Britain hypocritically bans selling tear gas to Hong Kong police

Christian Patterson
2019-07-12
Underground Mall

“Only western cops are allowed to be militarized,” says British to Hong Kong police.

This is a hard topic to cover because the political dynamics of the Hong Kong protests are convoluted. The reason many Hong Kongers are protesting is, for the most part, Hong Kongers feel like capitalist Hong Kong is capitulating to socialist China. Whether or not China is still actually socialist is irrelevant for this. In terms of basic geopolitical discourse, China is still socialist, or at least represents the socialist pole in a pseudo-bipolar world.

But even that is simplified. I saw a video online of people criticizing HK police’s actions. Some of the comments were like “wow, you criticize Hong Kong’s police but not China’s police,” even though most western criticism is from the perspective that HK’s police force is subjugating themselves to China’s will.

A reason for this spectrum of western responses to the Hong Kong police and protests is westerners don’t understand the nuances of Hong Kong politics and their relation to China.

[I wrote a post to help untangle confusion about Taiwan’s political relations to China recently, and I might do a similar post for Hong Kong soon.]

So, I have no strong feelings about this situation, except a) I don’t support police violence against protesters, and b) if there’s a precedent for Hong Kong extraditing prisoners to Mainland China, it realistically probably will be a slippery slope to extraditing political prisoners to China, but c) even considering all that, I still have critical support for China. I don’t support China in the same ways, and for the same reasons, I don’t support most state governments. But in international politics, I think China is hypocritically demonized by North America and Europe.

For example, here’s a quote from Reuters:

“What happens in Hong Kong is, I think for all of us, a litmus test of the direction of travel that China goes in,” Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, one of the two contenders to be the next British prime minister, told parliament.

“I today urge the Hong Kong … government to establish a robust, independent investigation into the violent scenes that we saw,” Hunt said.

Britain, he said, would issue no more export licenses for crowd-control equipment to Hong Kong until it was satisfied its concerns on human rights and fundamental freedoms had been thoroughly addressed.

“The outcome of that investigation will inform our assessment of future export license applications to the Hong Kong police,” Hunt said.

In this passage, aspiring Tory leader Jeremy Hunt, says the policy is disapproval of “the direction of travel that China goes in”. The banning of tear is a statement against China, and the perception that the Hong Kong police force is an extension of China.

Britain doesn’t use mass tear gas against protesters, but it is used a lot in canister form. This BBC article from 1998 says tear gas was deployed by British police about 10,000 times, in the first two years of its use within Britain.

Although 10,000 incidences is a lot, tear gas wasn’t deployed the same way Hong Kong police did. In Britain, it’s deployed in non-political situations, subduing an individual. But what makes Britain hypocrites here, is that their tear gas manufacturers already do sell to countries that deploy tear gas all the time.

The US (and to a lesser extent, Canada) both use tear gas. American police used tear gas in DC after Trump was elected, and also against protesters outside a Trump rally in Arizona. Israel uses tear gas against Palestinian protesters frquently. Australian prison guards used tear gas on kids who were detained at a juvenile detention center. Tear gas was(/is) used in apartheid, and modern, South Africa. It’s used in South Korea, etc.

In 2000, British tear gas manufacturers got busted bypassing UN policy with British trade loopholes to illegally sell tear gas in Rwanda.

This is why Jeremy Hunt’s quote from Reuters is illuminating. It’s not actually a punishment for Hong Kong using tear gas, it’s a punishment for China using tear gas outside of western colonial-imperial interests. Tear gas is okay if your country has/does benefit from imperialism, and sometimes okay if your country isn’t challenging global-capitalist interest. It’s much less okay whentear gas is used by former Cold War rivals, and current capitalist powers, threatening a western-centric, unipolar world.

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