Once a highly regarded chief secretary, Anson Chan Fang On-sang has gradually morphed into a wholly negative figure. Keen to criticize her former colleagues at every turn, she makes proposals which cannot survive close scrutiny. Although her antics have alienated many, she has nonetheless developed a following in foreign parts.
In 1993, Chan was appointed chief secretary by then Hong Kong governor Chris Patten. Although she remained in office after the reunification, she stood down in January 2001. This was shortly after the vice-premier in charge of Hong Kong affairs then, Qian Qichen, demanded that she “better support” Tung Chee-hwa, Hong Kong’s first chief executive.
Since leaving office, Chan has rekindled her relationship with Patten, who now spends his time throwing brickbats at Beijing, and criticizing its policies toward Hong Kong. On her regular trips to the United States, Chan leverages on her former status, and also badmouths Hong Kong and its government whenever possible. Although this plays well in some quarters, the involvement of foreign powers in Hong Kong affairs poses a direct threat to the “one country, two systems”paradigm, which should concern everyone. Her criticisms, however, have been music to the ears of the China bashers in Washington and her efforts won their appreciation.
In 2018, for example, Chan was awarded the O’Connor Justice Prize, in Phoenix, Arizona. She then used her acceptance speech to disparage Hong Kong’s legal system, and even told her audience that “politically motivated groups” were trying “to put pressure on and intimidate judges”. Although this was pure fantasy, unsupported by evidence, it was exactly what the assembled Sinophobes wanted to hear.
Not surprisingly, therefore, Chan failed to inform her listeners that Hong Kong’s highly regarded chief justice, Geoffrey Ma Tao-li, had only recently said that, although judges do indeed face 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”.
If Chan has nothing positive to say about Hong Kong and China, she should hold her peace. After all, bitterness and bias are no substitute for the statesmanship some people once thought she was capable of providing. Although she may have succeeded in undermining Hong Kong’s standing in foreign capitals, she has diminished herself in the process
Chan, moreover, did not mention that, under the Basic Law (Article 85), China has guaranteed that Hong Kong’s courts “shall exercise judicial power independently, free from any interference”. Quite clearly, Chan was not going to let the facts get in the way of her diatribe, and this should have surprised nobody. After all, Patten himself invariably suppresses inconvenient truths whenever he discusses Hong Kong.
Most recently, after the extradition bill saga, Chan has achieved new lows. Borrowing Patten’s terminology, she claimed this week that the absence of a fugitive offender arrangement with the Chinese mainland meant there was a “firewall” between the two places, which she regarded as a good thing. However, given that over 300 mainland fugitives are now hiding out in Hong Kong, together with an unknown number from other places, this situation ought more accurately to be described as a “criminal’s charter”. The notion that criminals can commit serious offenses elsewhere in China, and then claim safe haven in Hong Kong, is obnoxious to anyone who cares about effective criminal justice, and a betrayal of Hong Kong’s legal responsibilities to other places.
After armed rioters attacked the police lines in an attempt to storm the Legislative Council building on June 12, Chan’s response, moreover, has been to call for a commission of inquiry. There is, of course, no equivalence between rioters bent on aggression and police officers trying to maintain law and order, and this is pure mischief-making. As they defended our legislature, the officers faced rioters armed with sharpened metal rods, bricks and improvised weapons, yet Chan has yet to thank them for putting their lives on the line for us all. Instead, her allies, in accordance with a predetermined strategy, have systematically sought to besmirch the good name of the police force, both locally and elsewhere.
Chan’s call for an inquiry, mischievous as it is, has nonetheless been taken up by British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who has now suspended the supply of crowd control equipment to the Hong Kong Police Force. These calls, however, must not be allowed to distract attention from the horrific onslaught the police so bravely weathered. To her credit, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has rejected the pressure, undoubtedly realizing that, apart from anything else, an inquiry is unnecessary.
Although it would certainly be illuminating to know if it was outside agencies or local groups which funded and organized the protests, and supplied the protesters with their equipment, Chan has not suggested that this should come within her proposed inquiry’s terms of reference. In any event, legitimate complaints against the police can be handled by the Independent Police Complaints Council.
However, perhaps Chan’s most preposterous proposal has been that the criminal suspects should be given what she calls a “blanket amnesty”. By this, she means that people suspected of committing very serious offenses, including riot and wounding police officers with intent to cause serious bodily harm, should be allowed to go scot-free. However, apart from pardons for convicted persons, our law makes no provision for blanket amnesties for criminal suspects, so her proposal is just another chimera, designed to pander to her base. That apart, her suggestion is an insult to the police officers injured by the rioters, as well as a threat to our criminal justice system, which must never be subverted for political reasons.
After all, nobody is above the law, even if they have apologists like Chan batting for them. The prosecution process should be allowed to take its course, free of any improper interference. We must, therefore, all be grateful to Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah, who has made it clear that she will tolerate no interference in prosecution matters, and that all cases will be handled professionally, in accordance with established prosecution policy. In other words, particular individuals will not be given any special treatment, even if they have powerful friends.
If Chan has nothing positive to say about Hong Kong and China, she should hold her peace. After all, bitterness and bias are no substitute for the statesmanship some people once thought she was capable of providing. Although she may have succeeded in undermining Hong Kong’s standing in foreign capitals, she has diminished herself in the process.
The author is a senior counsel, law professor and criminal justice analyst, and was previously director of public prosecutions for Hong Kong.