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Friday, March 29, 2019, 00:22
Anson Chan: Say it as it is or forever hold your peace
By Grenville Cross
Friday, March 29, 2019, 00:22 By Grenville Cross

Grenville Cross says the former chief secretary should stop pandering to China’s critics in foreign country, and report accurately on HK’s situation

When the US Department of State released its 2019 Hong Kong Policy Act Report last week, in Washington DC, it contained some criticisms of China. On hand for the event, perhaps unsurprisingly, was the former chief secretary, Anson Chan Fang On-sang, together with two Civic Party bag-carriers. Her presence, presumably, was no coincidence, as she has sought for some time to curry favor in global anti-China circles. The report commented that the central government’s interventions in Hong Kong affairs had increased, along with “negative trends”, which must have been music to her ears.

Although Chan claimed that she was in the US “doing the work that the SAR government should be doing”, there is nothing to suggest that she actually sought to correct any misconceptions, let alone put the record straight. She said it was important for the US government to continue to support the city’s basic freedoms, which were being “progressively whittled away”. Paradoxically, however, Chan appears not to have advised anyone she met that, in the World Justice Project’s Rule of Law Index 2019, the world’s leading source for original data on the rule of law, Hong Kong was again ranked 16th, out of the 126 jurisdictions surveyed, while the United States had slipped a place, to 20th. Had she revealed this, it may well have given her hosts pause for thought, though it might not have assisted her mischief-making. 

It is a pity that Chan, once a highly regarded civil servant, has chosen to become a dupe of those who wish China ill ... Chan obviously enjoys being feted by foreign elites and receiving their awards, but, beyond her prejudices, she has nothing to offer them. Like Patten, she is a busted flush, and the sooner people realize this the better

After meeting with US Vice-President Mike Pence at the White House, Chan announced that he was “clearly concerned about rights and freedoms in Hong Kong, including religious rights”. At this point, she could have allayed his concerns without any difficulty. In particular, she could have told Pence, a devout Christian, that the Basic Law’s Article 141 prohibits restrictions on the freedom of religious belief in Hong Kong, as well as interference in the internal affairs of religious organizations. It also allows religious organizations to acquire property, run seminaries, schools, hospitals and welfare institutions, and to develop relations with “religious organizations and believers elsewhere”.

Since, moreover, Pence describes himself as an “evangelical Catholic”, Chan might also have put his mind to rest over the situation of his co-religionists. She could, for example, have advised him that Hong Kong’s Roman Catholic Church, with its estimated 380,000 local and 160,000 overseas followers, and its approximately 750 priests, deacons and sisters, operates 40 churches, 31 chapels and 26 halls for religious services. She might also have mentioned that there are 256 Catholic schools and kindergartens, catering for an estimated 158,000 pupils. Unfortunately, not much can be expected of Chan, as her record shows.     

In 2018, for example, when she visited the US to receive the O’Connor Justice Prize, in Phoenix, Arizona, she told her audience about “worrying evidence” that government officials were collaborating with Beijing to suppress dissent and intimidate protesters, without substantiating the allegation. She failed, moreover, to mention that, judged by international benchmarks, Hong Kong has one of the finest legal systems in the Asia-Pacific region, and that the rule of law is safeguarded by a fiercely independent judiciary composed of eminent jurists, some from other common law jurisdictions. Not only is Hong Kong signed up to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, but its prosecution service enjoys constitutional independence, its suspects are only ever prosecuted on the basis of clear evidence, and its trials are conducted with scrupulous fairness by independent judges. Had they known this, Chan’s audience would undoubtedly have felt reassured, but this was the last thing she wanted.

Perhaps, however, Chan’s most bizarre assertion was her claim that “politically motivated groups” were trying “to put pressure on and intimidate judges”. For this, she produced no evidence, and nor could she have. Indeed, Hong Kong’s Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li had only recently explained that, although judges certainly face pressure, it was “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”. Chan, of course, made no mention of Ma’s remarks, presumably because they were an unambiguous rebuttal of what she wanted her audience to believe.  

According to Chan, her hosts have also expressed concerns over the Security Bureau’s recently announced plan to amend the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, to allow fugitives and criminal suspects to be returned for trial, on a case-by-case basis, to other parts of China, as well as to other countries. However, she appears not to have advised them that this can only happen once a prima facie case against a suspect has been established at court, and after international safeguards, including non-surrender for political offenses, have been satisfied. 

Chan might also have informed her hosts that 40 countries now have extradition agreements with the Chinese mainland, including EU democracies like France, Portugal and Spain, and that these are operating successfully, without any particular problems. She could, moreover, have explained that it is illogical for Hong Kong, as an integral part of China, to have no arrangement of its own to facilitate rendition in appropriate cases, and that effective criminal justice requires that it should no longer be a safe haven for people trying to evade justice. Had she not been intent on stoking concerns, she might also have spelt out to everyone that, just as the US does not allow criminals to avoid justice by moving from one part of the country to another, so also is this unacceptable in China, and the people she met would have understood that. 

By bad-mouthing Hong Kong, Chan may actually have done real harm. After all, the latest Heritage Foundation report, while concluding that Hong Kong has the world’s freest economy, nonetheless downgraded its judicial ranking, and Chan’s conduct in the US last year may have contributed to this. Likewise, her latest antics could adversely affect Hong Kong’s economic well-being, particularly if, as some hawks wish, the US-Hong Kong Policy Act, which gives it a special trade status, were to be scrapped. 

It is a pity that Chan, once a highly regarded civil servant, has chosen to become a dupe of those who wish China ill. Her sometime mentor, ex-governor Chris Patten, who often uses Hong Kong as a stick with which to beat China, may well, of course, have led her astray. That said, Chan obviously enjoys being feted by foreign elites and receiving their awards, but, beyond her prejudices, she has nothing to offer them. Like Patten, she is a busted flush, and the sooner people realize this the better.

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


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