The differences in handling the recent protests in Hong Kong and the weekly demonstrations in France illuminate an enormous democratic deficit between Western “liberal democratic” societies and non-Western “socialist democratic” ones.
It has been amazing to see how quickly the Hong Kong government – which under the “one country, two systems” system largely means the Chinese government (Hong Kong is officially a part of China) – acquiesced to public opinion after just two days of moderately-violent protests.
I am shocked. This is not because I falsely perceive Hong Kong or China as “anti-democratic”, but because every Saturday for months I have been dodging tear gas and rubber bullets in France. Hong Kong’s government backed down after barely more than a week of regular protests in the capital, whereas France has been unwilling to appease a protest movement which has lasted over seven months.
Almost immediately after protests turned violent, Hong Kong tabled the bill which proved so divisive, and their leader even apologised with the “utmost sincerity and humility”. What a contrast to French President Emmanuel Macron: Not only has Macron never apologised, but he did not even utter the words “Yellow Vests” in public until late April. His Interior Ministry can only be counted on to routinely remind Yellow Vests that they have “no regrets” about how the protests have been officially handled.
Hong Kong police reported that 150 tear gas canisters, several rounds of rubber bullets, and 20 beanbag shots were fired during the only day of serious violence. Conversely, a damning annual report this month from French police reported that 19,000 rubber bullets were fired in 2018 (up 200% from 2017), as were 5,400 shock grenades (up 300%).
Two things are appalling here: Firstly, the French government fired – at their own people, mostly for protesting neoliberal austerity – over 6,000 rubber bullets and 1,500 shock grenades in 2017. Shockingly violent protests were “normal” in France long before the Yellow Vests. Second: The Yellow Vests didn’t arrive until the final 6 weeks of 2018 – therefore, the increases and totals for 2019 will likely be 4-5 times more than the already huge increases in 2018.
The latest tallies count 72 injuries and 30 arrests in Hong Kong – it was shock over this heavy-handed policing which led to the government’s intelligent move to restore order and democratic calm.
In France, the casualty figures are catastrophic: 850 serious injuries, 300 head injuries, 30 mutilations (loss of eye, hand or testicle). Someone passed out or vomiting is not counted as a “serious injury”, but if we included those hurt by tear gas, water cannons and police truncheons the number of injuries would undoubtedly approach six figures, as astronomical as that figure sounds. As for arrests, France was at 9,000 on March 24, with nearly half receiving prison sentences. However, this count was announced before new, repressive orders were given to arrest democratic protesters even faster. After interviewing for PressTV one of the rare lawyers courageous enough to openly criticise a French legal system which is obviously not “independent”, I estimate that over 2,000 Yellow Vests have already become political prisoners. More are obviously awaiting their trial, and more trials will obviously be convened.
Western mainstream media coverage of the two events is best described by a (modified) French saying: “one weight, two measures”. Hong Kongers are “freedom fighters” against a “tyrannical” and “totalitarian” Chinese system, whereas Yellow Vesters are routinely slurred in the West as thugs, anti-Semites and insensible anarchists.
Western media has no problem printing the turnout numbers of organisers… when it comes to Hong Kong. The Yellow Vests’ self-reported “Yellow Number”, and the turnout count of a courageous, openly anti-Macron police union were routinely ignored by the Mainstream Media until mid-April (here is Wikipedia’s tally of all three estimates, in French).
However, finally printing crowd counts from sources other than the (obviously self-interested) French Interior Ministry was clearly in keeping with the anti-Yellow Vest Mainstream Media: starting on March 23, France began deploying the military against French protesters, banning protests in urban centres nationwide (bans in rural areas began in early May), gave shocking orders for cops to “engage” (that is, “attack”) protesters, and also gave orders to make arrests more rapidly. Therefore, the outdated count of 9,000 could easily be vastly higher.
All the repression achieved what it was obviously intended to: scare French anti-government protesters away. Weekly protests averaged a quarter million people from January 1 until mid-March (cop union estimates), but after the harsh repression was announced until today protests averaged only 65,000 brave souls.
Western “independent” (and always-saintly) NGOs are no better than Western media: In a report released in late March, US-based Human Rights Watch had issued 131 articles, reports and statements on Venezuela – zero on France. The NGO is still totally silent on French repression.
Perhaps the most important question is: what are the protests about? On this issue there is also a huge difference: The protests in Hong Kong are over a law to extradite criminals, whereas in France the protests are over the criminal lack of public opinion in formulating public policy.
Those primarily threatened by Hong Kong’s law are financial criminals, as the island’s primary economic function is to serve as an England-dictated tax haven. This explains why “exposed” tycoons are now rushing their wealth out of Hong Kong. Perhaps the primary initial complaint was that the law would damage Hong Kong’s “business climate”, which is undoubtedly why Western media – so supportive of neo-imperialism and rapacious neoliberal business practices – was so very opposed to the bill and so very supportive of the protesters.
Those primarily targeted by the Yellow Vests are also financial criminals – the anti-patriotic French bankers, politicians and journalists who have colluded to create a “Lost Decade” of economic growth even worse than either of Japan’s two examples. This decade of near-recession is being dramatically compounded by Francois Hollande’s and Macron’s executive decrees and socioeconomic “deforms” which are gutting France’s social safety net, working conditions and France’s tradition of being the only Western neo-imperialist nation which pursued relatively egalitarian economic policies (only domestically, of course).
So what can we learn from this comparison? We can fairly say that the differences are “cultural”, which is to say that they are linked to and produced by their political values.
On one hand we have Hong Kong’s Beijing-tied government – China operates on a “socialist democratic” model. The structure of their government, one easily finds from reading their constitution, has been deeply influenced by the early 20th century ideals of anti-imperialism and class struggle.
China has emphatically rejected the Western “liberal democratic” model, incarnated by France, which remains rooted in aristocratic, 18th century ideals, and which necessarily lacks the modern ideals of economic equality, gender and minority equality, democratic equality and the ability to prevent an oligarchic rule of the “1%”.
When it comes to China, Hong Kong and France, the numbers and data are so overwhelmingly one-sided that not much ink needs to be spilled in this column to draw the obvious conclusion: China’s socialist democratic system is obviously far, far more democratic than France’s.
The Chinese and Hong Kong model of democracy is far more responsive to the will of public opinion, and to the fundamental needs of their public, than France’s outdated, aristocratic, and fundamentally anti-democratic political system.
Perhaps this was not the case 100 years ago, but it is clearly the case in 2019.
However, much, much ink from other pens should be spilled to broadcast this conclusion, especially in hypocritical and deluded Western newsr
*Ramin Mazaheri is the chief correspondent in Paris for Press TV and has lived in France since 2009. He has been a daily newspaper reporter in the US, and has reported from Iran, Cuba, Egypt, Tunisia, South Korea and elsewhere. He is the author of “I’ll Ruin Everything You Are: Ending Western Propaganda on Red China”.