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Published: 02:18, January 21, 2022 | Updated: 10:10, January 22, 2022
US largesse: Prizes aplenty for nation's pawns, proxies
By Grenville Cross
Published:02:18, January 21, 2022 Updated:10:10, January 22, 2022 By Grenville Cross

Say what you like about the United States government, it always knows how to reward those who help out with its dirty work. When some people in Hong Kong got behind its anti-China strategy, various prizes came their way, either directly or through front organizations. It mattered not if they were convicted felons, criminal fugitives or simply influencers, they were all duly acknowledged, albeit in different ways.

The US, like many in the United Kingdom, including the former Hong Kong governor, Chris Patten, imagined that, after 1997, it could carry on in Hong Kong as in the colonial era. It saw the reunification as nominal only, assuming it was business as usual. This, however, was a grave miscalculation, and the kowtowing ended on July 1, 1997, when Patten sailed away on the Royal Yacht Britannia.

Once the new reality sunk in, the US changed tack. No longer “Mr Nice Guy”, it morphed into the sinister bully so familiar elsewhere. Whereas organizations like the National Endowment for Democracy had been funding its anti-China agenda in Hong Kong for years, the US now set about enlisting students, lawyers and politicians to its cause, and then deploying them, under the guise of “democracy”, to destabilize the city. Although it preferred to operate in the shadows, it was, to its fury, sometimes caught out. At the start of the insurrection in 2019, for example, the US political counselor in the city, Julie Eadeh, was discovered meeting covertly at a local hotel with protest leaders, including Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Nathan Law Kwun-chung, and, although their exchanges were never disclosed, they can be imagined.

It is still surprising that the US has been quite so brazen, and so imaginative in its justifications. Anybody from Hong Kong prepared to help it to undermine China has been lionized, harbored and even honored, often by using ostensibly reputable institutions

By these and other means, the US sought to influence Hong Kong’s affairs, and it was able, for example, to fan the flames of opposition to both the national security law proposals in 2003, and, in 2019, to the fugitive-surrender proposals, using both local proxies and fake news. As time passed, however, it became increasingly obvious that Hong Kong would continue going its own way, and the US, with its Five Eyes partners, decided that far tougher measures were required to teach it a lesson. Although Hong Kong had, as an advanced Chinese city operating under the “one country, two systems” policy, finally come of age, the US deeply resented the loss of its long-standing outpost, and reacted accordingly.

Whereas, traditionally, the US liked to validate its “advice” to the Hong Kong government by posing as a friend, it was always going to be just a matter of time before the mask finally slipped. That point was reached in 2020, after the National People’s Congress acted to end the death and destruction that had gripped the city, much of it foreign-inspired. Realizing that its wings had been clipped and its proxies thwarted, the US set about the ruination of Hong Kong, without explaining how this would benefit its people.

This fair-weather friend accordingly adopted hostile measures of the type normally reserved for bitter foes, including the ending of trade privileges and the imposition of sanctions. The then-president, Donald Trump, even expressed the hope that the city’s economy would “fail”, that it would no longer be able to “compete with free markets”, and that its “markets will go to hell, nobody’s going to do business”. If nothing else, this showed the US in its true colors, and stripped away any illusions of friendship that local people might still have harbored.

Although Hong Kong survived these depredations, the US was nonetheless grateful to those who, over the years, facilitated its efforts. The anti-China media magnate, Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, was greeted like visiting royalty when he visited Washington, DC, in 2019, even being taken to the White House to meet the then-vice-president, Mike Pence, and Joshua Wong and Nathan Law were nominated by US lawmakers for the Nobel Peace Prize, notwithstanding their criminal convictions in 2016 for unlawful assembly involving violence. The rioter Brian Leung Kai-ping, who helped to desecrate the Legislative Council building on July 1, 2019, was welcomed to the US with open arms, and even invited to Congress. The most appreciative of the lot was probably Lai, who repaid Pence by telling CNN that “We in Hong Kong are fighting for the shared values of the US against China,” and that “We are fighting their war in the enemy camp.”

In order to cast its gratitude as widely as possible, Freedom House, the US government-funded research outfit based in Washington, DC, even bestowed its 2020 annual Freedom Award on the entire 2019 protest “movement” in Hong Kong, perhaps hoping this endorsement would also encourage it to resume its hostilities in the city.

Although such ostentatious displays of gratitude were undoubtedly appreciated by the proxies themselves, the more serious-minded among them hankered after more highbrow recognition, and this was also on tap. In 2020, for example, ex-legislator Albert Ho Chun-yan, well-known for his anti-China activism and since arrested for subversion, was honored by Human Rights First, which is committed to what it calls “American ideals”. It awarded him its Roger N. Baldwin Medal of Honor, with the awards committee saying he was “prominent” in the protest movement, and that “No dictatorship is too big or too strong to be taken on.”

Earlier, in 2018, the former chief secretary, Anson Chan Fang On-sang, was awarded the O’Connor Justice Prize at the Arizona State University, with the co-chair of the awards committee, Barbara Barrett, buttering her up by calling her “a just, temperate and brave advocate for democracy, human rights and rule of law”. In response, Chan, who, after leaving office in 2001, linked up with Chris Patten and often visited the US to badmouth Hong Kong, duly sang for her supper. She announced that “politically motivated groups” were trying “to put pressure on and intimidate judges”, which was exactly what they wanted to hear.

She was, therefore, careful not to spoil their evening by disclosing that, shortly before her visit, the then-chief justice, Geoffrey Ma Tao-li, had contradicted her message. He had reassured everybody that, while judges certainly felt pressure, it was “not pressure from outside sources or persons”, but pressure from a “heavy workload”, adding that “The real pressure is for judges to come up with the right outcome.” It was little wonder, therefore, that, when asked to respond to Chan’s remarks, the Hong Kong government condemned “statements made arbitrarily to undermine the rule of law”, although this was all water off Chan’s back.

In 2019, clearly emboldened by her award, Chan whipped up concerns over the Hong Kong government’s fugitive surrender proposals, claiming that a “firewall” between Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland had to be maintained. When, moreover, armed rioters attacked the Legislative Council building on June 12, 2019, Chan, instead of standing squarely with the forces of law and order, simply parroted the protesters’ demand (and Patten’s) for a commission of inquiry, even though this was a device to weaken police morale at a critical time.

It was, therefore, no surprise that, when Chan again visited Washington, DC, in 2019, together with ex-legislators Dennis Kwok Wing-hang and Charles Mok Nai-kwong, she was honored not only by a White House meeting with Mike Pence, but also by a visit to Congress, to see the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi. Clearly in seventh heaven, Chan reportedly urged both Pence and Pelosi to continue monitoring whether the Chinese government was fulfilling its obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984, as if this was any of their business.

If, however, anybody deserved an award for furthering US interests more than Chan, it was Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, whose antics probably did more than anybody else’s to bring about the enactment of the National Security Law for Hong Kong in 2020. In August 2019, he visited the US with his Civic Party colleague, Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, and sought legislation that would end Hong Kong’s special trading status and expose its officials to sanctions. Thereafter, as deputy chairman of the Legislative Council’s House Committee, he prevented any meetings from taking place between October 2019 and May 2020, thus paralyzing the legislature’s work and preventing the passage of any new laws.

Although Kwok, fearing retribution, fled to Canada in April 2021, his labors on its behalf are still fondly remembered in the US. According to the Harvard Kennedy School’s Ash Center, he is currently undertaking research that “focuses on the legal and political risks emerging from China”, meaning he is still up to his old tricks. It has, therefore, now been announced that the New York Bar Association’s International Section is honoring him with its Award for Distinction in International Law and Affairs, which may console him in exile. It describes Kwok as a “tireless advocate for the rule of law” who “actively pressed the international community for support”. This, of course, is code for Kwok having whitewashed the excesses of the protest movement and its armed wing, for having sabotaged the work of the Legislative Council, and for having urged the US to harm his home city. Indeed, such were his services to the US that the only real surprise is that his award does not match that previously conferred on another ex-Civic Party legislator, Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee.

In July 2020, Ng was the recipient of the American Bar Association’s International Human Rights Award, said to be in recognition of her efforts to advance human rights and democracy in Hong Kong. Reference was made to her “active role” in opposing the fugitive surrender proposals in 2019, as well as to the part she played in 2003 in creating the Article 23 Concern Group, to oppose the national security law proposals, and which, according to the ABA president, Judy Perry Martinez, threatened the “fundamental rights and freedoms of Hong Kong people”. Ng’s “notable accomplishments” were also said to include her co-founding of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which provided “legal representation and humanitarian relief to people injured or arrested in the protest movement”, and which, as of February 2020, had “helped more than 10,000 victims”.

In other words, Ng, who, along with the likes of Anson Chan, Dennis Kwok, Alvin Yeung, Jimmy Lai, Albert Ho and Martin Lee Chu-ming, was well known in Washington, DC, was honored, at least in part, for having helped to block the national security law proposals in 2003. This, of course, was a violation of Hong Kong’s obligations under the Basic Law, and it produced the legal vacuum that was so ruthlessly exploited thereafter by anti-China forces, and led directly to the National Security Law in 2020. By striving, moreover, to block the fugitive surrender proposals, Ng has helped to turn Hong Kong into a criminal sanctuary, which in most places would be a source of shame, not honor.

As for the 612 Humanitarian Fund, now closed, this is suspected of contravening the National Security Law, as well as other laws, and its finances are being investigated, for good reason. It reportedly distributed HK$243 million ($31.2 million) to protesters facing prosecution or financial hardship as a result of the insurrection, and its source of funding has inevitably aroused concerns, notably over possible money laundering. Quite clearly, funding on this scale will have provided succor to many of those involved in the insurrection, even if the ABA wishes to think of them as “victims”. It is regrettable that Ng should have allowed herself to become involved in anything like this, however much the US thinks that giving money to people of this type is somehow worthy of recognition.

Although it is by no means uncommon for countries to formally acknowledge those who advance their interests, it is still surprising that the US has been quite so brazen, and so imaginative in its justifications. Anybody from Hong Kong prepared to help it to undermine China has been lionized, harbored and even honored, often by using ostensibly reputable institutions. When, however, all is said and done, Chan, Kwok, Ng and Ho should undoubtedly have held out for far greater recognition. After all, their levels of assistance to the US were such that they should have settled for nothing less than the congressional Medal of Honor.

The author is a senior counsel and professor of law, and was previously the director of public prosecutions of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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