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Hong Kong will never have genuine democracy, but city can slow down the march towards authoritarianism – Benny Tai

It is the duty of every Hongkonger to defend the rule of law from the encroachment of authoritarian rule of law, said Benny Tai, warning that Beijing continues to move the “political red line” as it attempts to stamp out dissent.

Kenneth Chan, left, and Benny Tai discuss the erosion of Hong Kong's freedoms. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC Kenneth Chan, left, and Benny Tai discuss the erosion of Hong Kong’s freedoms. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

The co-founder of the 2014 Occupy Central movement which saw thousands bring the centre of Hong Kong to a standstill for two weeks as they demanded democracy, said the city would never have genuine democracy, but added: “I can still see hope. My hope is on the civil society in Hong Kong… I hope that we can slow down the process of authoritarianism in Hong Kong.”

Tai, an associate professor at Hong Kong University, was speaking at a debate alongside Kenneth Chan, former LegCo member for the Civic Party and associate professor of political science at Baptist University of Hong Kong. FCC President Florence de Changy told the sold-out June 12 club lunch that representatives from pro-Beijing camps, including Regina Ip and Holden Chow, were also invited to the debate on whether Hong Kong’s freedoms were under threat, but they had said they were not available.

The strategy of the Communist Party of China (CCP) was to authoritarianise Hong Kong by twisting the rule of law and legal procedures, Tai said. Responding to a question about the recent six-year jail term handed out to localist Edward Leung for his involvement in the Mong Kok riots, Tai said the sentence demonstrated an “over-emphasis on social order”.

He said: “Under the spirit of our common law system, judges have space to consider what was the reason behind the destruction of social order and the defendants’ intentions in terms of the law. I want to ask whether it would be wise to use the law to suppress all this dissatisfaction with the existing order, without dealing with the reasons why the people are rising up. If this is not addressed, then I can foresee there may be more conflicts in the future.”

Chan spoke of the pressures faced by universities in the city as they try to win funding from donors who are often pro-establishment. He admitted that Baptist University donors had threatened to “turn the tap off” because its students “were not behaving” politically.

He talked of the threat to academics’ jobs due to their social and political activism, adding that nobody should be removed from their positions for this reason. He added: “Looking forward I’m afraid I have to sound a little pessimistic because of the chilling effects coming down on each one of us.”

Chan described Hong Kong as a city where “increasingly you have to not look unpatriotic” before declaring: “Welcome to 1984, though this is 2018.”

Britain should offer right of abode to BNO passport holders, says Lord Ashdown as he sets up Hong Kong Watch

Britain should offer Hong Kong’s BNO passport holders right of abode in the UK if in the future conditions deteriorate in the SAR as it reintegrates with China, says former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown.

Lord Ashdown spoke about China's rise and its effect on world peace. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC Lord Ashdown spoke about China’s rise and its effect on world peace. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

The former Royal Marine, in Hong Kong on a fact-finding exercise, said he would “favour very strongly the BNO being extended to the right of abode if it is the case that the conditions in Hong Kong are created by whatever force that enables those who hold the BNO passport to feel so vulnerable that they can’t live here any longer”.

However, the SAR passport “is probably a better travel document than the BNO”, he added.

The BNO (British Nationals Overseas) passport was created in 1987 and is issued to permanent residents of Hong Kong. Holders can visit the UK for up to six months.

Lord Ashdown revealed that he was in Hong Kong to set up a parliamentary system called Hong Kong Watch. He said: “It’s not just directed at one side of the joint agreement, it’s there to act as a prod for the British Government too. The British Government is now obsessed with Brexit (and) trying to build trade deals – it’s a huge plum for the British to have a trade deal with China.

“We must ensure that Britain fulfils its legal and duty of honour to Hong Kong and we’ll be doing that. It will look at the actions of both sides and it will act as a whistleblower.”

Lord Ashdown criticised Britain’s handling of Hong Kong’s handover to China, saying there was a degree of hypocrisy beneath its calls for democracy.

“British rule in Hong Kong was economically successful. But politically it was shameful,” he said, adding that a promise that the city “would never have to walk alone” is not a promise that “can be broken because it proves inconvenient to a British government obsessed with finding trade deals because it wishes to be outside Europe”.

“What happens next here in Hong Kong will be judged by a watching world,” he said.

Opening his speech at the sold-out November 28 club lunch, Lord Ashdown discussed China’s rise as a super-power and its effect on world peace. He said Hong Kong would be the testing ground for President Xi Jinping’s vision of “socialism with a Chinese face”.

“We live in one of those periods of history where the structures of power in the world shift,” he said. “How new powers rise and old powers fall is one of the prime determinants of peace in times like this. The Pacific basin is to be the cockpit in which this drama is about to be played out.”

Lord Ashdown said on many levels China appeared to be moving in the right direction: intent on building its reputation as a good world citizen, seeking to consolidate its trading strength and fill the “vacuum of leadership in regional and global multilateral institutions left by President Trump’s retreat from this space”.

“I do not think China’s true long term interest lies in responding to Donald Trump’s invitation to a dog fight, albeit one which appears to have been postponed after Mr Trump’s effusive glad handling with Chairman Xi,” he added.

However, he said China’s curbs on freedom of speech could not be sustainable: “It is just not in human nature, whether Chinese or otherwise, to be content for long with glorious freedom in one aspect of your life and permanent voicelessness in the other.”

During the question and answer session at the end of the talk Lord Ashdown said he felt the United States was a greater threat to world peace than China, citing the unpredictability of President Trump.

When asked about Brexit, Lord Ashdown predicted that it would not happen: “My view is that on balance, narrowly, I now think Brexit will not happen – not because it could not be done but because the government is too incapable to deliver it. The House of Commons will not vote for a hard Brexit, they will not vote for a throw-ourselves-over-the-cliff Brexit. They could vote for a soft Brexit but the government is too incompetent and too divided to be able to deliver any kind of soft Brexit that I think will make sense.”

He predicted an election next year that would see a new government, and that the process would “collapse in on itself”.

British government needs to be robust over Sino-British Joint Declaration, says Jonathan Dimbleby

BBC presenter and historian, Jonathan Dimbleby, left, talked about the state of world politics when he appeared at the FCC. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC BBC presenter and historian, Jonathan Dimbleby, left, talked about the state of world politics when he appeared at the FCC. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

The British government should be “very robust” over whether it believes the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong’s handover has been violated, veteran broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby said, the week after China’s foreign ministry dismissed the treaty as a “historical document that no longer has any realistic meaning”.

The BBC Question Time host and historian said that while the U.K. government had last week reiterated that the 1984 treaty was binding, the overall criticism had been “muted”.

He said that if it was agreed that a violation had taken place, then it would “call into question whether you could trust China’s word when it came to signing documents”.

“I think that the British government should be very robust in saying whether or not this agreement has or has not… been violated,” he said

He added that he believed that independent trading relations, post-Brexit, could “overshadow concern for the evolution of democracy here [in Hong Kong]”.

Dimbleby revealed that as a journalist in the 1990s he came across minutes of meetings conducted in the late 1980s between the British government and Beijing that showed the U.K. government of the time had little intention to push for democracy in Hong Kong after the handover. In public, he said, the Conservative government was assuring Hongkongers that they would achieve democracy as part of the agreement.

Watch Jonathan Dimbleby’s Q&A session

“In the way that one does as a writer or journalist… I came across minutes of meetings conducted in late 80s between the British government and the Beijing government. In public, if you look back… the British government were saying to the people of Hong Kong yes, you will have democracy and we want you to have more of it, we will fight for that.

“Simultaneously the British government was reassuring Beijing they had no intention of rocking the prevailing apple cart and central government need have no fear that democracy would be taken forward in the way that a lot of people, as the polls showed here, wanted it to be.

“I came away from that experience and wrote about it without great faith in how my government would deal with Beijing,” Dimbleby told the packed July 5 club lunch.

The night before, Dimbleby had taken part in a BBC World Questions debate alongside Joshua Wong, one of the student leaders of Occupy Central and the founder of the pro-democracy Demosisto party. He praised the 20-year-old, saying: “Joshua Wong is a remarkable illustration of the intelligent young of this generation.”

In a change to the usual club lunch formula, the floor was opened up to questions from the outset. Dimbleby was asked what he thought of Brexit, the U.K. General Election outcome, and Donald Trump as president.

He said: “I woke up like many people after my country voted for Brexit in a state of shock and astonishment. Those who supported Brexit were equally astonished because they never expected to win.”

On the U.S. question, he continued: “Like many people I believed that Donald Trump would never emerge as President of the United States. I thought it would be catastrophic if he did and that most people in the United States would recognise that to be the case.

“Latterly in my own country I did not imagine the Prime Minister, who was a vicar’s daughter, who said there were no circumstances in which she would call a snap election, deciding to do so. The Conservatives are in office, but they’re hardly in power. And the rest of the world is on tenterhooks.

“I think we’re in very uncertain times, I think we are in quite alarming times with the unpredictability of the American President.

“The one thing about the leaders of Russia and China is that they may behave in unpredictable ways but we are quite clear about what their broad intentions are in the West and that is hugely unsettling… for all people in a way that I never imagined.”

Dimbleby added: “If you’re a journalist you have to be glass half full and I’m generally half glass full, but I’ve never felt closer to being glass half empty.”

Generation HK, a new Hong Kong nation and a collision course with Beijing

Journalist and author Ben Bland read a passage from his new book, Generation HK: Seeking Identity in China’s Shadow. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC Journalist and author Ben Bland read a passage from his new book, Generation HK: Seeking Identity in China’s Shadow. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

Two days after Chinese President Xi Jinping gave a tough speech reasserting Beijing’s authority over Hong Kong, the spotlight fell on Generation HK as journalist Ben Bland talked about his book on the city’s disenfranchised youth.

During the July 3 club lunch, Bland, the South Asia correspondent for the Financial Times, defined Generation HK, a term he himself coined: “In basic terms it’s those who came of age since the handover… perhaps those who were 18 or younger in 1997.”

He explained that his book Generation HK: Seeking Identity in China’s Shadow, was a series of portraits of young people from varying backgrounds who have grown up in post-handover Hong Kong but feel little connection to the British colonial era, nor do they associate with China. Instead, he said, they are trying to carve out their own identity as Hongkongers, with some even imagining a new “Hong Kong nation”.

In a Q&A session after Bland had given a short reading from his book, he said fuelling this search for an identity was an element of frustration with inequality in terms of housing and employment in the city. Since 2014’s Occupy Central protests, he said, young Hongkongers had become more radical while at same time the Chinese government was increasingly stamping its authority on the city and that “as a result young people are pushing back harder.” Bland added that he believed there was a real risk that young people and Chinese government are on “a quite worrying collision course”.

When asked how much Generation HK could be racked up to the natural youthful impatience of all young people, and how much of it reflected the idea of being “spoilt children”, Bland said: “That’s one of the unanswered questions… At a time when, in many places in the world, people are worried about apathetic youth, these people have gone to exceeding lengths to fight for what they believe in.” He added that he didn’t believe these were “annoying young people who are inpatient”.

Watch Ben Bland discuss his new book, Generation HK: Seeking Identity in China’s Shadow

But he said he believed part of the push back against China happens because “China talks to Hong Kong young people on a different frequency”. Bland said the challenge for China was to engage young Hongkongers.

Bland revealed that writing the book had at times been challenging because wealthier young Hongkongers were reluctant to share their thoughts on universal suffrage and the Chinese government. He did manage to get one man from the “tycoon classes” to talk to him who told him that his British passport had felt meaningless. Bland said Hong Kong’s identity issues don’t just affect the lower classes, but reach across to business people too. But for those with money and business interests it is often easier to do a deal and put moral worries on the back burner.

Generation HK: Seeking Identity in China’s Shadow is published by Penguin Books and is available on Amazon Kindle.

Chris Patten on Trump, Brexit, Article 23 and India

Chris Patten arrives at the FCC Chris Patten arrives at the FCC

Here’s a round-up of the Q&A with Chris Patten following his talk at the FCC on November 25.

PATTEN ON INDIA

Look, I don’t mean any disrespect to my own country or to France, speaking as a member of the Legion d’honneur, or to China or to Hong Kong, but I happen to think India is the most interesting country in the world. And I don’t just say that because you asked the question. I don’t mean by that that I think that India is poised to become a superpower. Actually I’m not sure it is. I think that’s partly because I think thats partly to India’s benefit and I think it’s partly because Indians don’t want it to be. But India is an extraordinary democracy and democracy and the system of government in India have held together an astonishingly diverse society, ethnicities, religions, languages, in a way that simply wouldn’t have worked without that safety valve. I think other communities could have blown apart or could have seen the development of a bamboo gulag. India hasn’t done that.

India’s constitution had at its heart seculism (sic), socialism, and I’m afraid the socialism wasn’t a great success. It’s joined the world economy, it has very, very effective multinationals which on the whole follow pretty clean internationally recognised corporal governance guidelines. There is now a lot more Indian investment in the UK than there is UK investment in India and I hope that the present government will avoid the temptation we’ve seen in other countries to become more nationalist if the economic climate becomes a bit more difficult. India I think is concerned about its relationship with China but because of that it would be a mistake I think for others in the United States or Europe to try to use India as a sort of democratic pawn in a geo-strategic argument with China, I think that would be a huge huge error.

I think that India’s development is something which matters to the whole world and I think part of India’s success is Indian soft power: Indian literature. The best novels these days are written by – there are some good ones written by Americans – but the best novels are on the whole written by Indians. The Indian cinema which, I know the Chinese cinema has been very good but perhaps more restricted, Bollywood has been a fantastic success, though it may not matter so much to members of the audience who are Chinese, Indian cricket has alas been all too successful as an export of Indian soft power. So I think India is an extraordinary story, it’s not going to simply move up a straight line up the graph paper but by 2040 the largest population in the world will be Indian with the largest economically active population outstripping China which will have, I’m sure, problems it can overcome in moving from having a huge labour surplus to a labour deficit and to having the second largest group of people in the world who will be Chinese pensioners. So India faces some big responsibilities and big challenges, and I think it’s going to be a very exciting story.

ON FREE TRADE AND BREXIT

I totally agree with you that we have to engage in the argument just as we have to engage in the argument with tabloids and social media about whether or not it is important to tell the truth in election campaigns. I think those are issues which really demand international and strong leadership and I think one of the lessons from Brexit in Britain was that political leaders hadn’t been sufficiently bold and vigorous in taking on some of the criticisms of the European Union.

On free trade I just make two very swift points. First of all, we all know, I mean there’s a wealth of statistical evidence that those who do worst from protectionism are the poor. If you’re well off you cope. If you’re poor you find the cost of the everyday items you buy goes up and you don’t find yourself working in a job where productivity is being raised because of greater competitiveness. In Britain we made the terrible mistake… we’re so centralised as an economy that we didn’t do what the Danes have done for example which is to ensure that public spending programmes are adjusted to take much greater account of the areas where there are real difficulties with declining industries and workforces which are undertrained and underprepared for industrial generational change. And I think we’ve also failed with basic education in some parts of Britain.

In America I mentioned earlier that the Americans spend 0.1% of GDP on labour market issues like retraining. The average for the OECD countries as a whole is six times that. So when I said to some of my Republican friends ‘of course the answer to problems in Michigan or Indiana or the Rust Belt is to spend more on retraining, to do more for education, to look at tax and spend policies and the role they can play in reducing social inequity’, they look at me as though I’m a sort of Keynesian communist. But it’s true. There is an important role for those government policies in addressing the problems which free trade can bring to people who work in declining industries.

Look, I go occasionally to Indiana to Notre Dame University, as the French would call it, a very very good Catholic university in the middle of Indiana, and you go through a lot of Rust Belt to get there. Could you have saved those industries? Maybe. Could we have saved the horse and cart as the principle means of getting from A to B. I suppose so. But we’d have all been much poorer had we done so. I think that unfortunately the people who are most likely to suffer from Trumpian protectionism if it happens are the people who voted for Mr Trump, just as in Britain the people who are most likely to suffer from the consequences of Brexit are the people in some of the disadvantaged parts of the country which voted for it. I think that’s a real tragedy and will actually put our democracies under some pressure in the future.

ON ARTICLE 23 AND ARTICLE 158

Well, maybe it was a good thing that I wasn’t around when they (articles 23 and 158) were accepted, though they weren’t a matter for negotiation between the then colonial power and China. But we did have strong views about Article 23 and we managed to avoid any suggestion that Article 23 should lead to legislation while I was governor and one reason why I didn’t think we needed to do anything about Article 23 was that I thought that subversion was something which I was unlikely to encounter as governor of Hong kong. It has a sort of rather quaint Leninist tone to it and pretty well since the 17th century – Guy Fawkes and all that – subversion hasn’t been a big issue in British politics.

More seriously, I think there is a different sort of relationship which if I was in government in Hong Kong would concern me, and that is the relationship between social and economic issues and political issues. I think that there are some serious issues which young people and other people raise about their futures, about the competitiveness of Hong Kong in the future, about the extent to which their employment opportunities are more narrowed than would have been the case with their parents. So I think there are some social issues – housing another one, and competition from the north for jobs. I think there are some serious issues there and perhaps play into the debate about political issues and those need to be addressed.

And it won’t be to Hong Kong’s benefit if over the next few years there is a sort of traffic jam in the relationship between the Legislative Council and the Executive, if things can’t get done because of an argument or a log jam there. Hong Kong has a reputation for getting things done rather more rapidly than other places and I would hate to see that ended.

ON WHAT HE WOULD PRIORITISE IF HE WERE HONG KONG’S CHIEF EXECUTIVE

The first election campaign that I took part in was in New York in 19 – I’m very old now – 1965 and one of the candidates, when he was asked what the first thing he would do if he won the election was, replied ‘demand a recount’. The first thing I would do is go to mass and say a prayer, and after that I would try I think, whoever I was, to establish a dialogue with people on whichever side of the argument didn’t agree with me. I think it’s corrosive of government when disagreements turn into quarrels.

ON DONALD TRUMP AND THE RIGHT WING

I think that it’s not just America that this is an issue, that a greater emphasis on nationalism and national identity, on nativism, can easily turn into an effort to define oneself against the other. It can easily seem to be ungenerous, it can easily seem to want to lock out minorities, it can easily seem racist. I think the most wonderful words in America are the ones on the seal: E pluribus unum, which has been a fantastic message to the rest of humanity, bringing together people from every conceivable language and background and shaping a great country. City on a hill.

You sit as I did recently in a deli on Maddison Avenue and you watch every sort of identity and humanity walking past the window. And how do those people define themselves? Are they Afro-American New Yorkers? Are they Catholic Polish Americans? Are they Vietnamese Americans? Are they Chinese Americans? The one thing they all are is Americans. And I think that it would be a terrible error if Mr Trump was seen to be celebrating the whiteness of American society without recognising all the other colours which go to make up that extraordinary American flag.

So that’s what I think I would want to say to Mr Trump and since that was what I would say to him, I think I’d probably cancel the appointment of the chairman of Breitbart as his main strategic adviser. Anybody whose appointment is so enthusiastically welcomed by the great Wizard of whatever he is of the Ku Klux Klan is not somebody I’d like to spend an evening with.

Chris Patten: Pro-independence antics are making a mockery of Hong Kong’s democracy campaign

Chris Patten talking at the FCC about Trump, Brexit and Hong Kong democracy Chris Patten talking at the FCC about Trump, Brexit and Hong Kong democracy

Former Hong Kong Governor Chris Patten today blasted those who ‘make a mockery’ of Hong Kong’s democracy movement and said it would be a tragedy if democracy campaigners lost the moral high ground because of the antics of some of those seeking independence for the city.

Speaking at a sold-out lunch at the city’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Lord Patten castigated the young pro-independence lawmakers who refused to swear allegiance to China after being elected to the the Legislative Council, stating “taking an oath is a serious business”.

“I think two years ago many brave young people in Hong Kong established moral high ground about democracy in governance and I think it would be a tragedy if that high ground was lost because of the antics about so-called independence for Hong Kong,” he said.

“Taking an oath is a serious business… Taking oaths isn’t something of a lark.

“Paragraph 3 sub section 1 (of the Joint Declaration) talks about the territorial integrity of China and national unity including the SAR and the rest of the country, so in my view it would be dishonest, dishonourable and reckless of somebody like me to pretend that the case for democracy could be mixed up with an argument about the independence of Hong Kong – something which is not going to happen, something which dilutes support for democracy and something which has led to all sorts of antics which should not take place in a mature society aiming to be a full democracy.”

Lord Patten was at the FCC to talk about the world after Trump and Brexit, but well aware that the huge number of press attending the event would be keen to bring up Hong Kong, he headed off their questions by issuing his very direct statement.

The latest chapter in Hong Kong’s volatile politics began with the September election to the city’s Legislative Council of pro-independence ‘Youngspiration’ candidates Sixtus “Baggio” Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching.

The pair made headlines around the world when, during their oath-taking ceremony, they refused to swear allegiance to China, used bad language and sported banners that read “Hong Kong is Not China”. Their behaviour led Beijing to make an “interpretation” of Hong Kong’s Basic Lawthe city’s mini-constitution that was adopted after the handover from Britain to China in 1997 – which saw the newly-elected legislators barred from holding office.

Beijing’s actions, seen by many as interference in the city’s affairs, led thousands to take to the streets in protest, sparking clashes with police.

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