‘Enthusiasm gap’: Hong Kong demonstrators notice silence of the U.S. Left

While conservatives such as U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio are championing pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong, American leftists have mostly remained silent as communist China brutally cracks down on Hong Kong demonstrators.

Although backing the pro-democracy effort has been a readily bipartisan issue, “for some leftists, criticizing America matters more than supporting democracy,” analyst Lyman Stone wrote for The Federalist on Dec. 16.

The presence of the American flag at pro-democracy protests may also be turning off leftists from supporting Hong Kong demonstrators. / Vincent Yu / AP

Rubio has led the legislative efforts in the United States to defend Hong Kong’s democracy, prompting the leftist magazine The Nation to ask, “Why is Marco Rubio doing more than the Democratic Party for the people of Hong Kong?”

GOP Sen. Josh Hawley visited Hong Kong during the protests, Stone noted, “while the socialists at Jacobin magazine just got around to explaining why the Left should support Hong Kong a week ago, after more than 25 continuous weeks of protest. Their earlier coverage was mixed with tsk-tsk-ing about the lack of labor activism in the Hong Kong protests, and the presence of ‘Hong Kong localists.’ ”

“Localists” make up somewhere between 10 percent and a third of the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement. They “want to restrict immigration, privilege the Cantonese language, and encourage a ‘Hong Kong for Hong Kong people’ mentality,” Stone noted. “While Western conservatives and progressives may see something like Western nationalism in this, the localist movement also generally supports generous social services, is supported by local community groups in poor neighborhoods, and advocates for more progressive social values.”

Stone continued: “Even before the protests, Hong Kong opinionmakers recognized that American conservatives have close ties to Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement. This is not to diminish the sincere support of many Democrats and progressives, but the enthusiasm gap is real.”

Hong Kong leftists “have grown increasingly frustrated,” Stone noted, and “are publicly wondering why they have been spurned by the international left.”

Many U.S. conservatives, like Solomon Yue, a Republican Party official, have been very outspoken on behalf of Hong Kong. “As a result, they get widely shared on Hong Kong social media,” Stone wrote.

“In fact, many conservative news outlets, including The Federalist, have been widely shared among Hong Kongers. Whereas in 2014 Hong Kong’s ‘Umbrella Revolution’ protestors felt kinship with the leftist Black Lives Matter movement, today’s Hong Kongers are burning Lebron James jerseys.”

Stone continued: “In the kulturkampf that seems to accompany all politics nowadays, progressive cultural figures have come off poorly. During the Houston Rockets/Daryl Morey blowup, the NBA institutionally defended the right to free speech, but dozens of players, and in particular many players with outspoken domestic political opinions like Lebron James, condemned the tweet.

“Corporate titans of woke capital, including Apple, Blizzard, and others, were either silent or actively opposed the Hong Kong protests. When Pope Francis was asked about Hong Kong during his visit to Japan, his response was, ‘I would like to go to Beijing; I love China.’ The pope has not hesitated to critique Western Catholic leaders on many issues, yet held his progressive fire on Hong Kong.”

Some on the Left have even gone so far as to circulate “do not reshare” lists “trying to tell Hong Kongers not to retweet American conservatives (even if those conservatives are actively support Hong Kong),” Stone wrote. These leftists are also alleging “that U.S. conservative support is phony, or mocking American conservative patriotism. The progressives who dominate the English-language media environment in Hong Kong have been driven into fits explaining why Republicans are the bad guys, even though Republicans are working overtime to support Hong Kong. Some Western-connected leftists simply cannot decide whether they want to support Hong Kong, and if they do support Hong Kong, they definitely don’t want to accidentally agree with Rubio.”

Mostly, Hong Kongers “have ignored this effort to rewrite their movement along Western progressive lines. Hong Kongers who decided to work with America, and especially with American conservatives, got actual legislation passed. China’s government noticed this success, and banned activist Joshua Wong from going to Italy to testify before Italy’s Senate. But that just irritated the Italians even more, and now populist-led Italy has passed legislation supporting Hong Kong too.”

Leftists, Stone wrote, are “annoyed that Hong Kongers aren’t turning out to be the left-revolutionaries that Western observers want them to be.”