American democracy group slams Beijing’s claim it is ‘black hand’ behind Hong Kong protests, as National Democratic Institute head calls it ‘patently false’

Nectar Gan

The head of an American organisation has hit back at accusations from Beijing that it is a “black hand” behind the months-long protests in Hong Kong, calling the claim “patently false” and an attempt to spread misinformation. 

Derek Mitchell, president of the National Democratic Institute (NDI), a US Congress-funded organisation supporting democratic practices, made the rebuttal after Beijing’s top diplomat lashed out at the US over congressional passage of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act.

“Beijing has claimed that the NDI, among others, has been involved in promoting Hong Kong independence or fomenting revolution or rebellion – the so-called ‘black hand’,” Mitchell said on Tuesday in an address at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong.

“Let me say conclusively that’s patently false.”

China has long accused “Western hostile forces” – such as the United States and Britain – of playing a behind-the-scenes role in instigating protests in Hong Kong as part of a broader effort to undermine Communist Party rule, with the NDI and its partner the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) frequent targets of Beijing’s ire.

In September, Chinese state broadcaster CCTV accused both organisations of being “political black hands” aiming to launch a “colour revolution” in Hong Kong. It also accused them of funding the “umbrella movement” in the city in 2014.

“The NDI … has not had a role, direct or indirect, in recent protests in Hong Kong, or in any similar activities in the past,” said Mitchell, a former US ambassador to Myanmar. “To suggest otherwise not only seeks to spread misinformation, but also fails to recognise the organic activity here which stems from genuine grievances.”

US ambassador expressed ‘grave concerns’ after Chinese protest over human rights act

He warned that by failing to recognise the real concerns of the Hong Kong people about the erosion of their rights and the overall direction of the city, Beijing risked producing “faulty policies” and ultimately moving towards “destructive solutions that are in no one’s interest”.

The NDI has been operating in Hong Kong since the handover in 1997, working with local civil society actors on the rule of law and political reform.

According to Mitchell, it has produced regular reports on political reform in the city, supported public opinion polling projects, and conducted programmes to strengthen parties across the political spectrum, including the city’s leading pro-Beijing party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

“We had an office here until 2017. We’re not hiding. We’re transparent,” Mitchell said.

Hong Kong human rights bill clears US Congress, is sent to Donald Trump to sign into law

Apart from the democracy-promoting organisations, Beijing regards statements from US politicians in support of the protest movement and the newly passed bill on Hong Kong as direct evidence of US “intervention”.

On Tuesday, China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, who is a member of the decision-making Politburo and sits on the Communist Party’s Hong Kong policy group, said that China “resolutely opposes and strongly condemns” the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which was sent to the White House last week after passing the Senate unanimously.

Yang accused the US of “rudely intervening in China’s domestic affairs and seriously violating international laws and basic norms of international relations”, state news agency Xinhua reported. “[The US] should stop the bill from becoming law, stop meddling in Hong Kong issues, and stop intervening in China’s internal affairs.”

The Chinese foreign ministry also summoned US Ambassador Terry Branstad on Monday to protest over the act, state media reported on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, People’s Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, ran a commentary criticising the US bill and some American politicians for “lending support to rioters”.

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