Despite his own assault on democratic norms, the president is lauded in parts of Asia for his hawkishness toward China.
To speak to Wan Chin, the host of a YouTube politics show, is to hear echoes of American conservative radio: An “invasion” of immigrants is crossing the border, filling public housing and sapping up limited government resources, he told me; the coronavirus is a “Frankenstein” superbug weaponized in a Chinese lab; and President Donald Trump’s “Rambo way” of leadership has finally called out China for its hostilities. When Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19, Chin took to Facebook to wish him “a speedy recovery from the mild flu,” parroting the president’s own downplaying of the virus’s severity.
Chin isn’t an American shock jock, though. In fact, he doesn’t even live in the United States. He is, instead, an early and prominent advocate of Hong Kong’s prodemocracy movement: His 2011 book, On the Hong Kong City-State, was a formative text for the localist movement, which seeks to promote and protect Hong Kong’s identity and way of life, separate from that of mainland China. Chin, a former professor, peppered his opinions with historical references to ancient Chinese dynasties and arcane tidbits from folk tales. The walls of his office are lined with Chinese and Buddhist shrines, ornately carved out of dark wood. As he spoke, a woman entered and lit a small bunch of incense, the fragrant smoke twisting upward toward a red “Make Hong Kong Great Again” T-shirt hanging near the door.
Chin is also an unapologetic cheerleader for Trump, whom he calls a “hero,” and he is far from alone. This city lies at the forefront of the global fight for democracy, a place where protesters have for more than a year stood against Beijing’s attack on Hong Kong’s autonomy, free press, and liberal institutions. Yet support for the president—whose own assault on democratic norms, gushing over the Tiananmen Square massacre, on-again, off-again praise of Chinese President Xi Jinping, initial lukewarm support of Hong Kong’s protest movement, and self-admitted slow-rolling of sanctions over Xinjiang’s mass-detention camps in favor of a trade deal—remains stronger in some quarters than for his Democratic rival, Joe Biden.