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Leave so you can fight another day – Kasparov’s message to Hong Kong’s democracy activists

Leaving Hong Kong would be a “wise choice” for the city’s prominent pro-democracy activists rather than face prison or worse, says former chess world champion turned democracy campaigner Garry Kasparov.

Garry Kasparov talks to FCC first-vice president, Eric Wishart. Garry Kasparov talks to FCC first-vice president, Eric Wishart.

Speaking at an FCC webinar on August 27, Kasparov – himself exiled from his home country of Russia – said he hoped that a new wave of democracy movements around the world would make it safe for activists to return and rebuild Hong Kong.

Kasparov, who at the age of 22 became the world’s youngest ever chess champion, is a vocal human rights activist and was one of the first prominent Soviets to call for democratic reform. He was an early supporter of Boris Yeltsin’s push to break up the Soviet Union.

A fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Kasparov left his home in Moscow to live in New York following a crackdown on dissidents in Russia.

He was speaking in a week that saw two Democratic Party lawmakers – Lam Cheuk-ting and Ted Hui – arrested in connection with last year’s pro-democracy demonstrations.

Kasparov, chairman of the Renew Democracy Initiative, said he hoped to see a “new wave of democracy movements” that would bring dictatorships to an end. This, he said, could herald a new era for Hong Kong.

When asked whether pro-democracy activists should seek exile, Kasparov said when he “recognised it would be jail or worse”, he left Russia.

He added: “The prominent people who believe they can play a role in rebuilding Hong Kong, I would say probably it’s a wise choice (to leave). China’s regime is not at the stage where they care about creating martyrs. You stay there, you fight, you’ll be in jail – you mentioned mainland China – maybe you will die.

“So I think it’s important that the core of this group is preserved because there will be a moment – maybe sooner than we think because as we can see in Belarus, these regimes are not stable and Putin now is experiencing great problems. Hopefully now … you see this the trend is going back to the eighties like a pendulum of history when we have a new wave of democracy movements around the world and when we’ll see these dictatorships are losing the momentum that unfortunately they gained on the geopolitical stage. Then I wish there will be enough people in Hong Kong to come back.”

Describing himself as “an incorrigible optimist by nature”, Kasparov said he believed “that China will also be free”.

Kasparov spoke about his desire to see President Donald Trump lose the November election. He discussed Trump’s close relationship with Putin – “please don’t call him president – he is what he is: a dictator” – comparing it to a KGB handler and his asset. He said he suspected that Trump’s connections to Russia “started much earlier than 2008/2009 when Russian money saved his crumbling empire from collapse”.

However, he was adamant that he would not visit Hong Kong in the future.

“I think that Hong Kong might not be on my travel list… I doubt very much in the foreseeable future I’ll be able to set my foot on Chinese soil or the soil controlled by the Chinese Communist Party,” he said.

Watch the video here

It’s farewell and bon voyage to Correspondent editor, Sue Brattle

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club bids farewell to Sue Brattle, a longtime member and outgoing editor of The Correspondent, as she embarks on a new chapter. Before she leaves Hong Kong, we asked her to reflect on her time helming the magazine.

Q: What first drew you to the position of editor of The Correspondent?

A: I was a reader of the magazine and was ghost-writing a book when I saw the contract advertised. I had flexible working hours, so thought I’d apply for the job – and got it! My thanks to Kate Whitehead and Adam White who interviewed me, and for being so supportive in my first year. I’m sure the new editor, Kate Springer, who has my very best wishes, will equally get terrific support from the current Communications Committee.

Q: What are you proudest of during your time as editor?

A: Definitely the protest issue of October 2019. By then the protests had become part of our landscape in Hong Kong, and I wanted to emphasise the human interest stories behind the media coverage. I approached around 25 members of the media and was bowled over by the response. I asked for personal reflections, as apolitical as possible, and that’s what I got. Some of the 20 or so pieces genuinely moved me, and I think it made for a strong issue of the magazine.

Q: What were the key challenges you faced while in this role?

A: Making the magazine timely, while being quarterly. I always tried to commission early in the three-month cycle, but gave writers and photographers as much leeway with deadlines as possible. I did most of the magazine in the three weeks before going to press, and the cover story and president’s message in the last hour or so. Also, I’d love for the Comms Committee to meet in the evening rather than at lunchtime, so members had more time to chew over ideas instead of needing to rush back to work.

Q: What are some of the most memorable stories you commissioned and worked on with reporters? 

I loved working with the students who wrote for the second protest issue, January 2020, and the coronavirus issue of April 2020. Their care and enthusiasm should be bottled! There are a few stars of the future among them. It was always a pleasure to work with journalists in the club who know Hong Kong inside out and can bring it alive. As every editor knows, there’s nothing like an idea landing in your inbox out of the blue from someone you can trust will deliver it on time. Oh, I also loved the club’s annual Journalism Conference and eventually had a team of reporters covering it.

It was always a pleasure to work with journalists in the club who know Hong Kong inside out and can bring it alive.

Q: What do you plan to do after leaving Hong Kong? 

A: Well, I’m sure you can hear the gods laughing at our plans … what a time to be on the move. Plan A was to go home to the UK, slowly, as an extended holiday. You never know, we may still manage that. Then we’ll sort out our house, which has had tenants for 14 years while we’ve been working abroad, and organise our next adventure. My husband and I launched a travel blog, Afaranwide.com, 18 months ago, and we’ll work on that wherever we are.

Q: What will you miss about Hong Kong?

A: The list is endless, but I really don’t want to lose the view from our balcony in Discovery Bay. The steady comings and goings of the ferry make me feel all’s well, whatever the reality is! And looking out onto the hills opposite us is definitely good for the soul. I doubt I’ll ever have such a privileged view again.

Sue Brattle is leaving Hong Kong for a move back to the U.K. Sue Brattle is leaving Hong Kong for a move back to the U.K.

Australia has a long way to go to before getting an indigenous prime minister – Stan Grant

The prospect of an indigenous Australian becoming prime minister or “anywhere near” is a long way off, according to award-winning journalist and author, Stan Grant.

Discussing the recent announcement of US Senator Kamala Harris as presidential hopeful Joe Biden’s running mate, the broadcaster said that while there were similarities between America’s struggle with racism and that of his own country, the chances of an Aborigine taking high office were remote.

“It has taken over 100 years for an indigenous person to make a federal government minister. There are now a few more indigenous represented at state and federal level, but we’re a long way from getting to the point where an indigenous politician would get anywhere near becoming prime minister in Australia,” he said, adding: “It’s something I can’t even envisage at the moment.”

Talking to CNN anchor, Kristie Lu Stout, he said the appointment of Harris, the daughter of African-American and Asian immigrants, was an “extraordinary achievement” and “a reflection, I think, of America’s journey”.

Grant, who recently became the first indigenous host in the 59-year history of the ABC Four Corners documentary program, shared his experiences of racism growing up and discussed what the Black Lives Matters movement means to indigenous Australians.

He said Americans and Australians share a history of institutionalised and structural racism that limits opportunities in life and places first nation people on the margins of society. The killing of George Floyd during his arrest in Minnesota sparked a global outrage that kicked off protests in several countries. For Grant, who has been at the forefront of the fight for the rights of indigenous Australians for decades, it was a pivotal moment.

“That experience of George Floyd and Black Lives Matter spoke to me very personally. It spoke to our shared history,” he said.

Grant told of his own experiences of racism growing up in Australia, where, as part of a group of Aboriginal school children, he was told by his headmaster that he’d never amount to anything. After relocating to Canberra, he and his siblings found themselves “in a world that was overwhelmingly white”.

And those in power in Australia are still overwhelmingly white, Grant said, pointing to institutions from government to media. Yet he said even today, to discuss racism in Australia was “a difficult conversation”.

“It’s a country where people come to escape history, not to confront history,” he said. “Yet if we don’t do that as a nation then we are forever diminished. You cannot keep people in chains forever and not think that at some point it isn’t going to come to the surface, and that’s what we’re seeing in the United States.”

Watch the video here

FCC Reissues Call for Answers on Journalists’ Visas After Hong Kong Immigration Response

On August 14, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong, received a response to our letter to the Director of Hong Kong Immigration, Au Ka-wang, urging clarification over the issuance of journalist visas in Hong Kong. Today, we again call for answers to four specific areas of inquiry.  

Thank you for your response via Benson J F Kwok to the open letter from the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong, of 12 August 2020 regarding the processing of visas for foreign journalists.

While we appreciated the swift reply, the letter did not address or answer the four specific areas of inquiry we had regarding possible changes in the processing of visas for foreign journalists to work in Hong Kong.

Any new procedure for processing visas for foreign media in the Hong Kong SAR would be a major change and have significant implications for the many international media organisations and journalists based in Hong Kong. On behalf of the journalistic community in Hong Kong and the FCC membership, we are again urgently seeking clear answers to these four specific questions. We will include our earlier letter with the questions that we need answered, but here is a reminder of the key points:

1) Is there now a national security unit handling foreign media visa applications within the immigration department, as press reports have said?

2) What particular criteria are applied when a journalist’s visa application is being considered? 

3) Are journalists now being singled out for special treatment that is delaying the granting and renewal of visas? 

4) Does the immigration department recognise that journalism involves multi-tasking, so a change of duties, for example from desk editing to reporting on the ground, does not breach the terms of stay?

Yours sincerely,

Jodi Schneider

President

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong

A Biden Win Could Stabilise Sino-American Relations – Experts

A win by Democrats Joe Biden and Kamala D. Harris in November would likely not change America’s tough line toward China, but the tone would soften and the U.S. would seek more allies against Beijing, according a panel of experts at an FCC webinar.

The three August 12 panelists – political scientist Mary E. Gallagher, journalist Lingling Wei and Asia expert Bonnie Glaser – all agreed that although presidential hopeful Biden was unlikely to dramatically change some policies if he were elected, his administration could move to stabilise the frail relationship.

The three were speaking the day after Biden announced Senator Kamala D. Harris as his running mate. She is the first Black woman and the first Asian American to appear on a major-party presidential ticket.

Relations between the United States and China have soured since President Donald Trump took office, resulting in a trade war, tit-for-tat expulsions of journalists, and more recently, sanctions over the new national security law in Hong Kong.

Wei, an award-winning correspondent for the Wall Street Journal who herself became a casualty of the deteriorating relations when she was expelled from China earlier this year along with colleagues, warned that Trump’s final days in office posed a major threat to relations with China.

“I think Beijing welcomes a Biden administration. The next 90 days… are going to be the most dangerous time for China,” said Wei, the co-author of a book on Sino-U.S. relations, Superpower Showdown. “The South China Morning Post story about Xi Jinping instructing the Chinese military not to fire the first shot, I think that’s really a sign of how nervous the leadership is about this whole relationship completely getting out of control. They’re trying very hard to show restraint.”

Gallagher, a professor at The University of Michigan, has been director of the Lieberthal-Rogel Center for Chinese Studies since 2008, said: “I think it’s a super exciting ticket and I love that a black Jamaican Asian child of immigrants is the safe choice for Joe Biden. One thing that will be different and I would certainly advise is to stop thinking about China as the Soviet Union. It is nothing like the Soviet Union, it is not going to disappear. When we talk about the Cold War, it ended when the Soviet Union disappeared. China is not going to disappear.”

She added that she would advise the Biden administration to “stand up to China on human rights issues and freedom of expression and freedom of speech”.

Biden would not be seen “on a daily basis hammering China” in the way that Trump has, said Glaser, adding that a sustained dialogue mechanism would likely be restructured under Biden in an “effort to resurrect some cooperation with China”.

Echoing Wei’s warning over the run-up to the November election, Glaser said that U.S. pressure on China would increase now that Trump has declared he no longer has a good relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“Now he’s really taken the gloves off, and this has enabled other people in the administration to do things, for example, regarding Xinjiang and Hong Kong that the president was not on board with when the trade negotiations were going on. In that period, we’re going to see a lot more ramping up of pressure,” she predicted.

You can watch the video here

An open letter to the Director of Immigration, Au Ka-wang

Response From Chinese Foreign Ministry to FCC Statement on Jimmy Lai Arrest

On August 10, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, published a statement condemning the arrest of Apple Daily founder and chairman Jimmy Lai and eight others, as well as a police raid on the newspaper’s headquarters that was reportedly carried out by almost 200 officers. Hong Kong, On August 11, the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a response to that statement, below. 

In response to a statement by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC), Hong Kong on August 10, which misrepresented the truth, heaped groundless accusations upon the National Security Law and law-enforcement efforts of the Hong Kong police, and tried to whitewash and justify Jimmy Lai and other criminal suspects, the spokesperson of the Commissioner’s Office expressed strong disapproval and firm opposition.

The spokesperson said that law shall be abided by, lawbreakers shall be held accountable, and no one shall be above the law. By openly colluding with external forces to endanger national security, Jimmy Lai and a small handful of other anti-China troublemakers in Hong Kong have purposely undermined Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability and its citizens’ fundamental wellbeing, and have put the enduring success of “One Country, Two Systems” and the long-term stability of Hong Kong into jeopardy. Eagerly justifying Jimmy Lai is nothing short of siding with the forces sowing trouble in Hong Kong and China at large.

The spokesperson pointed out that rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents, including the freedom of the press, are safeguarded under the National Security Law. With over seven decades of presence in the city, the FCC, Hong Kong knows it very well that press freedom is fully cherished here. It should also be clear that there is no such thing as absolute press freedom above the law anywhere in the world, and that it is totally unacceptable to interfere in China’s internal affairs and undermine China’s national security and Hong Kong’s stability under the pretext of press freedom. National laws applied to Hong Kong and local laws of the HKSAR, including the National Security Law, shall be observed on the land of the HKSAR, part of China.

The spokesperson emphasized that it is only right and proper for the Hong Kong police to take actions against the troublemakers in accordance with the National Security Law and other local laws so as to safeguard national security and Hong Kong’s stability. We firmly support the Hong Kong police in strictly enforcing the law, and firmly oppose any external interference in Hong Kong affairs. We call on the FCC, Hong Kong to respect the facts, distinguish right from wrong, and stop smearing under the pretext of press freedom the implementation of the National Security Law.

‘Huge mistake’ if China tries to eradicate Hong Kong’s identity, warns Asia scholar

Hong Kong has become a political football between China and the West, according to author and Asia scholar, Kishore Mahbubani.

It would be a “huge mistake” for China to try to eradicate what makes Hong Kong so special, he told an August 10 FCC webinar, and China must act with restraint as the West weighs in on the row over the national security law.

“Hong Kong has become a political football … when players play football they get a lot of fun kicking the ball but after a while the ball breaks down. It’s important for Hong Kong to steer itself out of being a political football as soon as possible,” he said.

Prof Mahbubani, a distinguished fellow at the Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, said that although Hong Kong was a “piece of treasure” to China, the people of the city “should not force the leaders to choose between the interests of 1.4 billion people in China and 7 million people in Hong Kong”.

When asked if he thought China was trying to eradicate Hong Kong’s culture and identity, Prof Mahbubani warned it would be a “huge mistake” on China’s part.

“Even though the Chinese have tried very hard to get Shanghai to grow as a financial centre, you can see that Shanghai just cannot keep doing what Hong Kong is doing. Hong Kong is really at the end of the day a piece of treasure for China and it will be huge mistake for China to destroy that culture, that separateness.

“For the same reason, I think it’s also a huge mistake in the West – the United States and U.K., and all – to continue using Hong Kong as a political football. It’s in the global interest for Hong Kong to be one step in, one step out as part of the One Country, Two Systems framework. We should globally recognise that it’s good for China, good for the West and good for the rest of the world,” he said.

Prof Mahbubani’s latest book, Has China Won? analyses the tensions between the United States and the world’s second largest economy. In it, he argues that the real question – “one that never surfaces in America” – is whether the United States can lose.

“America has got so used to winning the idea of losing doesn’t come up,” he said, adding that 100 years of growth into the world’s largest economy had made the country complacent. His book, which he said he hoped the Trump and subsequent Administration would read, would help them to “at least think about the possibility of being number two”.

Watch the video

FCC Condemns Arrest of Jimmy Lai and Raid on Apple Daily’s Offices

The Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong strongly condemns the arrest of Apple Daily founder and chairman Jimmy Lai and eight others, as well as a police raid on the newspaper’s headquarters that was reportedly carried out by almost 200 officers.

The arrests, and the raid on the newsroom, are a direct assault on Hong Kong’s press freedom and signal a dark new phase in the erosion of the city’s global reputation. Today’s events raise worries that such actions are being used to erase basic freedoms in Hong Kong.

The arrests and the raid were carried out under the new National Security Law, which was imposed on Hong Kong by the Chinese central authorities in Beijing, with no input from Hong Kong. Mainland and Hong Kong officials have given repeated assurances that the new law will target only a tiny number of offenders and that Hong Kong’s cherished freedoms, including freedom of the press, would go unhindered.

Today’s police action upends those assurances. According to the police statement, Mr. Lai was arrested under the section of the law pertaining to collusion with foreign forces. So far, police have provided no public evidence of any crimes, and under the National Security Law, where trials can be conducted entirely in secret, no evidence may be forthcoming.

Police said that nine people between the ages of 23 and 72 had been arrested on suspicion of breaches of the national security law and that the operation was continuing. Alleged offences include collusion with foreign forces or external elements endangering national security.

Mr. Lai has long been known as a staunch advocate of democracy in Hong Kong and a critic of the Chinese Communist Party. Apple Daily, which he founded in 1995, is one of the city’s most popular newspapers because of its pro-democracy stance. He recently opened a Twitter account, and publicly speculated in a May 29 New York Times opinion piece that he was likely to be jailed soon for his pro-democracy views and criticisms of the Communist Party.

Just as troubling as the arrests was the subsequent police action at the Next Digital offices, where uniformed police entered and set up cordons with orange tape, questioned journalists and took down their identifying information, and were seen rifling through notes and papers on reporters’ desks. All of this was witnessed via live-streaming by Apple Daily reporters who continued to video this breach of press freedom and provide continuous coverage online.

During the raid on the newsroom, the Hong Kong Police Force blocked several local and international media outlets from a press briefing at the Apple Daily headquarters about the events. Police at the scene said “only those who’ve not been obstructing police in the past are invited” for the briefing.

Hong Kong has no system of press accreditation, which has been one of the hallmarks of its role as a bastion of press freedom in Asia. In the absence of an accreditation system, it seems some police officers are substituting their judgment as to which media outlets they consider “friendly” and allowed to cover important briefings, and which media they can block.

Police later said those media outlets blocked could watch the police force’s livestream and did not permit journalists present to ask questions. The FCC condemns this development. A livestream provided by the Police Public Relations Bureau is not a substitute for impartial media outlets being able to conduct their own reporting, shoot their own video and provide their own news coverage.

The FCC would like to remind the Hong Kong Police Force that they should not be “inviting” favoured media outlets to cover operations, events and briefings, and barring others. If the police are allowed to decide who counts as a legitimate journalist, it will mark the end of press freedom in Hong Kong, and no critical coverage available to the public. Instead of the free flow of information, Hong Kong will have only propaganda.

In his May 29 op-ed piece, Mr. Lai warned of the chilling effect the National Security Law would have on Hong Kong. “Every sentence, every word will carry the risk of potential punishment on the mainland,” he wrote. “When it comes to free speech, this law will remodel Hong Kong so that it becomes like the rest of China.”

Unfortunately, today’s events make Mr. Lai’s warning even more prescient.

FCC, Hong Kong

10 August 2020

Response From Chinese Foreign Ministry to FCC Statement on Jimmy Lai Arrest

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