Those behind the scenes who tried to use Hong Kong for their own aims not only failed but are comfortably sitting well away from the grief and anguish they sponsored.
The term “drinking the Kool-Aid” has its origins in the 1978 mass suicide in Jonestown Guyana when more than 900 followers of Jim Jones drank Kool-Aid lanced with poison.
This term has now come to mean any event where a group of people grow to believe in a possibly doomed or dangerous idea because of perceived potential high rewards.
So, when it comes to the politics of Hong Kong one may ask, who was dispensing Kool-Aid and who was drinking it?
To start at the beginning, it seems very likely that large helpings of Kool-Aid were dispensed by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). This organisation is widely suspected of being a CIA “cut out” with evidence of meddling in the domestic affairs of multiple countries. Its financial accounts show clearly its routing of just shy of US$2 million to various Hong Kong activities.
So here is the initial source of Kool-Aid (bear in mind the US$2 million was just in 2020, no doubt there were previous payments), but of course someone needs to drink it.
Well, it turns out that there was no shortage of thirsty disciples in Hong Kong, willing to subscribe to a possibly doomed or dangerous idea because of the perceived high rewards. Need evidence of this? The rioters’ theme “We burn, you burn with us” highlights their willingness to sacrifice themselves for their perceived high reward of “saving Hong Kong” from a terrible fate as long as they could create a mass “immolation”.
The Kool-Aid promise was that somehow if sufficient trouble could be stirred up in Hong Kong Beijing would not sit on their hands but would send in the tanks, triggering a world wide anti-China backlash, surely this was a high reward worth drinking the Kool Aid, particularly as in the early stages the rioters were somehow getting away with mayhem with little consequences to show.
As the flames grew higher other players turned on their own Kool-Aid spigots, in some cases money and in other cases political messaging, Nancy Pelosi’s referring to news reports of the trashing of the Hong Kong legislature as “a beautiful sight to behold” was pure Kool-Aid to the black-clad rioters, if they just drank some more of the stuff, which by now was coming like a fire hose, they would be on a direct path to heaven.
And by now it was no longer just the US doling out the Kool-Aid. The UK, Australia, and Canada to mention just a few had by now joined the game. And here it gets interesting, as maybe in a strange way these various players were not only dispensing Kool-Aid but also drinking it.
Yes, a kind of vicious circle of Kool-Aid dispensing and Kool-Aid drinking now established itself.
First of all, politicians jumped into the fray, dispensing the sort of moralistic outrage that politicians do best, no doubt seeking approvals of their electorates and other elected leaders. Not wanting to appear any less strident than any other leader the rhetoric amped up with total regard to the facts on the ground and more importantly the long-term damage to their relations with Beijing. Australia seemed keen to stand out in this regard, never mind the fact that they have a huge trade surplus with China and that the livelihood of many Australians depends on trade with China, somehow it was better for all these Australians to drink the Kool-Aid in pursuit of the high moral ground.
Next in line was the media, always ready to chase any story having human rights content and preferably with pictures of young people battling authoritarian forces ranged against them. Of course, journalists will claim they are just observers, but as has been repeatedly highlighted such observations are rarely bias free, and the riots in Hong Kong has actually done a great deal to expose the lack of professionalism in today’s media.
So here too, the media both dispensed and drank the Kool-Aid, failing to question the validity of the rioters’ claims. One glaring example is the hugely exaggerated figures for marchers, issued by the march organisers and eagerly sucked up by the press, which were subsequently found to be simply lies.
There is plenty of evidence of rapidly growing mistrust in the mass media, their reports on Hong Kong certainly have not done them any favours.
And bringing up the back of the pack are the academics, both current and past, whose views were eagerly sought by a press seeking “quotable” commentary. Again, these folks dispensed the Kool-Aid in spades, providing moral support to the rioters, many of them from the same academic institutions.
If we go back to the aim of Jones back in 1978 his dream it seems was for his followers to go to some magic other universe by drinking poisoned Kool-Aid, so it is fair to ask if those who dispensed and drank the Hong Kong Kool-Aid have achieved their aims.
For those in the streets, throwing petrol bombs and destroying MTR facilities the outcome has been in many cases, not an ascent to this imagined universe but rather a relatively short journey to one of Hong Kong’s correctional institutions. The wheels of justice are turning steadily in HK and hardly a week goes by without a report of a gaggle of young people, often students who had bright futures, heading off for 2–5 years behind bars for rioting and very uncertain futures with a criminal record. Hardly the nirvana they were led to believe would be their reward.
For the politicians, well we all know how fast politicians move on to the next subject, so maybe it’s water off their backs. And for those such as Pelosi, there was not one shred of irony in her condemning the attacks of January 6 in the US while having described the trashing of the Hong Kong Legislative Council as “a beautiful sight to behold”.
It is starting to become clear just how much polarity these same politicians, with their endless finger pointing at Beijing, have generated. The unwillingness of both Chinese and Russian leaders to attend the upcoming climate conference in the UK should surprise no one who has watched the manner in which they have been openly condemned and even ostracised by Western politicians.
For the journalists, I would suggest that one positive outcome of the whole sorry saga of Hong Kong is that because these events played out in a very well connected city with plenty of very intelligent, well connected citizens, and not in some far flung location with little access, the truth of the misreporting has been widely displayed. And of course, in drinking the Kool-Aid the media were dreaming of the Pulitzer-winning report of tanks coming across the bridge at Lo Wu. Sadly, for them it never happened and as more and more of the truth comes out these falsifications are being exposed.
As for the academics. One of the interesting observations of the Hong Kong riots is that while it was portrayed as a universal uprising in fact not all universities joined in the chaos. The very extensive Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (the clue is in the name) experienced only very very limited unrest as the students there valued their science based education, while those at other institutions having a greater focus on “liberal” studies ran riot.
In conclusion, it is fair to say that a great deal of Kool-Aid was ingested in 2019/20 around Hong Kong, but there is one big difference with Jonestown, the origin of the phrase. In Jonestown, Jim Jones didn’t drink the Kool-Aid himself but was found dead from a, presumed self-inflicted, gun shot wound. In contrast when it comes to Hong Kong the real players behind the scenes who tried to use Hong Kong for their own personal or geopolitical aims have not only failed but are comfortably sitting out of the side-lines, well away from the grief and anguish they sponsored.