Hong Kong protests, as seen by Chinese mainlanders

HONG KONG (Marketwatch) — While media in mainland China is offering very little coverage of the mass protests in Hong Kong, the issue is getting splashed across social media. And perhaps not surprisingly, the comments lean decidedly against the demonstrators, with many alleging the movement is a foreign plot.

“In the rivalry between the U.S. and China, Hong Kong is an important chess piece,” Xiao Chen, a Hong Kong-based journalist from the mainland, wrote on his Weibo microblogging feed.

“Hong Kong people should have a world view, and not only focus on one city’s arguments. It’s not easy for the U.S. to create a disturbance in China, but it’s super easy to rock the boat through Hong Kong,” Xiao Chen wrote.

A lot of commentators also criticized Joshua Wong, the 17-year-old Hong Kong student playing a leading role in the protests, claiming he has ties to the U.S. government. The theory is based on an editorial in Hong Kong’s Wen Wei Po newspaper accusing Wong of being manipulated by the U.S. and alleging that the CIA has been training young protest leaders in Hong Kong, promising to sponsor them to study in the U.S. if they get indicted.

Such Weibo posts laying the protests at the foot of hostile Western governments have abounded on mainland social media. Still, the lack of posts in favor of the demonstrations doesn’t necessarily mean all mainlanders are siding against the protesters.

Posts critical of the government are routinely censored, and since Chinese citizens are required to provide their government ID numbers when joining a social-media network such as Sina Weibo, such comments can land the poster in trouble.

On the other hand, pro-government sentiment can run strong in situations where outsiders are believe to be undermining China.

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A large swath of online commentary centered around remarks from John Ross, a fellow at China’s Renmin University and former director of economic and business policy for the mayor of London. A Sina Weibo account verified as belonging to Ross said that “Western media’s coverage on Hong Kong is just too hypocritical.”

“During the 150 years when British colonists ruled Hong Kong, Britain never allowed Hong Kong people to elect their own governor. And the U.S. never had a problem with that,” Ross wrote. “China has now designed a more democratic system for Hong Kong than Britain, but the U.S. instead strongly protested against the Chinese government.”

Ross’s comments were widely quoted by commentators on Weibo, with more than 134,000 users forwarding it and over 35,000 comments.

Also generating attention was an open letter published in the Tianjin Evening News and attributed to an ethnic Chinese man living in the U.S. named Yin Haoliu.

Yin — who described himself as a retired doctor who has lived in the U.S. for almost 50 years — called on young protesters with “hot blood” to think twice about “what’s happening in China’s current reforms” and “the pros and cons of wholesale Westernization.”

“At this point, you should encourage them [the Chinese reformers], support them, or at least not add trouble for them,” Yin said, “A Hong Konger with a conscience should not do what’s not good for Hong Kong, and should not say what’s not good for Hong Kong.”

But not all the comments on China’s social media were critical of the protests or suspicious of a foreign role in the unrest.

One commentator identifying himself as a Harvard University grad student named Ren Yi wrote: “It’s very possible that the U.S. came out to state its stand on the matter as ‘leader of the free world’, but it would be an overstatement to say they are systematically manipulating this. “

“At diplomatic level, the Chinese government can criticize the U.S. government,” Ren wrote. “However, for us, for society, for scholars, such analysis is just too superficial, having deviated from the nature of the thing and played down the real and spontaneous political demands of some Hong Kong people.”

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