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Claiming not to know was a way to avoid talking about it. Anyone in China who wants to know, knows. Of course the people in Shenzhen, less than 30km away, are aware of what's happening in HK. They just have no desire whatsoever to get into a political discussion with foreigners.

Don't underestimate the "them and us" mentality in China. It's very pervasive. Your co-worker was assuredly on the "them" side of the equation.

This. Not to mention in my experience most Chinese actually support the government.

I don't think that's the whole picture. Unless they are actively consuming foreign news, they are likely to be underinformed at best.

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