Will Hong Kong's Pro-Democracy Movement Embrace Biden's Victory?

In a part of the world fighting for democratic freedoms, a "President Biden" is not as welcome as it may seem.
November 7, 2020, 7:10pm
US elections, Joe Biden

Democratic challenger Joe Biden has triumphed over President Donald Trump in a fiercely contested U.S. election that had people all over the world glued to news sites, electoral maps and social media feeds. 

But as the year's most highly anticipated election draws to a close, members of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong remain divided over which candidate will help them the most.

As tensions between the U.S. and China continue to sour, the outcome of the vote will have a direct impact on the future of the embattled city, whose streets filled with protesters last year demanding democratic freedoms amid Beijing's increased control over the semi-autonomous territory. 

To university student and Hong Kong activist Giselle Lo Si-wang, a Trump victory would have secured the safety of her city from sweeping powers in mainland China. "Throughout the year, lots of Hong Kongers pleaded with Trump to liberate Hong Kong," Lo, who is regularly among tens of thousands of protesters who take to the streets, told VICE News. 

"We all witnessed the speed of how rapidly relations between Washington and Beijing deteriorated. Many of us are able to look past Trump's controversy for our own interests and see him as an ally. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is just as, or perhaps, even more ruthless against [Chinese leader] Xi Jinping during his term."

Lo added: "They are both strongman leaders. Biden is not. He would buckle under pressure from Beijing, just like our own local government leaders."  

Her comments echo those by Hong Kong protesters VICE News spoke to in the lead-up to the election. Some expressed fears that Biden would be easily played and manipulated by Beijing or they bought into the misleading narrative - highly promoted by the Trump campaign - that Biden's son Hunter had dodgy business ties in China. But when it comes to Trump, they see him as tough and aggressive, while facts about his family's own economic interests in China are less of a focus. Others were turned off by Beijing unofficially and allegedly preferring Biden

In the months leading up to the election, Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai, a champion of press freedom and an ardent critic of Xi's government, joined other Chinese dissidents like Chen Guangcheng who came out in support of Trump and called on Americans to re-elect him to "stop China's aggression." 

A July poll for Newsweek found that 36 percent of Hongkongers with all political affiliations supported Trump while the remaining 33 percent were for Biden and 31 percent didn't know. 

But during his campaigning in July, Biden addressed the severe and expansive national security law imposed on Hong Kong and called it a "death blow" to the city's freedom. In a statement to Reuters he also threatened new sanctions on China if elected president and said he would "prohibit US companies from abetting repression and supporting the Chinese Communist Party's surveillance state." 

Joshua Wong and Nathan Law, prominent faces of the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement, have remained silent on their support for the candidates. As Americans headed to the polls Law simply urged them to "vote for those who can't. Vote to preserve your democracy and freedom." 

Other activists and supporters of the city's democracy movement called for "common sense" to be exercised. "If you oppose the Chinese Communist Party, Trump is not your friend," tweeted Australian student activist Drew Pavlou, best known for his criticism of the Chinese government.

He shared a video dating back to Aug. 2, 2019 in which Trump called the Hong Kong protests "riots." 

"Remember, one of the Five Demands of Hong Kong protesters involves authorities withdrawing the characterization of the protests as 'riots'," Pavlou said. 

Badiucao, a dissident Chinese political artist who lives in exile in Australia, tweeted that a vote for Trump is a "vote against democracy."

"There is no way that Trump is a better option than Biden," another group tweeted. 

Patrick Poon, an independent rights researcher in Hong Kong, reiterated that diplomacy was not solely based on leaders' strong words and tweets. 

"While I'm bipartisan on the election, I do believe that U.S. policies on Hong Kong will remain the same," Poon told VICE News. "I'm sure a Biden win will disappoint Hong Kongers who only want to see polemic speeches. However, all of us should not be that naive to believe that any politicians would speak up on certain issues without considering their own interests. If it's an issue that is so significant that nobody can avoid raising it, then that's where bipartisan effort follows. So, I think it's more important for us to keep Hong Kong on the bipartisan agenda."