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China vs the U.S.: When it comes to caring about the environment, they’re both hit and miss

Who really cares about the environment – China or the U.S.? That was the question posed to two experts in the field of environment – and the answer was a little more complicated.

Professor Robert Gottlieb, founder and former Director of the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College in Los Angeles, told guests at the September 12 club lunch that both countries displayed positive and negative attitudes towards the environment.

He said that the Barack Obama administration had eventually paid more attention to environmental policy creation following years of rolling back of environmental policies under previous presidents. A robust social movement in America had done much to pressure the government on the issue of the environment. However, Obama’s work that was largely undone after Donald Trump was elected president, he added.

Left to right: Simon Ng, Professor Robert Gottlieb, FCC hosts Enda Curran and Victor Mallet. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC Left to right: Simon Ng, Professor Robert Gottlieb, FCC hosts Enda Curran and Victor Mallet. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

“By the time President Obama was elected, the notion of environment as a priority issue really receded despite Obama’s own statements and the interest of those in congress who thought that environment was still a critical issue. In the 2012 election for example climate did not come up in the course of the election between Romney and Obama, but that changed partly because resistance in congress and in the last two years of the Obama administration there was a reconnection in the importance and significance of environment in areas such as air and climate and food thanks to Michelle Obama, the president’s wife, who made the idea of changes around food central to her agenda and subsequently her husband’s. But that didn’t last.”

Professor Gottlieb said that the election of Trump “and some critical appointments made that were significantly hostile to environmental issues” had seen a rolling back of policies: “Scott Pruitt (Environmental Protection Agency Administrator in the U.S.) came into office with an agenda to essentially dismantle both the agency and a wide range of environmental policies with the support of the president which culminated in the decision to begin a process of pulling out of the Paris Accord.”

He concluded: “Does the US care about environment? Yes and no. It does care when you think about citizen movements, it does care when you think about the level of resistance among certain policy makers particularly at the local and state level. And ultimately it does care in terms of wanting to sustain the changes that have been made since the 1970s and move it to the next level. But the answer is no when you come to the President and his head of EPA, the head of the energy department, head of the transportation departments who are actively hostile to this kind of environmental policy system that has been created since 1970 and doing their best to at least resist any further development if not pull it back.”

On China, Professor Gottlieb said it was almost in a reverse process to the United States: “In 2009 at the Copenhagen meeting China’s role was not hostile to but not willing to step up to the plate and in issues such as dealing with air quality, dealing with water quality, you had not necessarily resistance to the idea of the environment being important and crucial but it was not high on the agenda. High on the agenda was development, urbanisation, marketisation – this was the strategic direction of the government.”

He added that this situation has begun to change as China realised that environmental issues have a powerful economic impact and undercut some of the development strategies that have developed. “…there is a recognition that China, particularly now, as of 2016, can champion itself as an environmental leader whether it’s climate or any number of issues, particularly transportation shifting towards being the leading manufacturer of electric vehicles.

“But you haven’t seen a full transition. Take the issue of coal – China is committed tons with its new climate perspective to start reducing the level of coal …. used or particularly produced which has all the env impacts that are deeply felt in certain regions of the country. So in the last three years there’s been a very modest reduction in the production of coal for the first time but not a reduction at that same level in terms of the use of coal because you have an increase in the imports of coal.”

In conclusion, he said: “Does China care about the environment? Yes and no. China does care – it’s called the priority of priorities for example around air quality by government officials – but the implementation is uneven and you don’t necessarily have that robust social movement that you did have in the last 60 years in the United States that has created that ability to increase both awareness and the idea that we do care about the environment.”

Simon Ng of the Civic Society in Hong Kong discussed the government’s attitude towards environmental policy making. He said that two months into Carrie Lam’s administration he hoped she would honour the environmental pledges in her manifesto. He said though that other issues affecting the city – housing, education – were likely to take priority over environmental issues.

Mr Ng praised Hongkongers for their awareness of environmental issues and the fact that they were collecting air pollution information that was empowering them to take action and pressure leaders into doing so. He added that Hong Kong was the first city in Asia to tighten vehicle emissions standards. “When it comes to ship emissions Hong Kong is the first city in Asia to regulate ship emissions at city level.”

And he said that although Hong Kong universities are playing a big part in the development of sensors that measure air quality that are lighter, smaller, more sensitive and accurate, the city could do more. “Hong Kong can be a real leader – how come we have to wait until Beijing says ‘OK you should do this’ and we say ‘OK’ and in the next few days we follow?” He said this was bad for the city.

Professor Gottlieb and Mr Ng have written a book together, Global Cities: Urban Environments in Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and China, examining environmental issues in those locations.

Trump ‘could have done better’ over Charlottesville reaction: Supporter Ying Ma defends U.S. president

President Donald Trump could have done better in denouncing white supremacists in Charlottesville but he has a tendency to be extremely imprecise, said his supporter and campaigner, Ying Ma.

The question was raised during the August 29 club lunch at which Ms Ma, an author and former deputy director of the Committee for American Sovereignty – a national political organisation formed to support the candidacy of Donald J. Trump – told members why she supported the controversial American president who in recent weeks has been at the centre of a storm over his comments following riots which left one counter-protester dead. Ms Ma said Trump “has a tendency to be extremely imprecise” and his comments – that both sides were to blame for the violence – reflected that.

Ying Ma, a supporter of President Donald Trump, explained why she backed the controversial leader. Photo: FCC/Sarah Graham Ying Ma, a supporter of President Donald Trump, explained why she backed the controversial leader. Photo: FCC/Sarah Graham

Ms Ma kicked off her talk by explaining why she believed Americans voted for Trump in last November’s election. She said people were tired of being lectured by the elites about benefits of free trade – the same people who were then losing their jobs as the country’s economic state worsened. She said they were the voters who were also sick of being told they can’t say anything about Islam “except that it’s a religion of peace”. She agreed many who voted for Trump were from disadvantaged areas, and that these were people to whom the Trump political movement had offered a reminder that “average Americans do not need to and shouldn’t have to speak in the same way as politicians” in order to have their concerns heard.

Referring to Trump’s personal style, Ms Ma said he “stabbed political correctness politics in the heart” and that he was a man who “makes a lot of threats, a man who believes in very drastic opening positions”.

If Donald Trump does something that is in fact egregious to me yes, I could see myself withdrawing my support.

Several times Ms Ma, a senior advisor at Avenue Strategies, a government affairs and political consulting firm in Washington, D.C, conceded that she doesn’t always agree with the president’s decision-making, particularly in the case of his Twitter criticism of his attorney general, Jeff Sessions. She said: “One thing I thought was very unseemly was the way he went after his attorney general Jeff Sessions. You don’t go after someone who’s been loyal to you for a very long time and someone who helped you become president.”

When asked whether, in her mind, there could ever be a line over which the president would step that would lead her to stop supporting him, Ms Ma said: “If Donald Trump does something that is in fact egregious to me yes, I could see myself withdrawing my support. I’m not seeing an example of that right now.”

During the talk Ms Ma made a point of highlighting the Trump administration’s successes, including tax and regulatory reform, and the construction of pipeline delivering crude oil across the country whilst creating jobs. She said Trump had “proven himself to be somebody who can make executive decisions” such as the Syria air strikes, and was “less confrontational on the China front than people expected him to be”.

She did, however, concede that Trump had so far failed to repeal former president Barack Obama’s healthcare bill. But she described him as a jobs creator, saying that he would deliver on his campaign promises of negotiating better trade deals and getting rid of cumbersome energy and financial regulations that prevent economic growth.

In response to a question from a member, Ms Ma also commented on former FBI director Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian interference in the election: “Are you asking if I think the Russian investigation is full of crap? Yes, I do.”


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.”

Globalisation is coming to an end – but communism unlikely to rule, says top economist

Economist Stephen King explained how globalisation was soon to be a thing of the past. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC Economist Stephen King explained how globalisation was soon to be a thing of the past. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

Globalisation is on its deathbed as people see inequality in wealth and some of the world’s richest countries seek to withdraw from cross-border partnerships, according to HSBC economist and author, Stephen King.

Speaking at a club lunch on June 20, King said that in the West we’re seeing a rejection of the values of globalisation amid a growing belief that institutions such as NATO and the European Union are less effective and, in some cases, no longer fit for purpose. He gave U.S. President Donald Trump pulling out of the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), and China creating the AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank) as examples of how some countries are becoming more isolationist as they focus on their domestic interests over global relationships.

King said we reached peak enthusiasm for globalisation in 1989, when Berlin Wall came down.

The author of Grave New World: The End of Globalisation, the Return of History, conceded that in some cases it appears that there is a swing back to Liberalism, citing the recent French election victory of Emmanuel Macron and the drubbing of the Conservative Party in the U.K. election. But King said generally there appeared to be a new global narrative: them and us. For example, Greece and Germany: who is to blame for the financial collapse of the Mediterranean country? Greece, for years of financial mismanagement, or Germany for giving the Greeks over-generous loans?

“Once you get into blame and counter blame, you can see how globalisation ends up in trouble,” he said.

He discussed technology as a tool that, until now, has boosted globalisation. But he warned that although technology had enabled living standards to rise rapidly, globalisation instead depends on ideas and institutions.

When asked to give his thoughts on the likelihood of a global revival of communism, he was a little more upbeat. King said it would be difficult for any country to deliver fully-fledged communism when other systems where it has existed are in retreat.

Facebook is fighting fake news, but there’s no shortcut says Campbell Brown

Campbell Brown, centre explained how Facebook was trying to stamp out fake news on its social media platform. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC Campbell Brown, centre, explained how Facebook was trying to stamp out fake news on its social media platform. Photo: Sarah Graham/FCC

Facebook is working hard to develop systems to combat the tide of fake news – but it’s education among users that will make the biggest dent, according to the social network’s head of news partnerships.

Speaking at the June 14 club lunch, former TV news anchor Campbell Brown, who since January has been Head of News Partnerships for Facebook, said it was important to equip people with the tools make informed decisions on the type of content they share.

Facebook has recently come under fire over the proliferation of financially and politically motivated fake news on its platform. Brown reiterated that the social network was doing all it could to ensure that such hoax stories were downgraded in users’ news feeds.

“Now news literacy is even more vital than ever,” she said. “We can only do so much on the text side… We need to work on the education side. There is no shortcut to this.”

One of several initiatives the social network has launched is the Facebook Journalism Project which, Brown said, works in three ways: collaborative development of news products; training and tools for journalists; and training and tools for everyone. Essentially, it seeks to try to help all users to identify fake news with the help of education, software and fact-checking.

Brown said that Facebook was finding that a growing number of fake news articles appearing online were financially motivated i.e. the more clicks an article gets the more money it makes through advertising. She said the social network recognised the need to build systems that do a better job of rewarding quality journalism. The fruits of Facebook’s labour were already paying dividends, she said, in that clickbait headlines were now appearing lower in users’ feeds.

We recognise that publishers are struggling and trying to find new sustainable business models

When asked to comment on how Facebook and internet search giant Google, the two biggest providers of news on the web, were now taking the lion’s share of digital advertising revenue at the cost of news organisations, Brown would only say that Facebook was working with news organisations to try to alleviate the pressure. “We recognise that publishers are struggling and trying to find new sustainable business models,” she said, adding that Facebook was “coming at this from many different directions” and “doing everything we can to ramp up on multiple fronts to work with publishers on this”.

Facebook was founded in 2004 by Harvard student Mark Zuckerberg. Initially it was a social network platform for Harvard students only, but became so popular it was expanded to universities across America and Canada. In 2006 membership was opened to anyone aged over 13 anywhere in the internet-accessible world. As of March 2017, the social network has 1.94 billion monthly active users.

In 2015, Facebook overtook internet search engine giant Google as the premier provider of news on the internet.

Watch Campbell Brown’s talk

Aside from the occasional lawsuit – in 2004, Harvard seniors Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss and Divya Narenda filed an unsuccessful lawsuit alleging that Zuckerberg had copied their idea and illegally used source code intended for the website he was hired to create for them – Facebook had been relatively free of controversy. However, the social network found itself accused of proliferating misinformation during the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign, giving birth to the now popular term, “fake news”. In short, fake news is deliberate misinformation written in the style of traditional news, designed to mislead in order to gain financially or politically. Facebook was accused, through its algorithm, of helping Donald Trump get elected by allowing fake news to outperform genuine news.

Facebook’s response to its critics was to pledge a crackdown on fake news by allowing users to report articles they felt were misleading, and then passing those stories to independent fact-checking services. If the articles are deemed not to be factual, Facebook gives them a “disputed” tag that warns users before they share the content. It promptly formed the News Integrity Initiative, saying: “We’ve joined a group of over 25 funders and participants — including tech industry leaders, academic institutions, non-profits and third party organisations — to launch the News Integrity Initiative, a global consortium focused on helping people make informed judgments about the news they read and share online.”

Founding funders of the $14 million fund include Facebook, the Craig Newmark Philanthropic Fund, the Ford Foundation, the Democracy Fund, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Tow Foundation, AppNexus, Mozilla and Betaworks.

“The initiative’s mission is to advance news literacy, to increase trust in journalism around the world and to better inform the public conversation. The initiative, which is administered by the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, will fund applied research and projects, and convene meetings with industry experts,” its website states.

Facebook’s efforts to stamp out fake news haven’t been all plain sailing. In some cases, it’s had the opposite effect and some articles that have been debunked have gone viral. Additionally, it appears Facebook may be too slow in adding its “disputed” tag to such stories.

According to a report last month in The Guardian: “ABC News, for example, has a total of 12 stories on its site that its reporters have debunked as part of its Facebook partnership. But with more than half of those stories, versions can still be shared on Facebook without the disputed tag, even though they were proven false.”

In March 2017, Facebook issued guidance on how to spot fake news stories:

Look closely at the URL

A phony or look-alike URL (the web address at the top of your browser) may be a warning sign of false news. Many false news sites mimic authentic news sources by making small changes to the URL. You can go to the site to compare the URL to established sources.

Investigate the source

Ensure that the story is written by a source that you trust with a reputation for accuracy. If the story comes from an unfamiliar organisation, check their “About” section to learn more.

Watch for unusual formatting

Many false news sites have misspellings or awkward layouts. Read carefully if you see these signs.

Consider the photos

False news stories often contain manipulated images or videos. Sometimes the photo may be authentic, but taken out of context. You can search for the photo or image to verify where it came from.

Inspect the dates

False news stories may contain timelines that make no sense, or event dates that have been altered.

Check the evidence

Check the author’s sources to confirm that they are accurate. Lack of evidence or reliance on unnamed experts may indicate a false news story.

Look at other reports

If no other news source is reporting the same story, it may indicate that the story is false. If the story is reported by multiple sources you trust, it’s more likely to be true.

Is the story a joke? 

Sometimes false news stories can be hard to distinguish from humour or satire. Check whether the source is known for parody, and whether the story’s details and tone suggest it may be just for fun.

Some stories are intentionally false

Think critically about the stories you read, and only share news that you know to be credible.

Trump and China: OPC group discusses relationship that’s ‘simply too important’ to fail

This article by Eric Westervelt is reproduced with permission from the Overseas Press Club of America 

Left to right: Xiao Qiang, John Pomfret and Mary Kay Magistad. Photo: Eric Westervelt Left to right: Xiao Qiang, John Pomfret and Mary Kay Magistad. Photo: Eric Westervelt

Despite Donald Trump’s tough talk about China, author and journalist John Pomfret told an OPC/West gathering in the San Francisco area in early January that history shows that the relationship is deep, complex, and “simply too important” to fail.

Pomfret’s new book, The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom: America and China, 1776 to the Present, charts the history of that relationship, and how, from the American Founding Fathers to the present, each country has influenced the other in abiding and often surprising ways, including how the Founding Fathers studied and admired aspects of Chinese culture, and how trade with China just after the birth of the American nation helped the US economy get going.

Donald Trump’s apparent preference for closer ties with Russia may over time prove to be a new twist on an old theme – US presidents coming in with one set of assumptions about China, and adjusting them upon realising how a constructive, multi-faceted relationship with China serves US interests. An added challenge this time is how to deal with China’s efforts to cement its desired role as the region’s predominant military, economic and political power, including by creating islands and putting military bases in the contested South China Sea.

Joining the conversation was Xiao Qiang, an adjunct professor in UC Berkeley’s School of Information, and founder and editor-in-chief of China Digital, which monitors and translates Chinese journalism and social media. He said while many Chinese on social media initially expressed a preference that Trump would win the election, because they figured a businessman would be all about transactional business and not about ideology, the post-election tone has become more uncertain.

“Right now, I see confusion and silence,” said Xiao Qiang, “There is uncertainty…people just don’t know what to do.”

John Pomfret's book, The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom: America and China, 1776 to the Present John Pomfret’s book, The Beautiful Country and the Middle Kingdom: America and China, 1776 to the Present

Xiao Qiang grew up in China and, like Pomfret, was in Tiananmen Square during the 1989 pro-democracy protests, Pomfret as a correspondent, Xiao as a protester. Shortly after, Pomfret was kicked out of the country, and Xiao went into exile in the United States, first helping to lead the human rights group Human Rights in China, and then founding China Digital Times.

Xiao recalled how, growing up under Mao Zedong’s leadership, during the Cultural Revolution in the 1960s and ‘70s, he heard plenty of anti-American propaganda, but as soon as China started opening up, American films, music and culture poured in, and his generation – like the pre-Mao generation – couldn’t get enough of them. America was initially idealised and emulated, both at the personal and the official levels – as China rose as a global power and global economy, America set the standard, but was also increasingly – and is still – seen as the competitor to beat.

How that will play out between President Trump and current Chinese leader Xi Jinping, who has shown a willingness to be muscular in consolidating power at home and claiming territory in contested waters, will be a critical variable in determining the stability, or lack thereof, in the Asia/Pacific region, and whether the United States might get pulled into a conflict there – or choose to cooperate on an issue like halting North Korea’s progress on building up its nuclear weapons capabilities.

The conversation was moderated by OPC member Mary Kay Magistad, who opened NPR’s bureau in China in 1996, and returned to Beijing for more than a decade for the BBC/PRI program “The World.” She now hosts the “Whose Century Is It?” podcast with The World.

The Center for Investigative Reporting/Reveal hosted the event, attended by more than 30 former foreign correspondents, at its Emeryville headquarters, just across the Bay Bridge from San Francisco.

Overseas Press Club of America logo

OPC/West is an informal affiliate of the OPC. The group of about 70 current and former foreign correspondents based in the San Francisco Bay Area, first formed in the spring of 2016. New members are welcome. Interested? Contact OPC members Markos Kounalakis at [email protected], or Mary Kay Magistad at [email protected].

Eric Westervelt served for more that a decade as foreign correspondent with NPR’s international desk, returning to domestic news in 2013 to cover a national beat covering American education.

Climate change is our greatest threat – but could China save the planet?

Professor Richard Fielding, public health expert from HKU, talked about climate destabilisation at the FCC Professor Richard Fielding, public health expert from HKU, talked about climate destabilisation at the FCC

Climate destabilisation is the most important threat our species has faced – and China, the world’s biggest polluter, could be the country to turn it around, according to public health expert Richard Fielding.

As the Earth continues to get warmer,  the effects of climate change are not only apparent in the Earth’s more extreme weather events – they can also be linked to social and economic breakdown, and in extreme circumstances, civil war, he said during his club lunch talk entitled The Health Effects of Climate Destabilisation on December 5.

Professor Fielding, of Hong Kong University’s public health department, gave an example of how population displacements caused by climate disruption – in this case, drought – had preceded the 2011 uprising which led to the Syrian war after wheat and rice prices doubled as crops were destroyed following a prolonged period of no rain. Such pressure on societies leads to common psychosocial consequences including post-traumatic stress, mental illness, discrimination and vilification, unemployment and suicide. He cited recent India’s devastating heatwave as a factor in the rise in suicides in the country.

He pointed to another deadly heatwave – of 2013, which claimed 35,000 lives across Europe – as an example of how extreme weather incidents are becoming more commonplace. Where a heatwave such as that would ordinarily be predicted to happen every 100 years, he said this type of severe weather event could now happen every 20-30 years as the Earth continues to heat up.

And he warned that the global threat would not subside until governments took climate change seriously and imposed taxes on polluting projects including proposed new airport runways like those in for Hong Kong International Airport and London’s Heathrow.

“I do not see a great many grounds for optimism,” he said, adding that US president-elect Donald Trump’s appointment of climate-skeptic Myron Ebell to lead the Environmental Protection Agency transition team was akin to “putting a paedophile in charge of a kindergarten”.

On a more positive note Professor Fielding said that he believed China would be “surprising people” in the fight to reduce climate change, largely because “in 2015 it installed more renewable capacity than the rest of the world put together,” adding that single party states would have more success than democratically elected governments where there are more political obstacles.

And what can we do in Hong Kong to try to slow down climate change? Don’t fly or take a car journey unless you have to, and try to buy fewer clothes and shoes.

“Very difficult to do, especially in a place like Hong Kong where we’re encouraged to buy,” he said.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.

A full house for the second U.S. presidential debate broadcast

Members combined business with pleasure when the FCC main bar broadcast the second presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. The final debate takes place on October 20 and will again be broadcast in the main bar.


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