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Monday, April 29, 2019, 10:38
‘One country, two systems’ still vibrant despite the detractors
By Grenville Cross
Monday, April 29, 2019, 10:38 By Grenville Cross

Grenville Cross condemns some overseas critics of HK, saying they are downplaying the positive aspects of life here, exaggerating problems and peddling half-truths

If their criticisms are justified, it is concerning when foreign parliamentarians find fault with Hong Kong. When, however, their assessments are not soundly based, those concerns diminish. The reports of any committee are only ever as good as its ability to get to the facts, and there is always a danger when reliance is placed on people with axes to grind.  

A case in point is the Foreign Affairs Committee of Britain’s House of Commons. Although it has recently published a report which concludes that Hong Kong is moving toward “one country, one and a half systems”, it has relied heavily on biased sources. A submission, for example, from Hong Kong Civil Hub, an obscure group co-founded by professional agitator Joshua Wong Chi-fung, was highlighted in the report, even though it is little more than an anti-China rant.

There was also a submission from Benedict Rogers’ Hong Kong Watch, a UK-based think tank which acts as a cheerleader for anyone with bad things to say about Hong Kong. Rogers, whose antics led to his exclusion from Hong Kong in 2017, once bizarrely described Wong and fellow agitator Nathan Law Kwun-chung as his “heroes”. Notwithstanding its lack of objectivity, the committee also drew on this submission.

As usual, the former Hong Kong governor, Chris Patten, was trotted out, to give his now familiar spiel about how Hong Kong is going to the dogs without him. He called the Department of Justice “a transition mechanism for the United Front or Beijing”, notwithstanding its constitutionally guaranteed independence and highly professional lawyers. He was apparently upset because the department has prosecuted political activists for causing public disorder on the streets, something that, of course, would not have been tolerated during his own time in Hong Kong.

Their (Patten and his ilk) objective is to strike at China by blackening Hong Kong, and we must hope that at some point the Foreign Affairs Committee will get wise

Since Patten has sought to egg such people on, he can hardly be surprised when the criminal law catches up with them. As usual, he gilded the lily, telling the committee that the activists who occupied Hong Kong’s streets in 2014 were “extraordinarily moderate” and “believers in the rule of law”. What, however, he did not explain was that their leaders had stormed a restricted area at the start of the occupation, leaving 10 security guards injured, in what the Court of Appeal later described as “a large-scale unlawful assembly, involving violence”.

Patten’s problem, however, is more fundamental. What he cannot rationalize to himself is the fact that it is the independent judiciary that has tried and convicted the activists, and not the Department of Justice. After previously getting his fingers burnt by criticizing the judges’ verdicts, this time he rowed back. He still failed, however, to give the committee an accurate picture, and for this he has form. 

In August 2017, for example, after several activists were imprisoned by the Court of Appeal for street violence, Patten weighed in. He told the Financial Times that “responsibility for this deplorable decision rests solely on the Hong Kong government’s shoulders”, which beggared belief. It was, of course, the judges who took the decision he deplored, as every layman knows, and not the government. Realizing that his confusion had dented his credibility, Patten was careful this time to tell the committee that “by and large the judges have behaved pretty well”, but he could not leave matters there.

He announced that there had been “a lot of pressure” on the judges, which was the identical allegation made by his acolyte, former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang, when she visited the United States in 2018. Although Patten went out of his way to praise Hong Kong’s Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li, whom he called “full of judicial integrity”, he, like Chan, failed to reveal to his audience what Ma had actually had to say about pressure on judges. 

Ma said that, although judges face pressure, it is “not pressure from outside sources or persons”, but pressure from a “heavy workload”, and that the “real pressure is for judges to come up with the right outcome”. This, of course, would have been of great interest to the committee, but it would have interfered with Patten’s narrative, and was therefore concealed, like many other things.

Although the committee, for example, was concerned at the banning of the Hong Kong National Party, under the Societies Ordinance, Patten chose not to allay its worries. He might have explained that the ordinance was enacted by the British colonial government in 1949, and provides for both the registration of societies and, in some circumstances, their prohibition. It allows a society to be banned if this is necessary “in the interests of national security or public safety, public order or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”, which is precisely why the HKNP had to be proscribed.

Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu studied the evidence and found that, quite apart from whipping up hatred against mainlanders, the HKNP, which advocates a “Hong Kong republic”, was prepared to “use all methods, including the use of force, and also encouraging its supporters to use force”. Since it constituted a direct threat, Lee was obviously within his rights in closing it down. After all, the same thing happened in the UK in 2016, when the British government proscribed National Action, a far-right political party, together with its affiliates. As recognized by international civil rights instruments, no civilized society can be expected to tolerate threats to national security or to the safety of its people. Patten, needless to say, was hell-bent on blackening China, and explained none of this to the committee.

However, the committee should itself have approached Patten’s evidence with a healthy skepticism, given his increasing eccentricity on the home front. Although he always preaches democracy for Hong Kong, he has used his seat as an unelected member of the House of Lords to seek to undermine the overwhelming decision taken by the British people in 2016 to leave the European Union. While many people have assumed that, as a Europhile and former EU commissioner in receipt of an EU pension, he is simply stuck in the past, it has recently emerged that there is more to it than that.

In 2018, on a visit to Ireland, Patten once again made the case for the EU, but this time the mask slipped. He claimed “mercantilist Leninism in China” was seeking global economic domination, which was why the UK should stay in the EU. Speaking subsequently to the BBC, he branded the pro-Brexit politicians in his own Conservative Party as “Maoists” — presumably his insult of choice — which was extraordinary, at least while language retains its meaning. He then accused his fellow parliamentarians of having worked “away like rodents in a basement for years”, nibbling away at Britain’s relations with the EU. This prompted one member of the European Parliament, Margot Parker, to brand his words as “appalling”, a widely-shared view. What is revealing, however, is the extent to which Patten’s Sinophobia now permeates all aspects of his political discourse.

What Patten and his ilk have been doing for years is, to borrow his own terminology, to behave like rodents in a basement, nibbling away at the foundations of Hong Kong’s relationship with the Chinese mainland. They downplay the positive aspects of Hong Kong life, exaggerate the problems, and peddle half-truths. Their objective is to strike at China by blackening Hong Kong, and we must hope that at some point the Foreign Affairs Committee will get wise.

The author is a senior counsel, law professor and criminal justice analyst, and was previously the director of public prosecutions.

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