Britain. Many resident, as much as a tenth, have sworn loyalty to another government and carry passports from Canada, Australia, the United States and elsewhere, many acquired in the years immediately before Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule in 1997.

The city also has one of Asia’s largest concentrations of foreign diplomats and is home to several nongovernmental organizations deemed hostile by China, like the Catholic Church, the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

The crowds at the main sit-in site in Hong Kong dwindled during the workweek, but on Friday night, thousands of residents rallied again near the government’s offices. The demonstration was intended as a show of strength and resolve after a senior official abruptly canceled talks with student leaders the day before and said that the protests were waning. “It’s like they’re treating us like foolish sheep, and people don’t like that. I came to show we’re still a big number,” said Philip Yue, a law student.

Chinese officials, in public and in private, have been quick to portray the protests as the latest in a series of Western-sponsored color revolutions after those in the former Soviet Union and the Middle East. They have seized on any hint that the demonstrators might be inspired by foreign powers, especially the United States and to a lesser extent Britain, to make their case.

“People will find that supporting color revolutions has already become a habit and mission of some people in the United States,” wrote Wu Sike, a longtime Chinese diplomat, in Liberation Daily, the official paper of the Communist Party in Shanghai.

There is no dispute that diplomats representing the United States and other Western governments have met on occasion with members of the pro-democracy camp, nor that American-funded nongovernmental organizations have invited Hong Kong citizens to conferences extolling the merits of democracy.

But in several dozen interviews with protesters and protest leaders over the last week, all emphatically denied that their movement had been directed or manipulated in any way by any foreign government. The United States has also denied playing any guiding role here.

Scott Robinson, the spokesman for the United States Consulate in Hong Kong said, “U.S. diplomats regularly meet with a broad cross-section of Hong Kong society both in Hong Kong and in Washington and do not support any particular political party or person.”

Such statements, though, have been met with skepticism by many in government circles, and pro-Chinese lawmakers in Hong Kong have called for an investigation into how the protests have been funded and organized.

“Nobody is saying that they are on the front lines directing this or that, but they have been doing this concertedly for five or six years, grooming all of these activists, providing them with theories and tactics,” said one person involved in the government’s decision-making on the protests who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

When pressed for names of activists who might fall into this category, this person demurred. But he went on to criticize the protesters for singing “Happy Birthday” to drown out pro-government hecklers, saying that this was a tactic borrowed from American-backed supporters of democracy in other countries. “It’s peaceful, but it’s a kind of violence,” in that it infringes on the free speech of the demonstrators’ critics, he said.

The protesters have offered a more innocent explanation: They adopted the tactic because some of the bullhorns they use are programmed to play the song. According to its annual reports, the National Endowment for Democracy, a

nonprofit directly supported by Washington, distributed $755,000 in grants in Hong Kong in 2012, and an additional $695,000 last year, to encourage the development of democratic institutions. Some of that money was earmarked “to develop the capacity of citizens — particularly university students — to more effectively participate in the public debate on political reform.”

The reference to university students has drawn particular attention from China’s supporters, because student groups have been at the forefront of the protests. But Jane Riley Jacobsen, a spokeswoman for the N.E.D., said the group had not financed civil disobedience training for Hong Kong residents.

The N.E.D. also hosted a briefing in Washington last April featuring two of Hong Kong’s most influential advocates of democracy in recent decades, Martin Lee and Anson Chan, who angered Chinese leadership by lobbying American politicians to support the democracy movement, an act that critics likened to inviting foreign intervention. China has long portrayed Mr. Lee, 76, as a tool of Britain and the United States.

Another target of criticism for pro-China politicians and media in Hong Kong is the United States Consulate, which is often depicted as a base for conducting surveillance and espionage to target China, with more than 1,000 American employees. That image was reinforced by Edward J. Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who briefly sought refuge in Hong Kong and told a local newspaper that the United States had hacked into Pacnet, a global telecommunications firm in Hong Kong with ties to mainland China’s top mobile operators.

In reality, said Mr. Robinson, the United States Consulate spokesman, the consulate employs fewer than 150 Americans.

Protest leaders said they had not received any funding from the United States government or nonprofit groups affiliated with it. Chinese officials choose to blame hidden foreign forces, they argued, in part because they find it difficult to accept that so many ordinary people in Hong Kong want democracy.

“It has always been Beijing’s inner demon,” said Alex Chow, the secretary general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students, one of the main prote=

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