Home/Daniel Larison/Another Foreign Protest, Another Pointless Demand That the U.S. “Speak Out”

Another Foreign Protest, Another Pointless Demand That the U.S. “Speak Out”

Andrew Peek makes a predictable and unwise demand:

President Obama must speak out publicly in support of the demonstrators in Hong Kong, and the sooner the better.

There’s not really any reason why Obama must do this. Peek would like him to do it, but if Obama doesn’t it isn’t going to matter. On the other hand, if Obama did “speak out” about the protests in Hong Kong, there are several undesirable things that could happen. It would feed into the Chinese government’s paranoia about outside interference in its internal affairs. It would probably undermine the protesters by associating them with interference from outside governments, which Chinese nationalists would probably be more than happy to exploit to the detriment of the protesters. Doing this could also potentially make it harder for Beijing to make concessions to the protesters by inserting the U.S. into an internal dispute. Finally, it would inevitably harm U.S.-Chinese relations at least for the short term, and it could fuel a backlash against all things American in China. There is no likely scenario in which having the president “speak out” about these protests would benefit the protesters or make it more likely that their demands would be granted. At best, it would be a vain gesture on the part of our government, and at worst it could do real harm to the protesters and their cause.

Bizarrely, Peek believes that the U.S. must “manage the tricky question of Chinese nationalism,” and the way he thinks that the U.S. should do that is by siding with protesters that many Chinese nationalists are likely to view with suspicion and distrust. This would not “manage” Chinese nationalism so much as inflame it. Peek imagines that by supporting and encouraging civil society that Chinese nationalism might somehow be moderated, but that gets everything backwards. Democratizing countries with strong nationalist traditions will tend to become even more enthusiastically and brazenly nationalist and majoritarian in the near term, so the remedy that Peek proposes will very likely make the problem he wants to fix worse than it already is.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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