An American writer used a photo of a Hong Kong protest for the cover of a book about the decline of democracy in the US and globally, inadvertently fueling the pro-Beijing narrative that the city’s demonstrations are backed by foreign powers.
Ben Rhodes, a political commentator and former veteran advisor to US President Barack Obama, picked an image of a march during the 2019 anti-extradition movement as the face of his new book, “After the Fall.”
Dude please don’t. You’re only encouraging the false belief that the US influenced the HK protests https://t.co/zfY39t192m
— ZeBigDragon Says #SaveSheikhJarrah ✝️️ (@ZeBigDragon) June 2, 2021
Together with the book’s subtitle “Being American in the world we’ve made,” the connotation—that the US played a major role in the Hong Kong protests—was not lost on Twitter users, who criticized Rhodes for the photo choice.
“You do not help anybody with this, but gullible people will use it as further “proof” that the pro democracy movement was “CIA backed,” one person wrote. “Read the room!”
Rhodes did not appear to have suggested this intentionally. On Twitter, some users asked those who criticized him to read his full Twitter thread for context. In his tweets, Rhodes analyzed that the protests in Hong Kong “represent the mobilization of people against authoritarianism globally.”
He also said he had spoken to protesters and Hong Kong officials in his research, and that he “came to admire the courage, creativity, and aspirations of Hong Kongers so much.”
7/12 Hong Kong should be seen as a warning: that history is moving in the wrong direction, propelled by the momentum of capitalism, nationalism, and technology blended with authoritarianism.
— Ben Rhodes (@brhodes) May 31, 2021
Coconuts reached out to Rhodes for comment but has not heard back at the time of writing.
Many also mocked Rhodes’ questionable assertion that the photo, taken in Causeway Bay and framed by dense skyscrapers with a large jewelry store plaque written in traditional Chinese, “looks like it could be any big city.”
“I totally thought it was Johannesburg or Rio de Janeiro or sth idk,” one person wrote in a sarcastic retweet.
Published on June 1, “After the Fall” looks at authoritarianism in countries including China, Russia and Hungary, in the context of the US as a superpower that has exported “unleashed capitalism, ungoverned social media and a militarized foreign policy,” according to a New York Times review.
Not everybody was critical of the photo choice, however. Some Hongkongers expressed their thanks to the writer for highlighting the city’s movement, especially at a time when the government has intensified its crackdown on pro-democracy voices.
One Twitter user said: “I just appreciate his thread bringing more attention to our fight.”