The Washington Post has an interesting story on the escalating verbal attacks from theChinese government on America's top diplomat in Hong Kong, Stephen Young. (The Wall Street Journal Asia editorial on the subject here: “Paranoia in Hong Kong.”) The Post’s Andrew Higgins reports that the Hong Kong newspaper Wen Wei Po went after Young for his career—he served in Kyrgyzstan, as well as Taiwan—and his family background. “Wherever he goes, there is trouble and so-called ‘color revolution,’” said Wen Wei Po, a pillar of the Communist Party’s still mostly secret political apparatus in Hong Kong. The paper described Young—the son of a U.S. Army officer who fought in Korea and Vietnam—as coming from “an anti-China, anti-communist family.”
Meanwhile, a mainland official posted to Beijing suggested Young's conduct—standard, even mild, diplomatic stuff—might be enough to get him declared persona non grata in Hong Kong. Higgins also puts the smear of Young in context with barrages against other American diplomats, including former ambassador Jon Huntsman and Ambassador Gary Locke.
Higgins writes that the targeting of Ambassador Young might not have such serious consequences for U.S.-China relations, but that "Beijing does seem determined to silence America’s voice in the political development of a territory that, for more than a century, played a big part in shaping China’s own political destiny. Sun Yat-sen, the leader of China’s 1911 revolution against the Qing Dynasty, sheltered here, as did communist revolutionary Zhou Enlai and Tiananmen Square protest leaders when they fled Beijing in June 1989."
China has always been sensitive about Hong Kong, seeing it as tainted by its colonial past. Deng Xiaoping, before Hong Kong’s return to the mainland, made it clear that Hong Kong’s people could not be trusted to run Hong Kong. Beijing considers Hong Kong's democratic politicians subversive "black hands" and bristles at large annual marches commemorating the Tiananmen massacre of 1989 .
Washington may try to reassure China's communist leadership that U.S. diplomats are not working against them, but it's a hard case to make that support for democracy does not threaten the one party dictatorship. It is time to start answering attacks on American diplomats, directly, rationally, and substantively, rather than trying to pretend there is no conflict of objectives.