Dotdotnews interview. 15 June 2021
1. Can you briefly introduce yourself?
I am an Italian national and have been living in Hong Kong since 1997. I have a political background, in Italy i was active in anti-imperialist circles. In the early 1980s I lived in Northern Ireland, reporting about the British occupation and sectarian war for an independent radio station.
I studied Semiotics in Bologna with Umberto Eco and for over a decade I taught and published about urban space, social practices and cultural theory. When i left academia i intended to devote my time to writing non-academic texts, which i did, i published short-stories, poems and a theatre play.
During the 2014 umbrella movement and the 2019 riots i realized that Western media glorified what in my eyes was a typical colour revolution and that the narrative peddled by these media was pure fiction, a complete fabrication that didn’t reflect my experience on the ground. Therefore i, as a fiction writer, felt a moral obligation to leave aside my fictional characters and stories and resume doing what i did as a semiotician, that is observe and analyze. A semiotician is someone who is very alert to the different layers of meaning embodied in any kind of representation, s/he is the quintessential inter-disciplinary scholar who looks at culture, media and society with a detective’s eye. Let’s say that a good police detective works very much like a semiotician. But criminals may also adopt semiotic strategies. Semiotics can be used in warfare, sabotage and terrorism, just to name a few.
So i started to investigate, analyze, compare and contextualize both visual and verbal texts produced by protesters and Western media, i noticed patterns and a striking similarity with the narrative that had been produced around other colour revolutions. I was already familiar with the situation in Ukraine and Syria due to my political interests. I started publishing the kind of articles that mainstream Western journalists were no longer writing.
2. Recently, a research paper on how to “incentivize” HK people to protest has gained much attention from the public. What do you know about this and what do you think of such “academic research”?
I taught in local universities so i wasn’t surprised. Anti-China forces operated freely in HK, they built strongholds in academic circles, rose to positions of power and influence. Hong Kong was, and still is, full of educators, academics and cultural workers who are either foreigners, or educated (indoctrinated) in Western universities and that’s why they share a neocolonial mindset. Of course, we shouldn’t generalize, there are notable exceptions, academics who are very critical of imperialism and US-sponsored regime change.
In the past two decades professors, PhD students and researchers with a strong anti-China attitude created clusters in Hong Kong universities. They influenced colleagues and students, marginalized those who held different opinions. Often their careers were facilitated by their track record as ‘agents of change’ and informers. Classrooms were turned into an extension of CANVAS and Oslo Freedom Forum workshops, those training centres for colour revolutions. Universities have long been recruiting centres for intelligence services but in recent years the collaboration between intelligence agencies, NGOs, think tanks, media and universities has increased so much that the “revolving door” model has become obsolete: now players occupy several roles simultaneously.
If we look at that research project at The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), where students were paid to attend protests and fill questionnaires, I believe that incentivizing student participation in anti-government protests, was just one element, this research project also served another sinister purpose: collecting data and profiling local youth. Washington wanted to ensure that the second attempt at a colour revolution would be more successful than the previous one. The US, the world’s marketing experts, had a revolution to sell and needed market information to fine-tune it. The professor who led this research at HKUST, Y. Jane Zhang, is an expert in Behavioral Economics, a discipline that draws on psychology and economics to explore decision-making processes, including irrational ones. Her questionnaire used psychometric testing to measure the appetite for protest, attitudes and opinions of students, their families and social networks. Market research was a preliminary step to develop, let’s call it, a product: The 2019 colour revolution that would be tailor-made for Hong Kong. The organizers needed to identify and establish needs, get feedback, test and improve the product performance and distribution channels.
The US, this crumbling imperial power, whether engaged in political or military activities, depends on information. It needs to know who to back and who to undermine; who should receive diplomatic support, financial and other resources.
3. As we look into the matter, we found that there are more similar cases. The Western forces have been trying to, under the pretext of “academic research” or “humanitarian intervention”, etc., instigate color revolution in other countries. What are their motives?
NGOs, think tanks and the academics who work for them participate in the struggle between global actors, it’s a struggle for influence over economic choices, societal directions, cultural and political decisions. Not only they push global neoliberalism and its associated values, but they also produce and reproduce biases and narratives aimed at bolstering US hegemony. As conduits of American influence they play an integral role in a war strategy known as hybrid warfare, aimed not so much at defeating the enemy militarily but at changing or undermining the regime in targeted states. Its hallmarks are financial and economic pressure, cyber attacks, information warfare, global media and human rights campaigns, colour revolutions and proxy armies if necessary.
In today’s hybrid wars regime-change agents are more useful than intelligence agents because they don’t need camouflage to blend in with their environment; their mission is to shape it in their likeness. Through a process that appears natural and effortless, a bit like osmosis, their ideas, knowledge and values are gradually assimilated by those they interact with, creating a swarm effect that can overwhelm or saturate the defenses of their target. It’s precisely their visibility and credentials that allow these agents to hide in plain sight, develop and strengthen a global network of influence that leads to groupthink and the desired collective behavior. In Russia they call it a “mental war”. Its goal is to destroy self-consciousness, change the mental — civilizational — basis of society in target countries.
Mental war is a type of war, its objective is to take over a country by occupying its citizens’ minds, so that the politicians selected by brainwashed citizens will sell out their country. Losing the sense of who you are as a country does lasting damage. The consequences of this kind of assault do not appear immediately, but only after a generation, by then it is very difficult to do anything.
4. Do such “experiments” comply with research ethics? Are they really legitimate and justifiable ethically? Please comment on this.
Clearly not ethical and in open breach of research ethics.
5. It seems that for the West, there is this urgency again to attack China now. Why is this the case?
Profit and fear. The New Cold War against China is driven by competition. The US is fast losing its hegemonic role in an increasingly multipolar world and it’s losing all the financial perks that derive from imposing its rules on other countries. When the US talks about a rules-based international order it actually means the US-led liberal international order, which is an order that reflects the ideological, cultural, economic values and interests of the US. US-allies are rewarded, countries that defend their national interests, follow an independent path to development and refuse to be dominated are blackmailed, demonized, threatened, invaded, bombed, looted.
China and Russia are perceived by the US as a threat not because of what they do, the actions of China and Russia are difensive rather than aggressive, but because of what they are. China for instance offers an alternative and a more successful development model which threatens the global hegemony of the US.