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In pictures: FCC Hong Kong Handover 20th anniversary party

It was 20 years ago today… And FCC members and guests marked the Handover anniversary in fitting style by partying the night away at the club. Here’s our rogues’ gallery.

Hong Kong 20/20: Reflections On A Borrowed Place – watch the anthology launch

As Chinese President Xi Jinping prepared to touch down in Hong Kong on his first visit since taking office in 2012, poets, writers and artists gathered to launch an anthology to mark the 20th Anniversary of the Handover. Watch the book’s contributors read passages and poems from the anthology, followed by a Q&A session.

Part 1

Part 2

FCC archives: Not just a soundbite – Chris Patten’s plea as the Handover approached

FCC member and Governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, asks the world’s press not to forget the territory after the Handover in this piece reproduced from the 1997 special edition of The Correspondent

Former HK Governor Chris Patten at the Foreign Correspondents' Club in October 1998. Photo by Kees Metselaar Former HK Governor Chris Patten at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in October 1998. Photo by Kees Metselaar

The journalists are coming. At last count more than 8,400 of them to cover one of the greatest end-of-millennium peacetime stories.

As Anson Chan said in a speech in Manila the other day, if Hong Kong can survive that, the rest should be easy.

But will it? That’s the 64,000 dollar question all those interviewers, commentators, analysts and writers will be posing as they report this postscript of Empire.

I’ve been asked the question a million times already – well, it feels like a million times – and will no doubt be asked again and again before Britannia glides through the great bowl of light that will illuminate our magnificent harbour shortly after June 30 has turned into July 1.

FCC members know my answer pretty well. It is that Hong Kong will go on being one of the greatest cities in the world – provided that the promises of the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong’s future are honoured.

I have no doubt that so long as the combination of political freedom and economic liberty, underpinned by the rule of law, is preserved and strengthened, Hong Kong can fulfil its potential as the New York of Asia.

That’s been at the heart of the debate we have been having these last five years. The people of Hong Kong understand that if if some of our critics don’t. Some of them think the 28th and last British governor of Hong Kong should have tip-toed round this issue and gone for a quiet life.

Will Hong Kong remain free? What do you really think of Hong Kong’s future prospects?

That was never an option. The choice was clear cut. Either I stood up for the people of Hong Kong and the freedoms and rights they were promised by Britain and China in the Joint Declaration, at the risk of having the occasional row with China; or I could have done what the Chinese wanted me to do – and spent the last few years in a row with the democrats who, by any measure, represent majority opinion in this community.

What sort of questions would journalists be asking me and Britain now if I had chosen the latter course? I know what those questions would have been and, frankly, I could not have answered them with a clear conscience.

But questions remain, and they will be fired in from every corner of the globe as the transition reaches its midnight climax. Can it work? Will it work? Will Hong Kong remain free? What do you really think of Hong Kong’s future prospects?

I’ll answer as I always do – as a rational and curious optimist with a belief in the people of Hong Kong. They have made this place the spectacular success story it is today and they can go on to a better tomorrow.

They can do that so long as they continue to demonstrate the self-confidence to stand up for their rights, as they did so recently in the face of threats to roll back some of their civil liberties. These are people who know what it’s like to live in a free society.

It will not be for the people of Hong Kong alone to speak up for those rights and freedoms. Britain will continue to do so. So will many others.

The media should keep the spotlight on Hong Kong, too. Not just at the historic moment when the flags change, but in the weeks and months and years – the decades – that follow.

Hong Kong must not be allowed to become a sound bite of history. Don’t forget – none of us should forget – that China has promised in the Joint Declaration to allow Hong Kong to continue pretty much as you find it today for the 50 years up to the year 2047.

Now that’s a story worth watching.

Update: Lord Patten, on June 28, gave an interview to The Guardian where he spoke of a sequence of “outrageous breaches” of the Sino-British handover agreement.

He said: “I don’t think that the outlook outside the European Union is one in which we are more likely to behave honourably towards Hong Kong than we have inside.”

“The worry is that there will never be a point at which we say to the Chinese: ‘No,’” Patten added.

Read the full article here.

Hong Kong Handover Anniversary: The FCC welcomes visiting correspondents!

The FCC HK is looking forward to hosting visiting correspondents and journalists covering the 20th anniversary of the Hong Kong handover.

If you would like to use the FCC as a base during your trip to Hong Kong (or wish to enjoy a meal or drink at our famous bar), you are very welcome to do so. But please first apply for a temporary guest membership at the Front Desk during office hours (9am to 9pm on weekdays, 9am to 12:30pm on weekends). Or better yet, let us know ahead of time that you will be coming by emailing [email protected]

To obtain a temporary guest membership, you will be be asked to fill in a form and submit proof of your status as a journalist (such as a business card or official press card) as well as proof of overseas residence (such as a passport or return airplane ticket.) Once approved, the visiting journalist may use the FCC’s downstairs workroom and other facilities.

FCC archives: Hong Kong, signed and sealed: An exhibition by Pat Elliott Shircore

This article is reproduced from the June 1997 special edition of The Correspondent.

The image on this month’s cover is a montage of the original Hong Kong lease and Treaty of Nanjing created by Hong Kong graphic designer and club member Pat Elliott Shircore. It is part of a portfolio of editorial and fine art images that Pat has created from the original documents.

Hong Kong was ceded in perpetuity to Britain under the Treaty of Nanjing in 1842. Half a century later the ‘ownership’ was extended under lease, by the 1898 Convention of Peking, for a period of 99 years. In 1984 Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government gave up all rights to Hong Kong and as is well documented, on June 30, 1997, Hong Kong will revert to Chinese sovereignty.

In the spring of 1996, Pat was working in her studio at home with the radio on when she heard a news item of no particular interest relating to the handover of Hong Kong, marking the end of the lease agreement with China. It suddenly occurred to her “What does the lease actually look like – physically” and realised that she had never seen a picture of it; so she asked around to see whether anyone else had. People had seen pictures of the 1842 Treaty of Nanjing, but no one had seen the lease.

Research unearthed the fact that there were eight original copies of the document, four in Peking and four in London, so last June she went to London and dug out the British copies.

To her delight she discovered they were not only interesting but also very beautiful. One copy is bound in the Foreign Office standard crimson clothboard, but another lies between two thin wooden boards, covered in silk brocade, lined inside with yellow Emperor silk and tied with yellow silk ribbons.

The documents are a mixture of both English text and Chinese calligraphy, British Royal seals and various Chinese chops amongst which is that of the Emperor Kuang Hsu; main signatories include members of the Tsungli Yamen (Chinese Foreign Office), Claude Macdonald and Lord Salisbury.

Pat returned to Hong Kong with colour copies of the 1898 Convention of Peking (“the Lease”), as well as relevant pages from the 1842 Treaty of Nanjing, and has produced a series of pictures loosely based on these documents. She scanned them into her Macintosh computer and has mixed the Chinese calligraphy, English text, chops, signatures and textures together with her own graphic elements, to create a series of unique digital art images.

Since contributing a set of twenty graphic illustrations to ProFile photo library, intended for use with editorial pieces, Pat has developed the theme much further and has completed a new art portfolio of thirty images that stress the artistic and stylistic beauty of the lease documents. Her work has resulted in strong, almost abstract images of striking colours and subtle textures which will be produced as a Limited Edition of 97 pieces, printed lithographically on fine paper with hand torn edges and bearing the printer’s imprimatur seal, which she will exhibit at the Lan Kwai Fong Gallery, June 24 to July 31 and also at the club itself during the Handover.

FCC and HKJA ‘concerned’ at government demand for journalists’ personal details for Handover anniversary coverage

The FCC stands by Hong Kong Journalists Association by co-signing this letter highlighting concerns that journalists have to provide personal details including their HKID number. They are also required to consent to the transfer of their personal data to the police.

Mr Joe Wong

The Director

Information Services Department

Dear Mr Wong,

We are writing to express our concern on the press accreditation for the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the city’s return to China.

According to accreditation form sent to us by our members, journalists have to provide personal details including their HKID number. They are also required to consent to the transfer of their personal data to the police.

This arrangement deviates from the long-held press accreditation practise of the government in which the police is rarely involved. A good comparison will be the One Belt One Road forum attended by Mr Zhang Dejiang, the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. Journalists were required to submit their personal data for accreditation and to bring along their identity card for entrance. There was no suggestion of police involvement in this process. Neither did the journalists have to consent to the passing of their personal information to the police.

There is no justification in changing the accreditation practice that has served every party well over the years. The personal data provided should be sufficient in identity verification while the meticulous security check and bag search at the door step of the venue would keep the event free from any hazard.

We are also disappointed that the digital-only media and their journalists are denied entry to this significant event. This is despite earlier appeals from both the Ombudsman and the High Court.

Both institutions have asked the government to be flexible in the accreditation of digital-only media before a review on the policy is completed. However, none of them has received any invitation to register for the event so far.

Both issues should be rectified as soon as possible. The police should not be involved in the accreditation of journalists.  No journalist should be forced to consent to the transfer of their personal data to the police in order to get entry to the event. Journalists from digital-only media holding the association’s membership cards should be accredited and allowed entry to celebration events. That has always been the policy under the Police General Orders.

We look forward to your prompt reply.

Hong Kong Journalists Association

14 June 2017

FCC archives: Advance Hong Kong! Group set up to polish up city’s image

This article is reproduced from the June 1997 special edition of The Correspondent.

The Correspondent's coverage of the inaugural Advance Hong Kong meeting. The Correspondent’s coverage of the inaugural Advance Hong Kong meeting.

The first meeting of a new group dedicated to improving the world’s view of Hong Kong proved to be ill-tempered. The Correspondent reporter was riveted to his seat at the front of the room. Also on this page, Jonathan Mirsky of The Times and Steve Vines of The Independent in London, share their thoughts on Advance Hong Kong.

If there is one thing the first meeting of Advance Hong Kong demonstrated, it is that there are two sides to every story.

Advance Hong Kong is a pressure group set up by FCC member Ted Thomas to “talk back” to the international media which, he says, is feeding the rest of the world biased stories about how Hong Kong is doomed. The inaugural meeting of the AHK at the FCC was riven with distrust on both sides of the media camp.

A few days before the meeting, Advance Hong Kong had published the following advertisement in the South China Morning Post: “Help us stop 5 billion people being fed garbage.”

The veteran Thomas and fellow Advance Hong Kong member Thomas Axmacher, who is chairman of the Hong Kong Hotels Association, claimed that the foreign media had been busy blackening the name of the territory. The likes of Robert Chua, the owner of a “No news, no sex, no violence” satellite TV channel targeted at China, came along to give support.

“The press has successfully killed the golden goose,” Axmacher had roared, as he blamed the media for 10,000 reservations of Hong Kong’s 34,000 hotel rooms being cancelled for the Handover.

Axmacher and Thomas memorably quoted “taxi driver wisdom” to amen their points. Axmacher said that at recent hotel industry fairs in Tokyo and Osaka journalists had asked “questions like they were coming from the moon”.

Next up was Chua, who complained that “not one single person has ever congratulated me” on the return of Hong Kong to China. Chua said that reporters and commentators had been “misusing their freedom” in their coverage of the Handover story.

After the formal presentations came the questions.

The first came from Bernard Wijedoru, an engineer by profession, whose business card lists him as being a “PRC appointed Hong Kong District Affairs Advisor” and “Committee Member, Association for Celebration of Reunification of Hong Kong with China”.

“No, I don’t think it’s a conspiracy,” he began before saying, “Bad news is better than good news.”

The premise of his question was that the territory is a victim of a “Western conspiracy and that (it) cannot succeed except as a western colony”.

Thomas’s response was swift: “No, I don’t think it’s a conspiracy,” he began before saying, “Bad news is better than good news.”

Another speaker was Elaine Goodwin who has spent 27 years in Hong Kong and who offered a reminder of what life in Hong Kong is about. She noted that it is safe for a woman to be out by herself at four o’clock in the morning and “we don’t have serial killers because our police catch them”.

Observers at the meeting suggested that both Wijedoru and Goodwin represented Advance Hong Kong’s two partisan lobbies: the older expat community and the pro-China constituency.

The pro-China lobby was also represented by some of the local speakers who appeared to feel more affinity to the future than the past. That at least was the view of speaker Sam Ho, who added that he was “very upset” at all the China-bashing.

The general irritability of some of the supporters of Advance Hong Kong was illustrated after a couple of reporters’ questions to the panel, after which one of them demanded, “Who pays you? Who pays you?”

Towards the end of the meeting matters came to a head, although not a resolution, when yet another skeptical question was posed from the front of the room. Frank, a burly expatriate, then told all the skeptics to “bugger off as quickly as possible. There are plenty of planes”.

As Winston Churchill, who was a Great Communicator long before the spin doctors got into the business, said: “Everyone is in favour of free speech. But some people’s idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else also says something bad, that is an outrage.”

Print the negs, by Steve Vines

Stephen Vines Stephen Vines

Why is the foreign media not writing the good news about Hong Kong? Why, say our apparently growing band of critics, must we always accentuate the negative? Like the ghastly mother of the rule-breaking ballroom dancer in the brilliant Australian film “Ballroom Dancing” [sic], we are urged to put on our “happy face” when we address the public.

The sad face should, we are told, be tucked away in a drawer somewhere. The problem is that the public is not really interested in what may be labelled good news or bad news, it wants what may be called real news.

Real news tends to be about people and events at times of change. It may be a very small change, such as the closure of a series of roads, or a really big change like the change in sovereignty due to occur in Hong Kong on July 1.

By definition the news is not necessarily good or bad but interesting because it relates to dynamic events.

Thanks to the efforts of our esteemed FCC member Ted Thomas, an interesting group of fellows, mainly expatriate, public relations men, businessmen and others have been drawn together to form an organisation dedicated to denouncing the foreign press for spreading a negative image of the colony.

At their founding meeting carefully selected members of the audience were called upon to deliver testimonials about how the dreadful foreign media were undermining their businesses. They told tales of meeting taxi drivers in far flung places who had a distorted picture of Hong Kong’s stability.

Fortunately, for the spreaders of disinformation, like myself, Mr Thomas and his cronies came up with an entirely barmy solution to the problem. I say fortunately because I would hate to have to defend every single report filed from Hong Kong, many of which are as barking as the new organisation.

Their solution? Get this: they proposed to sign up a bunch of no hopers drawn from the ranks of foreign journalists (believe me, no one but a no hoper would be party to this scheme) and get them to visit newsrooms around the globe to tell editors that their coverage of Hong Kong is inaccurate and unfair. Presumably the said editors would then have a total rethink of their Hong Kong coverage, kick out the generally well-respected correspondents based here and replace them with the aforementioned no hopers, who would write glowing reports about what’s happening.

The PR men are mobilised, at an hourly rate, like the world’s oldest profession, to improve the message but what are they to do if the message is less than, shall we say, perfect?

Alternately they might be shown the door or even fail to be invited in for a chat. PR men have some strange ideas about what goes on in newsrooms.

Although this is up there among the more crazy of the schemes which I have had the misfortune to witness, it is far from unique. There is an understandable tendency for people to question the  messenger more closely than the message. Bad news is therefore the fault of those bringing the news. The Romans dealt with this rather severely by killing messengers delivering ill tidings. Nowadays we die a slow death (figuratively, I stress) caused by prolonged wingeing.

The PR men are mobilised, at an hourly rate, like the world’s oldest profession, to improve the message but what are they to do if the message is less than, shall we say, perfect?

I spent many years covering the Middle East, specifically the Israel-Palestine conflict. The memory of messenger shooting in those days still haunts me. I recall being harangued by government spokesmen for being part of a ‘Zionist plot’ or alternately ‘an anti-Semitic conspiracy’ because I had reported something which one side or the other did not like.

Lamentably no one has ever allowed me to join their plot. Even here in Hong Kong I have never been approached by the CIA, MI5 or whoever, to do their dirty work. I’m not saying I would help them, but sometimes a chap likes to be asked.

Don’t get me wrong, the average hack, or journalists as we are sometimes called, is no paragon of virtue. We come in all shapes and sizes. All human life is here from low, to lower and, just occasionally we hit some highs. I can say, hand on heart, that some of the very worst people I’ve met are journalists.

I can equally say that some of the best are drawn from the same trade. The idea that this notoriously hard to organise bunch of people could ever be part of anyone’s plot to do down any spot on earth is so absurd that only very gullible people could believe it.

Yet we do suffer from herd-like behaviour and hacks do tend to follow the herd, even if it is leading in a wrong direction. This, however, should not be construed as being part of a plot. It is no more than stupidity. I don’t think there is much to be gained from defending stupidity, but I hate to see it confused with well thought out intent.

None of us is perfect. I’m told that even PR men suffer from imperfection, but that’s no more than a rumour. Mostly we are just working stiffs, trying to get a job done. Lamentably, for the conspiracists, it is no more complex than that.

Ted’s folly? by Jonathan Mirsky

Jonathan Mirsky Jonathan Mirsky

It is always fashionable to attack the press and often with good reason. much of what appears in it is garbage. Or offensive.

An editor recently asked me to go to Taiwan to interview the mother of a kidnapped, tortured and murdered girl. I said I assumed she was joking. Yes, indeed. Much dreck in the papers. As in public relations. For those who missed Mr Thomas’ meeting in late April, this – with a few cuts for space – is how I reported it for my paper. Mr Thomas told me later it was fair.

A group of Hong Kong businessmen yesterday condemned the foreign press for its biased reporting during the period before the transfer of sovereignty to China, and blamed the international media here for causing the hotel, tourist and retail businesses to decline badly.

The newly founded group, Advance Hong Kong, held its first meeting, attended by about 100 mostly foreign tourist agency and hotel managers, factory owners, artists and retail shop owners, who accused international journalists of causing people in Europe and Japan, as one of them put it, to ‘think that Hong Kong was going down the slippery slope and is doomed because of the Handover to China’.

The group was formed and the meeting last night chaired by Ted Thomas, a public relations executive.

China is responsible for its own bad image: Tibet, Wei Jingsheng, US campaign money, Tiananmen – a poisonous cocktail.

“We are going to fight fire with fire,” said Mr Thomas, who announced that he intended to pay the travel and hotel expenses of Hong Kong-based journalists and ‘tell editors and publishers what a great place Hong Kong is’.

Mr Thomas declared at the outset that no one could speak at the meeting ‘except those who are like-minded’. After about a dozen in the audience spoke about the harm the international press had caused the hotel business, whose bookings for the period after the summer were claimed to have sunk by over 10 per cent, and the tourist business, about which the same was said, Mr Thomas told reporters, “I hope you report that the views at this meeting are unanimous”.

James Tien, president of the Hong Kong Chamber of Commerce, said yesterday, however, that successful international businesses paid no attention to the press and based their views of Hong Kong’s future on what local experts told them.

Mr Thomas has written to me that he can’t yet name what he terms his ‘apostles’ or ‘ambassadors’ because some of those interviewed might not meet his standard and he would not want to embarrass the failures. I warned him that a journalist showing up in a respectable newsroom with ‘good news’ about Hong Kong, and on expenses, would be lucky to be invited to submit a written piece in the traditional manner.

Of course, what Mr Thomas and his supporters allege about the press bad-mouthing and its near-fatal effects is nonsense, especially since they can’t deny most of the local economy is booming. Their selected quote from Keith Richburg says it all, that ‘activists’ had demonstrated. Well, they did and Keith reported it. Just as he recently reported on the man who goes about writing curious messages on walls. That’s what we do: report.

Mr Thomas and his friends say hotel bookings are down. I make two suggestions: First, investigate the effect of the scare campaign last year by the hotels that they would be packed out this summer, urging early booking, and posting outrageous rates. Second, China is coming to Hong Kong. People read Mr Tung’s plans for a ‘stable’ city which – can there be anything weirder? – forbids demonstrations for Tibet’s and Xinjiang’s independence and will not register political parties which ‘threaten national security’.

Things like that worry people. Bookings are down in China too. China is responsible for its own bad image: Tibet, Wei Jingsheng, US campaign money, Tiananmen – a poisonous cocktail. As James Tien says, it doesn’t stop businessmen from investigating here. What might slow them down is another factor, discussed by Philip Segal in the IHT, May 16 and 17: what is the Hong Kong economy?

Of course, press bashing has a corollary: press control. Mr Tung has only to mention the international media in a certain tone at a business lunch and he gets thunderous applause. He never mentions the local press which is not entirely tamed yet, in which his vision of a Hong Kong where research on Tibetan pr Taiwanese independence is illegal and is scrutinised critically.

No, it’s the international press. A foreign reporter recently asked Mr Tung if his, the reporter’s, life would change on July 1. Wait and see, said Mr Tung. I can’t wait that long, said the reporter.

OK, said the future chief executive, read Basic Law, Article 23. And Mr Thomas thinks we’re a threat.

PEN Hong Kong launches crowdfunding bid to create Hong Kong Handover 20th anniversary book

Writers from Hong Kong will contribute to an anthology marking the 20th anniversary of the Hong Kong Handover this year. Writers from Hong Kong will contribute to an anthology marking the 20th anniversary of the Hong Kong Handover this year.

PEN Hong Kong plans to publish an anthology of non-fiction essays, short stories, poems and cartoons by some of Hong Kong’s brightest literary and creative minds to mark the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from Great Britain to China.

It has launched a crowdfunding campaign on FringeBacker and is appealing for your support.

Each piece in the collection will offer a unique and personal commentary on the city’s past, present, and future. The book’s working title is Hong Kong 20/20: Reflections On A Borrowed Place.

Donate money here.

Among FCC members contributing are:
Steve Vines (journalist, writer and broadcaster)
Harry Harrison (SCMP cartoonist)
Ilaria Maria Sala (journalist/writer)
Kate Whitehead (journalist/writer)
Vaudine England (journalist)
As well as esteemed Hong Kong writers and artists, including: 
Jason Ng (Writer/Umbrellas in Bloom)
Joshua Wong (student activist)
Tammy Ho Lai-ming (poet and co-founding editor of Asian Cha)
Margaret Ng (barrister, political, writer)
Oscar Ho (activist and writer)
To make this truly a Hong Kong work, the anthology will be published in two editions – Chinese and English. It needs support to fund high quality literary translators. Any extra money raised will go toward funding book-related events, such as public forums featuring the contributing artists and authors.
PEN Hong Kong hopes to raise HK$180,000 by June 19.
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