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Tuesday, July 16, 2019, 20:07
Hong Kong Watch’s views are biased from the outset and more blinkered now
By Grenville Cross
Tuesday, July 16, 2019, 20:07 By Grenville Cross

Although the former governor, Chris Patten, invariably takes the lead in whipping up Sinophobia in the United Kingdom, he has acolytes in both Hong Kong and London. In Hong Kong, of course, his proxy is former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang, who loyally regurgitates his prejudices. In London, however, one of his wackier disciples is a political activist called Benedict Rogers.

Rogers, a former parliamentary candidate from Patten’s own Conservative Party, lived in Hong Kong for several years after reunification. On the back of this, he has held himself out ever since as an expert in Hong Kong affairs, as well as in human rights. Objectivity, however, has never been his forte.

Prior to his exclusion, he had taken to hosting various political agitators when they visited London. Indeed, he appears to have been dazzled by them, seemingly oblivious to their excesses. He even went so far as to describe two of them, Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Nathan Law Kwun-chung, as his “heroes”. This must have struck a raw nerve with the 10 security guards who, in 2014, were injured outside government headquarters when they staged what the Court of Appeal subsequently described as “a large-scale, unlawful assembly, involving violence”. Notwithstanding the violence, Rogers continued to rub shoulders with them.Rogers first registered on the public’s radar in 2017, when he was denied entry into Hong Kong. Although, as is customary, no detailed reasons were provided by the immigration authorities, the foreign ministry spokesperson, Hua Chunying, said at the time that China exercised sovereignty over Hong Kong, and that Rogers “must have been very clear as to whether he intended to interfere with the affairs of a special administrative region and the independence of Hong Kong’s judiciary”. Reading between the lines, therefore, there must have been concerns that Rogers, who said he was coming here on a private visit, was planning to stir things up.

Equality of treatment, however, is vital in a rules-based society like Hong Kong, and political violence, particularly when it causes injury and damage, can never be tolerated ... If the UK foreign office has been listening to the likes of Patten, Chan and Rogers, it may well help to explain why its recent comments on the situation in Hong Kong have been not only hostile, but also completely wide of the mark

Shortly after his exclusion, Rogers founded Hong Kong Watch, a London-based think tank, which he also chairs. Although it claims to provide “independent” analysis on freedom and human rights in Hong Kong, from the outset it did anything but. Instead, it has provided a platform for anyone with criticisms of Hong Kong and its government, particularly Patten, and indulged in some very crude anti-China propaganda. Its website, moreover, is replete with distortions, with no attempt at objectivity. There is, for example, plenty about why the government’s extradition bill is undesirable, but nothing about its benefits, particularly in terms of preventing Hong Kong from becoming a sanctuary for the world’s criminals.

In particular, one searches in vain for anything which explains how Hong Kong needs to discharge its international responsibilities, to have extradition mechanisms in place with 177 jurisdictions around the world, so that fugitive offenders can be returned to face justice in appropriate cases. Still less is there any explanation of why, although it is perfectly acceptable for nine European Union states, including Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain, to sign extradition agreements with China, it is thought that Hong Kong should not do the same, even though it is one of its special administrative regions. Far from being “independent”, this website is a humbug, reeking of bias.   

In June, moreover, after political violence erupted in Hong Kong, with armed rioters firstly attacking the police lines, using sharpened metal rods and bricks, and later smashing their way into the Legislative Council building, Rogers again waded in. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, he grudgingly paid lip service to the principle of non-violence, presumably realizing that not even Patten would tolerate the smashing-up of a parliament. This formality out of the way, he then proceeded to belittle the actions of the culprits, claiming they acted “out of desperation”.

On June 12, during the unsuccessful attack on the legislature, our courageous police officers placed their lives on the line for us all as they faced the armed aggressors. Eventually, they acted to restore law and order, and did so with minimum force. Rogers, however, references the activists’ demand for an inquiry into “police brutality”, presumably because, after they were attacked, the police acted to control things. This was clearly a carefully planned strategy by the activists, designed to create a situation in which the police were forced into having to respond and then condemning them for doing so. It is a tactic often used by activists, intended to weaken police morale and undermine their standing, and Rogers should have called it out accordingly.

After salivating, moreover, over what he called the “most eye-catching moment” of the invasion, when the old British colonial flag was raised in LegCo on July 1, Rogers conveniently downplayed the wanton destruction. Some estimates even suggest the repair bill might run as high as HK$50 million (US$6.4 million). Rogers, however, appears unfazed by the damage, the thefts, and the injuries to the police officers, and he certainly revealed none of this to his US readers. 

Having by now got the bit well and truly between his teeth, Rogers also lamented the lack of political reform in Hong Kong, pointing out that the chief executive was elected by a 1,200 member electoral college, while the legislature was full of placemen. What he ignored, however, is that the present mechanism for electing the chief executive is infinitely more democratic than the one used to appoint colonial governors before 1997, and that it allows representatives of many sectors to participate.

Indeed, if Patten’s allies had not blocked the constitutional reform package in 2015, the chief executive could, for the first time, have been elected by universal suffrage in 2017. This, moreover, would have ushered in greater democracy in the legislature itself. However, even now, with 50 percent of its 70 members directly elected and 50 percent elected by functional constituencies, the legislature is still more democratic than it ever was in Patten’s time.

Rogers signed off with a call not to prosecute those responsible for the political violence. This, of course, would subvert the rule of law, and place violent lawbreakers beyond its reach, which must have been music to their ears. Equality of treatment, however, is vital in a rules-based society like Hong Kong, and political violence, particularly when it causes injury and damage, can never be tolerated. It would be unacceptable in the UK, and it is the same here. Those responsible must be held fully to account for their actions, not only to punish them for heinous crimes, but also to deter others from ever behaving like this again in future.

If the UK foreign office has been listening to the likes of Patten, Chan and Rogers, it may well help to explain why its recent comments on the situation in Hong Kong have been not only hostile, but also completely wide of the mark.  

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

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