How celebrities should handle Hong Kong

Tyler Cowen has offered advice, now I’ll offer my own.  You should say:

“Hong Kong is and should remain a part of China. I hope the people of Hong Kong will be allowed to choose their local government officials in democratic elections.”

This is better than, “I support the HK protestors”, because it’s much harder for the Chinese government to mischaracterize your views. The Chinese government feeds a biased account of Hong Kong to its citizens. They are being told that the protestors are terrorists who are trying to achieve independence for Hong Kong at the instigation of foreign powers like the US.  Who would support that?

Of course the official Chinese story is a lie, but many citizens don’t know that. (Some do, I can assure you.) My phrasing would be interpreted by Hong Kong residents as being supportive of their push for democracy, and it would not greatly offend Mainland residents who are worried about Hong Kong independence, but care very little about how the local officials are picked.

It’s possible that the Chinese government would misquote the celebrity to make them look bad, but that’s actually a bit less likely than you might assume. Many Chinese people have access to international news and the Chinese government tries to walk a fine line, distorting the news without losing all credibility. China’s government is not quite like North Korea’s, they actually care a little bit about their image. I doubt they’d completely re-write a celebrity’s comment.

I don’t expect celebrities to know any of these nuances, and hence I’d cut them some slack if they ignored my advice. Actually, I couldn’t care less what any celebrity says on any issue.



18 Responses to “How celebrities should handle Hong Kong”

  1. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    16. October 2019 at 16:10

    Actually, I couldn’t care less what any celebrity says on any issue.—Scott Summer

    I am not a celebrity! Does that mean you care about my opinion on an issue? I hope so!

    What should I say if I believe that Hong Kong should just be a free city-state, along the lines of Singapore?

    In truth, Beijing should just cut Hong Kong loose. China does not need Hong Kong. China has plenty of ports, a gigantic manufacturing platform, and can feed itself. China has developed financial capitals, such as Shanghai, and has plenty of brains.

    China would probably do better with Hong Kong as a free city, that some people would be more comfortable operating in and transacting through with China.

    But then we know that nationalism is not always logical. The Beijing myrmidons want to control Hong Kong. Well, also Taiwan and the entire South China Sea. For starters, anyway.

  2. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    16. October 2019 at 16:19

    Agreed, Sumner, very smart.

  3. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    16. October 2019 at 16:57

    1) China is not very popular with the demonstrators, so the question is whether they want to remain a part of China at all. Well, they don’t. They don’t even see themselves as part of China right now.

    2) Does China really need excuses to suppress Hong Kong further and further? I don’t think so. They didn’t need this in the past. They just do what they want and they will.

    3) LeBron is such a clown. Against easy targets such as Trump you can hear him “speak up” three times a week, but when it comes down to his beloved money and against the worst regime in the world, this hypocrite and miserable coward pulls his tail in. That was to be expected unfortunately, but’s it’s still a let-down and a betrayal of his own (non-existing) values.

    4) The idea that Hong Kong could become democratic, and at the same time remain a part of China, is absurd. It’s like saying: “Hey Putin, Russia remains Putinist, but Saint Petersburg is now democratic, okay???” Answer by god-emperor Xi: “Yeah sure, Scottie, dream on, naïve hippie.”

  4. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    16. October 2019 at 17:15

    Ben, You said:

    “Does that mean you care about my opinion on an issue? I hope so!”

    Care? No. I’ll listen to your opinion if you put it in this comment section. But I don’t get upset if you say something I disagree with. I won’t boycott you, nor will I boycott an actor, singer, athlete, etc., if they say something I disagree with.

    Christian, You don’t know anything about Hong Kong or China, so there’s no point in me responding to all the nonsense in your comment.

  5. Gravatar of Todd Kreider Todd Kreider
    16. October 2019 at 17:17

    “Actually, I couldn’t care less what any celebrity says on any issue.”

    Certainly you don’t mean to include Great Thunberg. We’d hate to see you hauled in before the Hague.

  6. Gravatar of Todd Kreider Todd Kreider
    16. October 2019 at 17:18

    typo: “Greta” Thunberg but both work.

  7. Gravatar of Matthias Goergens Matthias Goergens
    16. October 2019 at 19:56

    Apropos celebrities: Trump has been remarkably sagacious on Hong Kong. Mostly be shutting up.

    From what I can tell he shut up for the wrong reasons–trying to brown nose with Xi probably. But let’s judge him by consequences more than by imputed intentions.

    Just imagine Trump speaking up eg in favour of the protestors. His endorsement would likely be a curse.

  8. Gravatar of Phil H Phil H
    16. October 2019 at 22:02

    It’s been a bit of a masterclass in effective propaganda. The idea that the protesters are being paid is firmly rooted in the minds of pretty much everyone I speak to.

    Use of the American flag has been a big tactical error by the protesters. It’s so easy to turn that against them. But not as big a tactical error as winning and then refusing to stop playing.

  9. Gravatar of Christian List Christian List
    17. October 2019 at 01:00

    Because you don’t have an answer, that’s why.

    The longer one thinks about your blogpost the more absurd it becomes. It’s best to put it into your ongoing, ever going folder of classic CCP propaganda.

    First you teach the critics what they should and shouldn’t say to the holy CCP. That’s just a very cheap sleight of hand in order to shift the critique on the authoritarians to the critics of the authoritarians.

    And then you negate and “nihilise” the critics completely, with your “couldn’t care less, doesn’t matter”-bla bla, which fits well with the real CCP attitude again.

    And then of course the classic “you don’t know anything about Hong Kong”-bla bla. As if anyone would need further study to identify the oppressors and the oppressed in this conflict. The only thing you need is a heart, a brain, and a minimal distance to CCP propaganda. Currently, you lack at least two of those.

  10. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    17. October 2019 at 04:39

    I agree with your premise——the statement is fine. I was surprised at how unprepared the NBA was over this issue. As a typical crazy sports fan (all sports fans have this crazy emotional attachment to a variety of issues) I was surprised how naive the NBA has been. I was also initially surprised at what I perceived as an overreaction by the Chinese——until I discovered Yao Ming was head of China Basketball—-then it all made sense.

    I think the deeper issue is that we have always envisioned market driven economies (some large percent of China is surely market driven) having common values. We know that if that were ever true, it is not now. One good thing I envision—-assuming it is good at all—-is the need to have some humility around how we earn money and the sometimes moral compromises (however implicit and perhaps even small) we make. This of course applies not just to the NBA, but even Professors and people who shop at Amazon and Walmart. Utilitarians are optimizers—-this should be easy for them.

  11. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    17. October 2019 at 08:34

    Phil, I agree that the US symbolism is a mistake, as it was in Tiananmen Square.

    Michael, You said:

    “I agree with your premise——the statement is fine.”

    But Christian says I’m an apologist for the CCP. How can it be “fine”.

    Seriously, I’m not at all surprised that the NBA botched this, even well informed Americans typically do not understand the HK issue. The US government recently botched the pullout from Syria, and they have thousands of experts. Why should we expect the NBA to understand foreign policy better than the Federal government?

    And there is no “moral compromise” in shopping at Walmart. Just good deals.

  12. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    17. October 2019 at 10:44

    Scott-For some reason, I viewed–and still do—the NBA story as a —-not a cautionary tale—-but representative of the kinds of conflicts we might see in the future with China, but larger in scale. Without doubt, the best that can happen is for the two biggest economies to compete without conflict—with free trade included. But what happens when certain beliefs/values come in stark opposition with each other? Capitalism, per se, does not care about such things. My vote is always for keeping the conflict at bay for as long as possible—subject to some crossover point. Clearly, we know by observation, that neither the Uyghurs nor Hong Kong make the cut. But—-we also have to push our beliefs outward—in the end it will be a battle of beliefs.But this NBA story gives us a small insight into what that entails.

  13. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    17. October 2019 at 14:27

    “Actually, I couldn’t care less what any celebrity says on any issue.”

    I hear you brother. Australia has been going through the most ridiculous public fuss because people apparently care about what a rugby player thinks about same-sex marriage. (Which is, of course, now the law in the land in Australia.)

    I’m gay and I think the fuss is ridiculous (to put it most calmly). Though it probably did help re-elect the Coalition Government.

    To put it less calmly, the underlying push seems to be a rather nasty creeping totalitarianism.

    BTW we got same sex marriage after a postal plebiscite.

    A two-thirds “Yes” vote and the PC brigade can’t just enjoy the victory, they have to be nasty winners.

  14. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    17. October 2019 at 14:30

    On Hong Kong, and speaking as a medievalist, it is clearly supposed to operate as, effectively a free city with its own charter. Something that has lots of history in medieval Europe. And no historical precedent in China whatsoever.

    And yes, your approach is the sensible one.

  15. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    17. October 2019 at 14:35

    The Soviet Union: 1917-1991, lasted 73 years. Well, technically, 1922-1991, 69 years.

    The People’s Republic of China: 1949-2019 (so far) : 70 years and still going, but it has now technically outlasted the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

    When thinking about the Beijing Regime, what happened to the USSR is The Big Warning Event as far as the regime is concerned. Its strategies have to be understood in that context.

  16. Gravatar of Ewan Ewan
    18. October 2019 at 04:37

    Again, this is more a question.

    China has let the plutocrats get on with it since Britain left. The people have plenty of reasons to resent the plutocrats. Hence the large protests. The violent gangs are not representative. (Opinion polls, I think, show this.) The US views China as an adversary. The US views Hong Kong as a weak link in China’s armour. The US has a record of “colour revolutions” to further its interests (what great power has there ever been that has not behaved in similar fashion?) The US is actively supporting elements among the hardcore protesters (the young people who keep coming out onto the streets – not the mass of ordinary people). Democracy in Hong Kong would be a Good Thing for its ordinary people (you made an interesting analogy with “democracy” in Singapore). But China’s authoritarian capitalism rests on one party rule. How do you expect the Hong Kong protests to play out?

  17. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    18. October 2019 at 14:00

    Michael, There are really two issues here. One is boycotting people and companies whose beliefs we find reprehensible. We do that to, and it’s normal. The second is that China is a dictatorship without free speech, which distorts the news. Hence their boycotts will often be less justifiable. Hopefully China will eventually become more democratic, and they’ll start doing consumer boycotts on more sensible grounds.

    Ewan, Unfortunately I think they’ll lose in the short run. Maybe in 20 years they might get some democracy, it’s hard to say.

  18. Gravatar of Ewan Ewan
    20. October 2019 at 02:11

    The violent gangs are not a lie by China, are they? It is not obvious to me from the outside that they should be supported. It is not obvious they shouldn’t be condemned. Wrecking Hong Kong now for democracy possibly achieved maybe in twenty years? Highly organised, are they not, for a “leaderless” movement?

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