23rd February 2020 – (Hong Kong) Joshua Wong, the pro-democracy activist criticised an article published in The Time magazine on 19th February for saying ‘The Coronavirus Has Brought Out the Ugly Side of Hong Kong’s Protest Movement’. He said that the article failed to make any reference to the shortage of supply of masks in Hong Kong and the low inventory of anti-epidemic protective gear for frontline medical staff that would last only for one month. He further described the anti-epidemic policies taken by the Hong Kong government as a toothless tiger. He claimed that over 80 provinces in mainland China were in lockdown and there is no reason for The Time magazine to accuse that a full border closure demanded by pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong was an act of revenge.

He also condemned the article for quoting a half-truth statement made by Dr. Ho Pak Leung, a microbiologist and director of the Centre for Infection at the University of Hong Kong ‘Panic is spreading faster than the virus’ without taking into account the inability of the Hong Kong government to contain the virus.

Joshua Wong and other members of Demosistō Party distributed the 100,000 masks imported from the United States at Yau Ma Tei Fruit Market on 17th February to customers who ordered masks from their website online. The masks were sold at almost below cost price. Some of the masks were also given to those in need in the community. They hoped that the masks which were sold below cost would benefit the community and they also took the opportunity to condemn the government for failing to provide them to Hongkongers. Demosistō Party claimed that they will continue to source for more stocks and sell them below costs to the public. Some quarters have regarded the subsidised sale of masks to the public as a publicity stunt to gain political mileage and to paint a bad image of the Hong Kong government. Picture source : Joshua Wong’s Facebook.

In the article, The Time magazine also stated that ‘ Beyond the looming health scare, this latest fight to control the people, pathogens and ideas that cross the border reflects the same deep distrust of the Chinese Communist Party that exploded during the recent protests. It also exposes a dirty secret that many protesters and their supporters try to downplay: how easily antipathy toward the party translates into resentment of ordinary mainland Chinese.’ “As long as the epidemic keeps worsening, people will at the back of their minds blame the mainlanders and think, ‘After all, it’s the mainlanders who started all this,’” says Willy Lam, an expert in Chinese politics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The article also made reference to several bombing campaigns appeared to be an attempt to pressure the government into doing just that. 

“The dehumanization of the mainland Chinese makes it easier to engage in violence and to believe in an IRA-style separatist ideology and militantism,” he says, referring to the Irish Republican Army, a paramilitary organization that waged a terrorist campaign to drive the British out of Northern Ireland until the 1998 Good Friday Agreement ended most of the conflict.

This simmering angst has regularly burst into xenophobia.  Not only mainland Chinese face discrimination worldwide, Hongkongers, Asians and Asian Americans are facing increased discrimination linked to the spread of coronavirus. However, the pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong with the racist mindset will tell you that ‘Hong Kong is not China’ they will blame China for everything. Most will say “They eat everything there. We don’t do that.” Ironically, they have forgotten that their ancestors, grandparents and almost everything they use is from China. Why practise xenophobia when you are also part of the same ancestral root?

Even before the coronavirus outbreak started earlier this year, the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong has become lethargic. Protesters were merely using the weak anti-epidemic measures by HK Government as a new excuse to continue with their daily ‘Lunch with you’ movements in various districts with small turnouts. Rioters had to resort to bomb placements at Chinese control border and hospital toilets akin to IRA-style tactic described by the Time Magazine to get the attention from the government. These tactics are no different from terrorist campaigns and they were a telling sign of desperation by rioters after their support started to wane in the city.

Also, it seems like the same group of pro-democracy activists was singing a different tune last year when they urged Hongkongers to vote Hong Kong protesters as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year 2019 (Read here). The Hong Kong Protesters won the readers poll, but Time editors selected Greta Thunberg as their official choice for Person of the Year.

The protesters were so gratified when The Time Magazine made the Hong Kong protesters their January issue cover. In the article, several frontline radicals were interviewed and many of Hong Kong’s young combatants said that they would rather be martyrs than inmates, especially when convictions for offences such as arson could lead to life sentences in prison.

It seems like even an established publication like The Time is not allowed to take issue with the pro-democracy activists when it comes to voicing opinions. Joshua Wong said that foreign nations may not always be virtuous and he emphasised on the importance to work closely with the international community as foreign media reporters may be prejudicial at times. He claimed that the coronavirus article published in The Time magazine has blindspots. Blindspots or not, The Time magazine has accurately pinpointed the ‘racialization’ demonstrated by the Hong Kong protesters. The Hong Kong government may not be efficient in supplying sufficient surgical masks to the public due to the global shortage, but this problem does not seem to be bigger than the elephant in the room i.e. the hostility towards the Chinese government and the discrimination against mainland Chinese. Hence, a full border closure is justified in accordance with the protesters. The writer in the Time Magazine merely chose to focus on the glaring issue of xenophobia.

Since the beginning of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, protesters have been adamant in their demands against the government. After the announcement of the withdrawal of the anti-extradition bill, they stubbornly persisted with their five demands which included the full withdrawal of the bill which was already redundant. Similarly in the current scenario of the coronavirus outbreak, the Hong Kong government implemented a mandatory 14-day quarantine on all travellers from mainland China in early February. The measure was just one step short of a full border closure. We must remember that Hong Kong and Macau are both parts of China, hence, from a political viewpoint, it is discriminatory for the Hong Kong/Macau government to close their borders with China completely. Hence, the effects are the same as the compulsory 14-day quarantine would effectively deter mainlanders from entering the city. Even in Macau, there were no newly reported cases after the government announced the closure of all casinos. Macau government also did not implement a full border closure.

Despite the 14-day compulsory quarantine, the headstrong pro-democracy activists including some frontline medical staff still persisted with their argument for full border closure. The blame game is discernible as they want to have everything their way regardless of logic. If they really want to berate the Chinese government for suppressing them in their freedom, perhaps they should first learn how to respect freedom of press and also not to practise discrimination against mainland Chinese?

The Time cover, January issue.
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