Protesters in Hong Kong against a proposed extradition law that would allow suspects to be tried and jailed in mainland China. Photo: Facebook

Thanks to the street power of the people of Hong Kong, the government was backed into a corner and forced to suspend indefinitely a planned bill that would have authorized extradition to mainland China.

Protest organizers said almost two million people took part in a mammoth June 16 protest march against a proposed bill allowing for extradition to mainland China; city officials put the figure at around 300,000. Photo: Nile Bowie

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam apologized to Hongkongers with “utmost sincerity and humility” over the controversy caused by the extradition bill. Although she has refused to withdraw the bill outright, the very fact that it has been suspended is a huge victory for the demonstrators.

After all, the main motivation of the demonstrators to take to the streets in the first place was to pressure the Hong Kong government to make a U-turn on its intention to create a legal avenue for the extradition of criminal suspects to the mainland. Many critics of the bill have raised valid concerns, and they have made their opinions heard in the Hong Kong way.

However, it is worrying that throughout this saga, the bill’s opponents seem to have thrown their principles out the window and blindly solicited support from outside powers such as the United States.

An example is Martin Lee, founder of Hong Kong’s opposition Democratic Party, who met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on May 16. Pompeo subsequently released a statement to express US concerns over the bill.

While I understand many have traditionally held the United States in high regard for its democratic norms and traditions, I hope Hong Kong political activists will realize that the US is no saint either and definitely not a credible friend of their cause. The US has no moral ground from which to comment on the extradition bill, and its actions throughout the saga reek of hypocrisy.

The actions of the United States in the past few years have proved that its rhetoric on upholding human rights, protecting the right to political dissent and respecting the will of the people has been nothing but words.

While the United States loves to put on its self-righteous hat and lecture others on how to manage and run their internal affairs, the US government has failed to listen to its own people and examine itself.

In the past few years, Americans of all walks of life have co-founded organizations like Black Lives Matter to protest police brutality that disproportionately impacts the African-American community. Politicians in the US, especially at the state level, pass gerrymandering laws to ensure their representatives continue to win elections for years to come.

Federal lawmakers in both main parties have failed to work together and are engrossed in political infighting that has incurred great costs for the average American. The lawmaking process has, in essence, ground to a halt in Washington, and many Americans don’t trust their elected representatives to act in their best interests. This is backed up by a finding from Pew Research Center: “Only 17% of Americans today say they can trust the government in Washington to do what is right “just about always” (3%) or “most of the time” (14%).”

The US has many problems of its own and its political leadership has failed its own citizens.

If the memory of the Hong Kong activists still serves them well, they should remember the 2013 Edward Snowden incident that thrust Hong Kong into the global spotlight.

Snowden, a former US government contractor, fled to Hong Kong after leaking thousands of top-secret files that exposed a secret US government mass surveillance program targeting its own citizens and allies.

One of the damning revelations that the world came to know about was the existence of a secret court order that allowed the National Security Agency (NSA) to collect telephone records of all the customers of all US phone companies. The US government indiscriminately collects communication records of millions of its citizens regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.

The US government was forced to make major reforms to assuage the massive outpouring of domestic and international outrage in the aftermath of the revelations.

Snowden did the world and the American people a big favor, and yet he is pursued by the US government for breaking national-security laws. The US exercised its right to request that Hong Kong hand Snowden over under the US-Hong Kong Extradition Treaty signed in 1997. Hong Kong refused, and he subsequently left the city and was granted political asylum by Russia. The US was displeased and told China it had undermined their bilateral relationship.

China did not hand over Snowden and thereby saved him from likely US imprisonment. Did the Hong Kong political activists give China due credit for this?

Opponents of the extradition bill claimed China would use the law to nail political dissidents. However, isn’t the US guilty of the very same accusation? The US, which the Hong Kong pro-democrats have held in high regard, used the extradition treaty in their failed attempt to get Snowden.

And the recent arrest of Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, is worth pondering for many.

Assange had taken refuge in the Ecuadoran Embassy in London since 2012 to avoid being extradited to the United States. WikiLeaks with the help of whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning published hundreds of thousands of top-secret US government files that showed US misdeeds like the alleged indiscriminate killing of civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq by US troops.

These revelations angered the US and it filed charges against Assange, which forced him to seek refuge in the embassy, where he stayed until his arrest by British police early this year when Ecuador revoked his refuge protection as it strove to reach a trade deal with the US.

Shortly after his arrest, the US sent an extradition request to the UK, and his extradition hearing is set to begin in February 2020.

These two examples suffice to prove that the United States is guilty of prosecuting political dissidents that have hurt its interests. Aren’t the Hong Kong activists aware of the implications of being associated with a foreign power that is guilty of all the accusations they have made against China?

What does this show? Wouldn’t it damage their image and expose them as political opportunists who will align with anyone who aid their cause without any regard for their past?

Should they expose the dirt on the US in the future, can they be sure that Washington won’t go after them?

I hope Hong Kong political activists will be more prudent in their future approaches, and that the US reflects on its own behavior before lecturing others on how to manage their affairs.

Maa Zhi Hong is a political analyst in Singapore who has written for Today, Asia Times, the South China Morning Post and Nikkei Asian Review. His official Instagram account is @maazhihongofficial.

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