CGTN: What are the deep-rooted problems behind the protests?
Mahoney: First is the high cost of housing. This really puts a lot of people under a lot of economic pressure. We're very familiar with the 90s generation in China and how sensitive they are to the cost of housing in Beijing or Shanghai. But [for] the 90s generation in Hong Kong, this situation is far worse.
A boy holds a placard that reads Safeguard the Rule of Law and Say No to Violence during a peaceful rally at Tamar Park, Hong Kong, July 20, 2019.
To some extent, this problem is a holdover from the British years. There was a certain amount of continuity in terms of the new political system that was put in place where you had very powerful business interests, real estate developers who continue to exert too much influence on Hong Kong politics and policy-making. A lot of people in Hong Kong are also angry because there's been no substantial government policy to help rectify this problem.
I think Hong Kong residents, as in the past, maybe not all of them, but quite a number of them used to feel superior to the mainlanders. They used to go to Shenzhen and enjoy cheap massages, cheap dinners, and cheap products. They have lost that economic power. They've lost that sense of being the better China.
CGTN: What's behind the ideological mistrust between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland?
Mahoney: Sometimes people have a very visceral or emotional reason why they are upset, but underneath that reason is something more substantial. So maybe the reason why people are angry now has to do with some sort of ideological narrative, or they're framing it as an ideological narrative. But what they are really upset about maybe something that is much more substantive, like the high cost of living.
The political distrust is something that is caused more by these economic concerns, at the same time with some uncertainty about the future: what happens after the 50 years of the Basic Law. Furthermore, there is some pressure placed on Hong Kong. Hong Kong is supposed to be the role model of the One Country, Two Systems principle. So there is a lot of international pressure to undermine that role model, especially some forces in Taiwan.
CGTN: Is Western media adopting double standards on the coverage of Hong Kong?
Mahoney: This double standard does not begin with Hong Kong. Hong Kong is just another story that Western media has latched on to. I wrote a paper several years ago where I talked about what I called the new yellow journalism, and how this was a trend in Western media, particularly in the United States where they have very negative depictions of China. So this is a longstanding problem. Any new event that comes up, it gets fed into this negative narrative. It's always sort of one-sided.
CGTN: What's your take on Washington's Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy bill?
Mahoney: Any time that Washington gets involved in discussions with human rights, it tends to hold people to a double standard. It holds people to standards that it doesn't ultimately hold itself. I don't think we can always trust the United States to take an even-handed approach to discuss those problems, because the United States often has its own human rights problems both at home and abroad.
Editor's Note: Josef Gregory Mahoney is a professor of politics at East China Normal University. The video reflects the expert's opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.