EDWARD HON-SING WONG
My experience [in Canada] was really frightening when I realized I think tankie-ism wasn’t just restricted to cyberspace with the internet trolls. It’s been really disconcerting, disorienting seeing a lot of comrades I’ve organized with for over a decade turn out to be tankies.
These are real people who are occupying leadership positions and doing important organizing work, whether in the labor movement here or in other social justice campaigns. In the past, we never had these conversations until issues around China became more prominent with the Hong Kong protests, with Covid-19.
It really came to a head around 2 years ago when we tried to organize a kind of global uprising rally here in Toronto, alongside Rojava activists, Latin American activists, Sudanese, and so forth. It was going really great until a big section of the rally led by the Chilean contingent had discovered that we were trying to organize a Hong Kong-China contingent. Right away they said no, we aren’t doing this, they pulled out, and the whole thing fell apart. Of course, there’s the more traditional tankie divide around Assadists saying they weren’t going to march with Syrian activists and so forth. For me, this was the first time seeing a rejection of Hong Kong-Chinese leftists in that space. It was quite alarming.
There might need to be a different response in terms of Internet troll-y tankie types versus what I’m seeing on the ground, in terms of when we’re talking to a lot of other racialized communities that are contending with colonialism. It might not be the same kind of bad faith actors that we see with Grayzone.
I don’t have the answers now, but I did manage to speak to a couple Chilean activists who did give me some time. For them, they couldn’t separate the images they were seeing of American flags being waved at Hong Kong rallies, they couldn’t separate the struggles that Hong Kongers and Chinese workers might be having from their own thoughts around needing to confront American imperialism as an immediate threat in their home regions.
MORE ON THE LETTER AND TANKIES
I was wondering what you think was the reception of the letter from Indigenous Studies and Native American Studies scholars, who are influential on the anti-imperialist left. These people are left celebrities that have so much clout advocating for this brand of single-minded anti-US imperialism, rather than thinking about how any critique of US empire really needs to entail how the Chinese empire is in direct collusion. I’m curious how that letter played out in those circles.
What can we do to better bridge the gap between what we’re talking about – US counterterrorism and US-China state, elite-level collaboration – towards a more global and international critique of settler colonialism?
I think it was mostly ignored. Quite a few people shared the letter, but anybody who had any real clout just didn’t say anything.
Even before the letter, I wrote directly to Vijay Prashad, and he never replied to me. I suspect that group is lost. I’m sorry to say, but I suspect that they are lost in this.
The letter that we came up with was initially understood to be a way to reach across the aisle, not to try to antagonize from the very get go. Maybe they didn’t understand what the issues were, maybe they’ve been taken in, and maybe that was a little bit naive. Nevertheless, it was an effort to, an attempt for a certain kind of understanding and solidarity.
I think, with your suggestion to move the discussion into discussions of settler colonialism. The China field’s trope is of internal colonization, and I think that doesn’t do the same work as settler colonialism at all. So I think that that’s one way forward.
I’m actually kind of approaching Fabio’s position that — we don’t want to take this subjectivist position of, well, if we just emailed them more, then we could convince them. These things are out of our control for reasons that all of you outline. This is their response to their perception of American empire, and it’s less about the actual details in China and Xinjiang.
ON PROMISE LI’S ESSAY ON THE FAR RIGHT IN HONG KONG
I truly enjoyed reading Promise’s essay on the far right in Hong Kong, and I really appreciate the level of honesty and the genuine feeling in it. As someone who spent 4 years in Hong Kong, I can really relate to many of the experiences. Out of curiosity, how has Lausan been received among the left? We’ve all seen the Twitter fights. I worry that people who had the patience to read the essay still come to the conclusion, “look this [the Hong Kong right] is a necessary evil.”
At the end of your article you said there are basically just 2 options: to be a practical movement towards true democracy, or to just go back to those old cycles and different modes of entrapment. So another question is: what kind of concrete struggles for true democracy can we envision as a group or as a collective? And that’s also related to some concrete agenda, such as the labor issue in Hong Kong.
And lastly – and this is something I’ve never had a chance to share any of my thoughts on, as someone from the PRC – but I see so many parallels that we can draw between the Trumpists in Hong Kong and the Trumpists in the Chinese diaspora. So do you see any potential, a possibility of alliance across these communities, in my case in North America. Have any of these groups reached out to you?
Because I do see a nice entry point where all the Trumpists are kind of using the same rhetoric that we can confront as a united front. My personal take is, to be honest — as I said when I read your article, I was so happy because I do feel like the entire Hong Kong struggle for democracy has alienated a lot of people who are from China. This is just unfortunately the truth. But if we are to be realistic, the chances for Hong Kong to be able to use all the leverage between the two superpowers is getting smaller and smaller in many ways. China’s just so vast and powerful.
So I still see one of the hopes is to really change people inside China. I know it’s even more challenging, but I don’t see any alternative if you don’t try to make them a little bit more sympathetic to these democratic causes. It’s just a shame that many of us, people like me, having a Chinese passport cannot really express many of these things on the internet because we have family in China. But I see some hope there.