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How the killing of George Floyd exposed Hong Kong activists’ uneasy relationship with Donald Trump

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Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement has struggled to reconcile the support it has received from Donald Trump with his administration’s brutal crackdown on protests over the police killing of George Floyd.

In the past few weeks, unprecedented Black Lives Matter protests, renewed by the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer, have spread to every US state and to countries across the world, regardless of pandemic restrictions.

But in Hong Kong, where year-long mass protests share many similarities with those in the US, there was no mass rally.

An attempt at organising a BLM event on Sunday failed after pro-democracy protesters expressed concern about whether it had police approval and if attendees would be safe, given the history of police brutality. The organisers, who were not connected to Hong Kong’s movement, said the police had been “amazing” and supported their BLM rally but could produce no approval.

Eventually it was cancelled, with organisers accusing people of being “agitators” and “pushing their own agenda”.

A second attempt at a BLM rally is under way, hoping to address and move on from last week’s failure.

The controversy comes amid a complicated debate about the commonalities and differences of the two protests, and whether Hong Kong demonstrators were reluctant to join in pushing back against their biggest single ally – Trump.

Both the US and Hong Kong protests are decentralised human rights movements with a huge focus on police brutality, with rallies marked by police attacks on the press. Both have enormous international support.

But the most powerful supporter of Hong Kong’s protests is also arguably the BLM movement’s biggest detractor – Trump.

A protester in her mid-20s, who asked to be referred to as M, said many Hong Kong protesters knew of and disagreed with the US president’s domestic policies but some were reluctant to criticise him.

“They know to some level that they are being used – but after years of silence, any support from an American president feels like success,” M said.

Hong Kong’s movement contains a spectrum of political views, and Trump has at times been hailed as an ally for his tough stance on China. When the US government passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act last year, demonstrations held placards giving thanks to the president and his government.

Members of the Hong Kong movement who spoke to the Guardian said the reasons for Hongkongers’ muted response to the US protests were complicated.

People in Hong Kong have been understandably focused on the immediate threats to pro-democracy activism, as China seeks to increase its control.

They said many Hongkongers weren’t aware of the history and politics of the BLM movement, or US politics, and were reluctant to comment. The city also had to have a reckoning with its own racism, others said. Some also said support for Trump was largely predicated on the fact that he and the Hong Kong protesters shared a common opponent – the Chinese Communist party – and that protesters felt the president and other Republicans had been the most visible in their support for them.

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