HK: from colony to colony

(Ah, it’s good to be writing again.)

With several parties in the upcoming LegCo elections outright calling for the independence of Hong Kong, it seems like a good time to review how we got to where we are today. What are we? What does it mean to be an SAR? And is the Joint Declaration/Basic Law worth the paper they’re printed on? Continue reading

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A brief history of protest in Hong Kong

There was a time when simply marching was enough to scare the crap out of the Hong Kong and Chinese governments. On July 1 2003, an estimated 500 thousand marched from Victoria Park to the Central Government Offices to oppose legislation regarding Basic Law Article 23; on July 7, Donald Tsang announced the bill would be postponed indefinitely. Simply put, the main reason the protest worked was because it managed to shock the government: attendance was several times higher than even the highest estimates made before the march. However, Hong Kongers today are faced with a hardened government, and such tactics would not work again.

July 1 marches had in fact be carried out every year since 1997 and continue to this day, in addition to numerous other protests, but none would ever have the impact that the 2003 march did. The next protests of note were the 2009-10 protests against the Guangzhou-Hong Kong high-speed rail. A siege of the LegCo building managed to delay funding for the project for about a month, but funding was approved anyway on 16 Jan. 2010 despite further sieges which trapped supporters of the bill inside LegCo overnight.

Hong Kong protesters scored their first major victory since 2003 in 2012, when Scholarism announced an indefinite occupation of the space now know as Civic Square at the new Tamar government complex to protest the introduction of a new “Moral and National Education” curriculum, widely seen as an exercise in political indoctrination. Two major rallies were held on 1 and 7 Sept. 2012, attracting an estimated 40,000 and 120,000 participants, respectively. Like the high-speed rail sieges of 2010, the Scholarism rallies were not authorized by the Hong Kong Police Force. The difference was that only about 1000 people participated in the 2010 sieges. The fact that over a hundred thousand people would believe in something strongly enough to all break the law together shocked the government, and the curriculum, like the Article 23 legislation before it, was shelved indefinitely.

A similar series of unauthorized rallies occurred after Ricky Wong’s long-awaited HKTV was denied a free-to-air license in 2013, but failed to change the government’s mind. At this point, people had come to the conclusion that the only way to get the government’s attention was for each protest to be even more disruptive than the last. Thus the Occupy Movement/Umbrella Revolution.

The occupation has failed. The new stage of the Umbrella Revolution has instead flipped the traditional protest paradigm on its head. Instead of the grand ideal of democracy (a fine ideal, but vague at times), protesters have mainly focused on the single issue of Chinese smugglers. Instead of picketing the impenetrable fortress of Tamar itself, protesters have taken to the streets (a consequence is that protesters have faced more intense, even violent opposition, forcing them to become more radical themselves). If traditional protests were an elephant, Hong Kong’s new wave of protests are a barrage of moles: whack one, and another pops up.

Associated with this change is the transition from organized to amorphous protests. No one person was or is in charge of the Umbrella Revolution, especially not the original Occupy trio. Although the occupation of Civic Square was led by Scholarism’s Joshua Wong, the transition to a long-term occupation of the streets of Admiralty (and elsewhere) was completely spontaneous. Even the Hong Kong Federation of Students, the most prominent group of the Revolution (they earned a “debate session” with the HK government), was not really in charge. When the Mongkok occupation was cleared, the subsequent “shopping (gau wu) protests” were organized by no one in particular. Even the most organized protests of the post-Occupy era (such as the anti-smuggling protests of late) are initiated by Facebook groups of only hundreds of members or less (Civic Passion, a medium-sized group, injected itself into the Yuen Long protests but were not the initiators).

In short, what is required is to keep the government on its feet and to avoid repeating age-old tactics that the government is used to by now. For that reason, no one can tell what the protests of tomorrow will look like, but they, at least the successful ones, will not take the form of yet another Victoria Park-Tamar march.

English speech by the Hon. Dennis Kwok (Legal/Civic Party), Legco 16 Oct. 2014

Thank you Mr. President.

Mr. President, we are gathered here today to debate the handling of the protests by the Hong Kong government and the Hong Kong police in a series of events which we have witnessed in Hong Kong over the past weeks. Many Hong Kong people were in fact motivated to come out to join the protests precisely because they have seen the way the police handled the protesters. The very visual images that we have seen on television, regarding the use of tear gas again and again on peaceful demonstrators armed with nothing but their umbrellas to protect themselves, have not only been seen on television screens in Hong Kong, but around the world. So have the audio recordings of protesters pleading with police officers, “What have we done to deserve this?”

Some of my colleagues across the aisle have since come out to defend the police use of tear gas, and say that the protesters deserve to be tear-gassed or pepper-sprayed. Some of them say that the protests are out of control and therefore constitute a great threat to public order. Some say that the protests are so well-organized that they pose a great threat not only to public order, but to national security. Regardless of the merits of those arguments, which I will not try to address, what we have here in Hong Kong is the rule of law, and what we’ve seen: the use of force by the police and the question of whether that was excessive.

A police officer’s power to disperse a public gathering, which he reasonably believes is likely to cause or lead to a breach of the peace, is derived from Section 17(2) of the Public Order Ordinance. Under that Section, a police officer “may give or issue such orders as he may consider necessary or expedient”, but may only “use such force as may be reasonably necessary” to disperse the public gathering. A similar restriction on the use of force greater than is reasonably necessary for the purpose of dispersing a public gathering can be found in Section 46(1) of the same ordinance.

President, the central issue then is whether the use of the tear gas was a degree of force greater than was reasonably necessary in the circumstances at the time. In determining this issue, the courts will likely apply proportionality reasoning and examine whether there are less intrusive means to acheive the same objective. The Undersecretary for Security gave the following answer to the question asked in this Council about the possible use of tear gas against Occupy Central protesters: “When there is a breach of the law, the police would first of all advise the persons concerned to comply with the law, warnings would be given where necessary; when the situation did not improve and there was a need for the police to take resolute action, clear instructions and warnings would be given, and adequate time would be allowed for the persons concerned to comply with the instructions. Regarding the use of force, it would not be used unless it was really necessary, and the force used would be at a minimum level to achieve its purpose.”

From the above, Prof. Simon Young from the University of Hong Kong’s Faculty of Law derived a list of factors relevant to assessing whether it was reasonably necessary for the police to use tear gas on that day, which he has described in detail in his article. In summary, Prof. Young said that the scenes that we have seen from the TV coverage show that:

1) No clear acts of violence or rioting that necessitated the use of tear gas suggested an excessive response on the part of the police.
2) Repeated uses of tear gas appeared to surprise protesters, suggesting that either an inadequate warning was given, or insufficient time was allowed by the police for the protesters to comply.
3) Throwing of tear gas canisters directly at protesters or into crowds suggest that not the minimum level of force was used.
4) The quick regathering of protesters after momentary dispersal suggests that the tear gas achieved very little and certainly nothing that less intrusive means could not have achieved.

Prof. Young therefore concluded that the Hong Kong Police have more than a clear case to answer to justify the use of force on the protesters.

So using the Undersecretary’s analysis, based on the facts we have seen, the police did not use the minimum force as necessary in the circumstances. One may well wonder whether I’ve been speaking at the wrong venue, that I should have been delivering this speech at the High Court and not in this Council. Yet I believe there is no better place for me to speak of such relevant laws, and the need for the rule of law, at this critical juncture. Right when we are pondering the question of constitutional reform and how to build a democratic government accountable to the Hong Kong people, we must remain vigilant in protecting the rule of law, for without the rule of law, all our democratic aspirations would mean nothing.

But just as the Hong Kong Bar Association has said in its response to the White Paper, “Respect for the rule of law, as understood in Hong Kong and the communities of civilized nations, means far more than merely doing things according to the law (依法辦事), or governing according to the law (依法施政). It includes proper self-restraint in the exercise of power in a manner that gives proper weight and regard to the importance of the independence of the judiciary.” Proper self-restraint in the exercise of power in a manner that gives proper weight and regard to the importance of the independence of the judiciary: this can be summarized in four Chinese words: 依法限權.

The rule of law demands not only that the government, including the police, abide by the law, but also that the government exercises self-restraint in the exercise of its power. Yes, under the current legal framework, the government and the police have immense power in regards to how it handles the current crisis. But with great power comes great responsibility. Would it be in violation of any law, for example, if the government refuses to engage in any negotiations with the protesters, and simply cleared all the Occupy sites overnight? Of course not. Would it be in violation of any law for the government to refuse to budge from its legalist, strictly unassailable position of sticking to recent decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on constitutional reform and forcing the Hong Kong people to accept their version of “universal suffrage”, as being nothing more than a voting machine rubber-stamping candidates pre-selected by the central government? Strictly speaking, from a purely legalistic point of view, yes, they are probably entitled to do that. But the rule of law demands much more that simply abstention from violating relevant laws. Again, it demands self-restraint on the part of those in power in order to have due regard to the importance of the judiciary, especially to the responsibility of the judiciary in protecting the rights and freedoms of the people guaranteed by the Basic Law.

And I will pause to say that out of this whole incident that we have seen in the past weeks, perhaps the shining example of the rule of law in Hong Kong was when the High Court released the student leader [Joshua Wong] on a writ of habeas corpus within 48 hours.

The rule of law demands that those in power refrain from using the law as a means of oppression. It demands that they, instead, make laws to constrain themselves from existing unbridled power (依法限權), in order to have a due regard to the rights and freedoms of the people. And isn’t this what this whole constitutional reform debate is about, Mr. President? Not only whether the central government or the NPCSC can make the decision it did ruling out genuine universal suffrage, not whether the Hong Kong government can refuse to negotiate anything other than what is constitutionally permitted, given the wording of the Basic Law and the NPCSC decision, but rather whether the government should exercise self-restraint in the exercise of its power in deciding the future of our political system–whether the government, when deciding the future of our political system, should exercise self-restraint by giving due weight to the rights and freedoms of the Hong Kong people, particularly the right to vote and to be elected at genuine elections which reflect the true expression of the will and aspiration of the Hong Kong people. And this is a decision not just for the Hong Kong government, it is a decision for the Central People’s Government of the PRC to make.

A quarter of a century ago, the central government was at a crossroads. The central government had an opportunity to take heed of the demands of the students gathering peacefully at Tiananmen Square and take a big step towards liberalization and democracy. It had an opportunity, yet it chose to ignore it. In fact, it did not simply ignore that opportunity, it chose to actively kill off that opportunity by brutal suppression. The Central People’s Government chose to kill off that opportunity twenty-five years ago, apparently because developing China’s economy is more important than political reform. Many people have since tried to justify the crackdown by pointing to the annual growth of GDP, by arguing that the lives of people who died at Tiananmen Square in the summer of 1989 were well worth sacrificing in exchange for the better livelihood of the millions who have benefited from the economic growth of our country.

Yet twenty-five years later, with China being the second-largest economy in the world, opportunity has presented itself again in the most well-run city in our country. Whether the present administration follows the footsteps of its predecessors, I do not know, and I hope not, but if I may take the words of Theodore Parker, whose sermons have been an inspiration for those who followed Martin Luther King: “Look at the facts of the world, you see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe: the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little way. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight. I can define it by conscience: but from what I see, I am sure it bends towards justice.” The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

I take this opportunity to urge the government and those in power to make the right decision and stand on the right side of history, alongside the students who are gathering outside this Council today as we speak, together with the rest of the Hong Kong people, and the people in this nation. Thank you, Mr. President.

On Tiananmen and Hong Kong

There is no denying that Hong Kong plays an important role in Tiananmen.  Hong Kong’s largest protest ever, on 28 May 1989, was related to the protests.   Hong Kong was the base of Operation Yellowbird, the underground railroad responsible for getting dozens of dissidents out of China in the aftermath of the crackdown.  But what role does Hong Kong play today in the ongoing quest to seek justice for those killed?

Every year, there is a rally at Victoria Park to commemorate the crackdown.  This rally is organized by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China.  Who are these people in the alliance?  Mostly people with delusions about a unified, democratic China, somehow made possible by the efforts of a ragtag group of outsiders thousands of kilometres from Beijing (for Hong Kongers will always be outsiders to the Chinese people, even as they continue to lay claim to the territory itself).

Richard Tsoi, vice chairman of the movement, is especially guilty of promoting his pan-China delusions to the point of harming Hong Kong: he was a key figure in the lifting of the 7-year residency requirement for social welfare in Hong Kong.  His party, the so-called Democratic Party, infamously broke ranks with the rest of the democratic camp in 2010, held its own meetings with the CCP, and helped the CCP pass what can only be seen as the lamest political reform package of all time.

The Alliance is also very weak in its stance.  It does not demand for the fall of one of the most brutal regimes in history (frankly, Tiananmen is a drop in a bucket compared to the other things this Party has done).  Instead, it basically just asks the Party to “rehabilitate” the Tiananmen Movement, which is effectively the same as asking Hitler after the fact to reconsider his massacre of the Jews.

Twenty-five years of begging has not softened the CCP’s stance and never will.  Twenty-five years of chanting slogans has not reached the CCP’s ears.  Twenty-five years of demanding democracy in China has not brought it, even to ourselves.   There is no point in remembering just for the sake of remembering.  Something must be done, and something concrete.

When the village of Wukan successfully secured a democratic election for itself in 2012, that was something concrete.  It might not have meant much in the end, but at least something actually happened.  If Hong Kong pools together to secure civil nomination for itself for 2017, that also would be something concrete.  That is much better than perpetuating pan-Chinese fantasies year after year after year.

tiny bit of progress was made last year.  When the Alliance proposed a slogan of “Love the Country, Love the People,” they were immediately condemned.  First of all, “love of country” is generally avoided by Chinese activists as the Party has successfully twisted it to mean “love of Party”.  Secondly, localists strongly condemned the Alliance’s pan-Chinese stance.  The slogan was even panned by Ding Zilin of the Tiananmen Mothers itself.  In the end, the Alliance was forced to drop the slogan, but not before making matters way worse:

Then Tsui Hon-kwong of the Hong Kong alliance retorted, accusing Ding of not understanding the situation in Hong Kong and that she had developed “Stockholm Syndrome” in becoming more sympathetic towards the Communist Party.

(Note: I highly recommend the entire article, here is the link.)

See also: https://therealnewshk.wordpress.com/tag/4june/

So-called Consultation

The Hong Kong government’s upcoming “consultation” exercise to me is reminiscent of some so-called consultations conducted by the British government.  From Stephen Vines’ “Hong Kong: China’s New Colony” (1998):

When I arrived in Hong Kong at the beginning of 1987 debate about the creation of representative government was very much a live issue. China had made it clear that even the modest reforms implemented in 1985 were a bit much, and the Foreign Office in London was busy applying the brakes to any further development. Meanwhile, public opinion, as expressed in every single opinion poll, in numerous radio phone-ins and practically everywhere else, was overwhelmingly in favour of reform.

As a newcomer to the colony I was hustled into briefings where senior civil servants patronisingly told me that I understood nothing about Hong Kong if I seriously believed that the man in the street cared a fig about politics. All Hong Kong people wanted, I was assured, was firm and clean government. They were scared of getting involved in a political process which would take them to the abyss of uncertainty.

The chief propagandist of this line was Sir David Ford, the Chief Secretary, who had served in Northern Ireland during the ‘Troubles’ as one of the architects of the black propaganda campaign against the nationalist community. He was a master of the subtle hint, the planted story and the orchestration of a viewpoint. In 1987 the line pushed by Sir David was that there was everything to play for in the democracy stakes and no one should rush to judgement on the outcome because a review of the development of representative government was to be undertaken at the end of the year. As promised, another Green Paper was published. This time all mention of greater democracy had disappeared.

What followed the publication of the Green Paper was breathtaking in its audacity. Once again, as for the Joint Declaration, an office was established to collect public views. This time professionals were called in: AGB McNair, a market research and polling company. On government instructions, the polling company drew up a horrendously complex questionnaire giving the public four main options and six sub-options. None of these gave those questioned an opportunity to answer the straightforward question: Are you in favour of direct elections for the legislature in 1988? Every other polling organisation in the territory managed to do this and found that the majority was in the affirmative.

Sir David, who had devised this strategy of obfuscating, was delighted with the outcome. AGB McNair reported that the bulk of the public were confused and that only 12-15 percent of those surveyed could be said to be in favour of direct elections.

The new SAR government would, in 2007, issue a Green Paper of its own.  Obviously, whatever consultation was done then once again hasn’t really brought any true reform.

Everything is politics

“The apolitical does not exist – everything is politics.”
-—Thomas Mann, The Magic Mountain (1924)

There may be many in Hong Kong that traditionally shied away from politics. After all, who cares about what a bunch of suit-wearing monkeys in the Legco chamber say or do? Hopefully, the recent HKTV farce will let these people see that no matter where their place in society, politics affects them in every single way.

Politics, as seen, is about what TV programs one gets to see.

HKTV

But it’s also about whether your downstairs shop sells vegetables or milk formula.

Out of stock at Tuen Mun Town Plaza

Out of stock at Tuen Mun Town Plaza

It’s about whether your kid gets into a primary school reasonably close to his or her home,

Cross-border students force North District students out of their own school nets.

Cross-border students force North District students out of their own school nets.

what he learns when he gets there,

and how much time you get to spend with him or her at the end of the day when you get home from work.

workinghours_0

Politics is about how long you or your parents have to wait for that cataract surgery

The woman on the left has waited 29 months for cataract surgery.

The woman on the left has waited 29 months for cataract surgery.

It’s about where you live and in what type of housing.

(Source: Wall Street Journal via Hong Wrong)

(Source: Wall Street Journal via Hong Wrong)

It’s about how much you pay for the bus or MTR.

Opposing fare increases by the MTR.

Opposing fare increases by the MTR.

It’s about how much tax you pay and how the government uses your money.

Everything is politics.

Notice

Due to time commitments, I will not be posting regularly on this blog anymore.  I suggest to visit instead https://www.facebook.com/realhknews, a Facebook page I and several others are part of.  Any new content posted here in the future will also be linked to on that page.

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