Published: 23:31, June 20, 2024
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Eight questions protesting US university students should reflect on
By Tony Kwok

I take my hat off to the US university student protesters. They include students from top Ivy League universities such as Columbia, Harvard, and the University of Pennsylvania.

These students have acted on their conscience by protesting against their government’s complicity with Israel’s genocide in Gaza and murderous repression in the West Bank, resulting in the killing of over 36,500 Palestinians and the injury of some 82,600 others, the majority of whom were innocent children and women. On a single day, International Children’s Day (June 1), some 60 Palestinians were killed, and 220 others injured, mostly children.

These students are aware of the risks they face while fighting for justice on behalf of oppressed Palestinians by staging protest encampments on university campuses. They risk being beaten and arrested by riot police, facing prosecution, and being saddled with a criminal record. So far, police in riot gear have detained at least 2,600 students in 39 states, involving more than 100 student protests. They also risk being expelled by the prestigious universities they have worked so hard to gain admission to, potentially ruining their academic and future careers. Yet they persevere and should be respected as a global example of moral courage and conscientious protesters.

Their first question should be: Why did the United States government allow the brutal war in Gaza to isolate America and Israel from prevailing global opinion, and why does the US government appear to be controlled by the Jewish lobby in the US, providing unconditional support to Israel in the conflict yet unable to influence Israel positively, creating the absurd relationship of seeing “the tail wagging the dog”! They decry the fact that the US was the only country in the UN Security Council to veto a unanimous appeal for a cease-fire. Instead, it continues to supply the most advanced weaponry to Israel to fuel its daily bombardment and shooting of innocent Palestinians. When the International Criminal Court (ICC) ruled that Israel has a genocide case to answer and is reportedly preparing arrest warrants for top Israeli and Hamas leaders for war crimes, the students were appalled to learn that the US House of Representatives passed legislation that would impose sanctions on the ICC prosecutors and judges, irrationally perverting the course of justice and violating the spirit of the international rule of law.

The second question the students must reflect on is whether the US is truly democratic or instead ruled by a “corporate dictatorship”. They note that all politicians are opportunistic and are only interested in following where the real power and money lie within America’s power elites, such as the powerful Jewish corporations and the military-industrial complex.

The courageous protests of students nationwide have been accompanied by a near-total blackout of their voices in the mainstream media. The students have come to see the true nature of the US mainstream media industry, which serves only the political elites and has deliberately hidden the apartheid nature of the Israeli state and its acts of genocide against the Palestinians. They see how the mainstream media portray their nationwide campus protests as “antisemitism” and how media bosses are sacking journalists who show independence in criticizing Israel and the US. Fortunately, the students can access facts from social media, particularly TikTok — the reason American politicians want to shut down the social media platform.

Apart from staging protests on campus, the students should be praised for establishing a University Network for Human Rights, consisting of law students from Boston University, Cornell Law School, the University of Pretoria in South Africa, and Yale Law School. They compiled a 105-page report that it called “the most thorough legal analysis” yet to find “Israel is committing genocide” against Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. The report was sent to the UN, but it has received barely any coverage in the US mainstream media, most of which are unabashedly pro-Israel. This is hardly surprising as it’s well-known that the dominant American media organizations are owned or controlled by Jewish interests.

Nevertheless, the American university students’ valiant protests have triggered similar actions in universities elsewhere, especially in France, the United Kingdom and Canada.

The third question is where the money needed to bomb Gaza comes from. The students would be appalled to discover that with the US supplying arms to Ukraine and Israel, American spending on the military is approaching $1 trillion per year, accounting for 45 percent of worldwide military expenditures of $2.2 trillion, the highest since the end of the Cold War, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. It spends more on its military than the next 10 countries with the highest military spending combined! They would learn that the Big Five — Lockheed Martin, RTX Corp, Boeing, Northrop Grumman and General Dynamics — are the primary beneficiaries salivating over the vast US defense budgets of recent years, thereby acquiring tremendous political influence. According to a report by the Washington-based Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, of the 46 active conflicts around the world, the US provided arms to 34 of them to fuel their endless wars.

This leads to the fourth question, on the US government’s national debt, which stands at $34.4 trillion and is expected to increase by $1 billion every 100 days. The students will calculate that, proportionately, this will mean every American citizen has to bear $100,000 in debt. Finally, their generation will eventually be tasked to repay the debts, affecting their career prospects. Moody’s Investors Service lowered its rating outlook on the US government to “negative” from “stable” in November because of the rising risks to the country’s fiscal strength.

The fifth question is over the social inequality in the US. According to research, over 40 million US citizens are living below the poverty line, and 650,000 people are homeless, while the life expectancy is among the lowest in Western countries. They would wonder if the US could reduce its military budget of $1 trillion per year; much improvement could be made in solving the problems of poverty, homelessness, unemployment, and infrastructure renewal.

The sixth question they should reflect on is whether China is their friend or enemy. They were brainwashed into believing that China is spreading authoritarianism while the US is promoting freedom and democracy. However, many US students are now visiting China and discovering the huge mismatch between the narratives on China promoted by the US mainstream media and what they see for themselves. They see a modern country with much advanced infrastructure, such as its high-speed rail, its highways and bridges, and that people live in harmony and can walk safely unaccompanied on the streets, even late at night. They would compare this to the proposed first high-speed rail project in California from Los Angeles to San Francisco, which started construction in 2015 and is still under construction after nine years and over $9 billion in spending. In China, the high-speed rail network now covers 45,000 kilometers.

They will come to confront the contrast of China being busy producing goods for the world and building infrastructure in many developing countries, while the US is selling weapons and bombing other countries. If they read the report by the Centre for Economic Policy Research, a pan-European independent research group, they would learn that China is now the world’s sole manufacturing superpower, with production exceeding that of the nine next largest manufacturers combined. They would also learn that as the US tries to isolate China economically and disrupt its worldwide supply chains, especially in high-tech fields, it is causing enormous grief to suppliers, manufacturers and middlemen everywhere, not least in the US, as they find it really tough to replace their Chinese partners. With the US imposing a 100 percent tariff on imported Chinese electric vehicles, the victims are the young Americans deprived of the chance to buy a high-quality electric car at an affordable price.

The seventh question is about the declining ethical standards of the country. One recent example is the insider trading of American politicians on the TikTok bill. It was revealed that before the US Congress passed the law on banning TikTok unless it’s sold, the bill’s initiator, Republican Congressman Michael McCaul, was discovered to have used his family trust, LLM Family Investments LP, to secretly buy $1.15 million worth of shares of Meta, a TikTok competitor, at a share price of $485 to $509. The shares jumped to $530 upon the passage of the bill, thus making a substantial profit. In Hong Kong, that would constitute prima facie evidence to prosecute for “misconduct in public office” involving the abuse of an official position for personal gain.

Then, there was a scandal in which the artificial intelligence team from Stanford University was found to have copied a large language model, miniCPM, developed by Tsinghua University and tech firm ModelBest in China, without authorization.

Furthermore, there are reasonable grounds to suspect corrupt relationships between politicians and arms manufacturers. It’s common for retired American senior military officers and defense officials to serve the military-industrial complex after their retirement.

The final question concerns the two senior US citizens vying for the country’s highest office, which hardly inspires potential future leaders among the student body. According to a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll, 6 in 10 respondents expressed dissatisfaction with the two-party system and wanted a third choice. Many are so-called “double haters” who dread the prospect of a rematch between incumbent President Joe Biden and former president Donald Trump. It is absolutely unthinkable to the outside world that a person with a criminal conviction can still be eligible to stand for presidential election. They would wonder what is wrong with the US political system, which has prevented better qualified and more suitable candidates from coming to the fore. Undoubtedly, reforming the current calcified US political system must be among the utmost concerns that occupy the minds of many protesting university students.

The author is an honorary fellow of HKU Space and Hong Kong Metropolitan University. He is also a council member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies and a retired deputy commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.