Hong Kong protest ‘hero’ Joshua Wong trained alongside the cream of Western-backed colour revolutionaries
On 2 December, high-profile Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong was sentenced to over a year in prison for his involvement in an unauthorised protest outside the territory’s police headquarters in June 2019.
It marks the third time the 24-year-old has been jailed for his political activities, and follows an amazingly rapid ascent to international prominence, which began in 2014, when the group he founded, Scholarism, played a pivotal role in the Occupy Central protests that year.
Wong was subsequently listed among Time magazine’s Most Influential Teens of 2014 and nominated as its Person of the Year, declared one of the “world’s greatest leaders” by Fortune the following year, and even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017.
He somehow also found time to establish and lead pro-democracy political party Demosisto – which called for “self-determination” from China – until its disbandment after the implementation of the city’s highly controversial national security law in June, and was instrumental in influencing US lawmakers to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in November 2019.
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One would be hard pushed not to be awed by all Wong has achieved, or inspired by his indefatigable determination in the face of such risks to his liberty. That his campaigning efforts have captured the attention and imaginations of quite so many in the Western world is unsurprising.
However, there are strong indications that unseen forces surreptitiously helped Wong along every step of the way, and consciously groomed the young activist for many years for the position he now occupies.
“Davos for Dissidents”
In November 2014, the BBC’s Newsnight program broadcast an extraordinarily revealing report on the activities of the Oslo Freedom Foundation (OFF). The British state broadcaster dubbed it a place where “the aristocracy of activists” meet to “share ideas and learn about agitating for positive change over champagne and canapés.”
“In the basement of this four-star hotel, human-rights activists come to what feels a bit like a school for revolution,” intoned Laura Kuenssberg, then-Newsnight’s chief correspondent, now BBC News’s political editor. “This workshop? How to make sure your message – whether in Egypt, Ukraine, Hong Kong or North Korea – catches on. This may not evoke the spirit of the barricades, but the teaching here is that, to be successful, to topple a government for good, you have to be organized, and plan meticulously.”
She went on to note that activists present in the class had been involved “in organizing the current protests in Hong Kong,” strikingly revealing “their plan to put thousands on the streets of the territory was, in fact, hatched nearly two years ago.”
The report then cuts to an interview with Yang Jianli, who, in his mid-20s, was involved in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests, and subsequently fled to the US. On his return to China in April 2002 on a friend’s passport to monitor labor unrest, he was arbitrarily detained for four years, then for another year for refusing to leave the country following his release.
On a table next to Yang is a laptop, via which he’s conducting a conversation with none other than Joshua Wong. Kuenssberg notes Yang has been talking to student activists in Hong Kong “on a daily, almost hourly basis,” and reiterates the fact that demonstrators in the territory were “trained, long before taking to the streets, to use non-violent action as a weapon of mass destruction.”
This segues into a brief interview with Jamila Raqib, Executive Director of the Albert Einstein Institution, which “advances freedom with non-violent action,” and has received funding from, among others, US government regime-change arm the National Endowment for Democracy (NED).
“Protesters were taught how to behave in a protest, how to keep ranks, how to speak to police, how to manage their movements, how to behave when arrested,” she says.
The report ends with clips of an ensuing bout of booze-fuelled revelry, Kuenssberg noting that “like at any good conference, the evenings see deals done over drinks.”
“Schmoozing for democracy! To say this is a strange event hardly begins to cover it,” she says without apparent irony. “There’s something deeply incongruous about North Korean defectors, Ukrainian freedom fighters, even hackers, trading information over glasses of champagne. They call it ‘Davos for Dissidents’ for a very good reason.”
Kuenssberg concludes that, while viewers will “never know” most of those in attendance at the OFF summit, “the next revolutionary, who will change their country, could just be in this room,” while members of Pussy Riot snap selfies with other attendees.
Oddly, days after broadcast,the BBC issued a clarification, stating that, while the report “may have given the impression the Hong Kong pro-democracy protests were planned by foreign activists,” in fact, “references to the demonstrations were intended to mean the planning was carried out in Hong Kong, with support from abroad.”
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Kuenssberg’s reference to the blueprints for the Occupy Central protests being “hatched” two years prior to her report’s broadcast is conspicuous, given it was in 2012 that the aforementioned NED began funding the National Democratic Institute (NDI) in Hong Kong to the tune of US$460,000 annually.
The NDI’s objective was “to foster awareness regarding political institutions and constitutional reform … and develop the capacity of citizens – particularly university students – to more effectively participate in public debate … allowing students and citizens to explore possible reforms leading to universal suffrage.”
This sounds highly relevant to the Occupy Central protests, and, in September 2016, the NDI published a report on the progress of its “democratization” efforts in Hong Kong, which made repeated references to Wong, Scholarism, and Demosisto.
In the meantime, NED grants and the organization’s involvement with activists in Hong Kong grew apace, expanding to include groups such as the Institute of Human Resource Management, Confederation of Trade Unions, Journalists Association, Civic Party, Labor Party and Democratic Party. NED funding extended to these groups exceeded US$1.8 million from 2017 to 2020 alone – a period concurrent with ever-escalating levels of protest in Hong Kong.
In 2015, the US’s Freedom House, which works closely with the NED, honoured Wong alongside Martin Lee, the founder of the Democratic Party and another noteworthy figure in the 2014 Occupy Central protests.
The NED was founded in November 1983, and then-US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director William Casey was at heart of its creation. He wished to construct a public mechanism to support groups and individuals inside “enemy” countries that would engage in propaganda and political action, which the CIA had historically organized and paid for covertly, under the bogus aegis of democracy and human-rights promotion.
In 1991, senior NED official Allen Weinstein acknowledged that “a lot of what we do today was done covertly 25 years ago by the CIA.”
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Seeing in colours
Intriguingly, the Agency also played a role in the creation of the Albert Einstein Institution, which was briefly featured in the Newsnight report.
In 1965, its founder, Gene Sharp, was recruited to Harvard’s Center for International Affairs, known colloquially as “the CIA at Harvard”. Its founders and staff were all prominent Cold War intellectuals, with intimate ties to the US national security state, the first co-directors being Henry Kissinger and Robert Bowie, future CIA deputy chief.
It was here that Sharp, who died in 2018, created many resistance methods that have influenced protest movements the world over ever since, earning him the nickname of the “Machiavelli of nonviolence.”
Sharp and the Albert Einstein Institution, through instructional writing and direct training, have helped out numerous revolutionary groups since the 1990s. They include Yugoslavia’s Otpor, which also received millions in NED funding, and whose members proceeded to found the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies, which trained the various groups involved in the ‘colour revolutions’ that engulfed former Soviet states in the mid-2000s, as well as key Arab Spring activists.
“The bible of Pora has been the book of Gene Sharp … it’s called ‘From Dictatorship to Democracy’. Pora activists translated it themselves. We [wrote] to Sharp … he became very sympathetic towards our initiative, and the Institution provided funding to print over 12,000 copies of this book for free,” a member of Pora, a group central to Ukraine’s ‘orange revolution’, has said.
According to a 2006 US embassy cable published by WikiLeaks, protesters in Syria were tutored in Sharp’s writings. Another embassy cable the next year indicated Burmese officials feared Sharp was part of a “a vast internal and external alliance” that was trying to bring down the government.
The Albert Einstein Institution staffer featured in the Newsnight clip, Jamila Raqib, is a recurrent OFF speaker, to the point that she has a dedicated profile on the organization’s website. It notes she worked “closely” with Sharp and that, together, they authored ‘Self-Liberation’, which OFF states “has been used throughout the world as a practical guide for nonviolent resistance.”
If Raqib’s statements in the BBC report are accurate, she – and Sharp, whether directly or indirectly – had an intimate hand in training the Hong Kong protesters, even if remotely.
It’s unclear which other would-be insurrectionists have benefited from their collective expertise, although White Helmets chief Raed al-Saleh spoke at the Forum’s 2017 meeting, and self-avowed Belarusian president-in-waiting Svetlana Tikhanovskaya was guest-of-honour at OFF’s virtual 2020 summit.
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