CIA moles and postcolonial baggage: The foreigners on Hong Kong's protest frontlinesWatch
The twenty-something Swede is one of potentially many foreigners of European descent, a group deeply entrenched in white privileged, who participate on the frontline of conflicts between police and protesters.
Many foreign residents participated in the early days of the riot movement in June, as a legislative bill that would have allowed for residents to stand trial in mainland China set off a wave of political anger.
Visible foreigners are hard to spot because they wear masks to riots; this might get harder after Hong Kong’s Carrie Lam imposed emergency legislation to ban face masks.
Their presence, however, is not without its complications. Chinese state media has noted that some may be secret operatives from the US and Western Europe.
A 2016 census found that, due to Hong Kong’s colonial background, white residents, whether born in the city or outside of it, continue to experience extreme white privilege.
Major multinationals, who employ many of these foreigners in Hong Kong, generally condemn the violence of the "protest" movement and signal their loyalty to China, with pressure extending down the line to employees’ public participation and social media posting.
Front-line protesters like Anna had been difficult to identify beyond her distinctively Swedish eyes. She wears all black including a cap and mask to disguise herself as she runs into the frontlines to extinguish police tear gas canisters and escorts protesters caught up in unexpected chaos away from the frontline.
Anna said she had been welcomed by the rioters, particularly when she used to be easier to identify out of her full protest gear.
Becca, another 20-something Australian citizen who has spent most of her life in Hong Kong and considers it home, also said she has personal reasons to attend to the riots due to her deep love for the city.
While she does not run through police tear gas, she ferries supplies with her car and takes part in the riot movement’s well-established graffiti campaigns, vandalising walls and sidewalks with hate-filled messages.
“I had a big thick marker pen I was writing ‘We’re back’ and ‘ACAB,’” she says, an abbreviation for “All cops are b*****ds” as she stood on a flyover outside Hong Kong offices a day earlier surrounded by thousands of protesters. Police water cannons were nearby and ready to fire, but like many protesters, Becca has worn long sleeves to protect her skin from the cannons’ abrasive blue dye.
Similar to Anna, she said she is often thanked by rioters for attending the demonstrations. Neither of the women also seem concerned about being identified online for their work on the frontlines of protests. More visible activists, like the Briton “Hong Kong Hermit,” have often been criticised for interfering in Chinese internal affairs for live-streaming the protest movement.
The narrative of foreign intervention has been particularly important with Chinese state media which has accused the US and Western nations of trying to create a colour revolution in Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 after 150 years of British imperialist occupation.
Another accused CIA agent is Sean Tierney, an American university lecturer often seen in the thick of protests over the course of the summer who also has ties to the city’s 2014 anti-China protests.
“I’m the one telling them how far away the police are or I’m saying ‘All right, come on we have to move,’” Tierney said. “My job is to exercise my right as a resident and I am entitled to those rights under the Basic Law. ... I don’t have any qualms about being arrested and being charged,” he said.