May 26, 2018

Politico and SCMP jump into bed/have a quick grope

by biglychee / May 24, 2018
US media company Politico and the South China Morning Post announce a mildly surprising collaboration agreement.
The SCMP’s report perhaps sounds a little self-congratulatory, rather as Hong Kong officials do when receiving their idiotic annual World’s Freest Economy Prize from the Heritage Foundation. Without wishing to sound cruel – could it be that a Hong Kong newspaper owned by pro-Beijing interests is rather flattered to have the Washington Post/Time types at Politico treat it as an equal?
But maybe that’s what they want you to think: as recent trade talks show, the Chinese can get anything by letting the gullible Americans think they are winning.
Politico’s statement talks of expanding coverage to include China as if it were a new and exciting idea (the Washington-centric outfit’s previous venture overseas was four years ago in sleepy Brussels, as the EU’s slide into insignificance gathered pace). To add to the impression of innocents abroad, it creates a stir by describing its new Hong Kong partner as “the oldest newspaper in Asia [wrong] and … the only independent English-language publication in the region [hmm…]”.
The deal is focused on sharing content – cutting and pasting each other’s articles. This raises the question of whether Politico is aware of the possibility that some (in fairness, not all) SCMP China coverage might have a pro-Communist Party bias.
Jack Ma’s SCMP has a declared mission to ‘explain’ China to a global audience. Attentive readers will have noticed that the SCMP’s on-line articles now helpfully use English as well as metric measurements. And the paper is encouraging staff to write more items with international appeal. If Politico carries the right sort of SCMP stories, Jack succeeds in his patriotic soft-power-creating duties.
It’s hard to see what Politico gains. Does it want to scoop other US media in carrying staged interviews with Mainland political prisoners reading out forced confessions?
Alternatively, it could be that a flow of Politico content dilutes or displaces the SCMP’s China-cheerleading, West-bashing ‘positive energy’ material. Let’s be open-minded. (Indeed, the whole thing could be another evil foreign plot like Peppa Pig, to spread Western influence and bring down the CCP.)
Or it could be that the two simply see more mundane and basic reasons to cooperate.
The SCMP might hope to learn from Politico’s business model, which includes print, on-line, paid, free and regional products, including a subscription daily briefing pitched at ‘insiders’. It achieves the rare feat of at least sometimes making a profit from political journalism in the digital age.
And they are talking about staff exchanges. Like many in the Beltway comfort zone and similar Western media habitats, the expert elite Arlingtrons at Politico would surely benefit from some exotic global mind-broadening Asian exposure.
The least-exciting explanation is often the best.

May 18, 2018

Asia’s mumbling-inanities and hand-wringing hub

For the second time in a week, security men assault Hong Kong reporterscovering sensitive stories on the Mainland. Outraged citizens imagine that the Hong Kong government will take a stand – but they should be thankful for a bit of pro-forma hand-wringing.
It’s like expecting Hong Kong leaders to indicate whether candidates calling for an end to one-party dictatorship in China will be barred from the ballot. Their response is essentially: don’t ask me, I’m only in charge of the office paper clips. In the background, behind a half-closed door, a Beijing official rants that China is not a one-party dictatorship and calling for an end to this non-existent regime is forbidden.
If you were representing Hong Kong’s puppet/doormat administration awaiting instructions, you would mumble inanities too.
The UK’s Benedict Rogers, chair of Hong Kong Watch, summarizes the ‘lawfare’ Beijing (in the guise of the Hong Kong authorities) is using against the city’s pro-democrat activists. It is a damning synopsis. The government, he notes, has prosecuted one in three pro-dem legislators since Occupy, often using desperate and archaic charges.
Unfortunately, Rogers’ proposed remedies are also unconvincing and stale (presumably influenced by our traditional mainstream pro-democrats).
He says the public prosecutions function should be transferred from the Beijing-approved Secretary for Justice to independent hands. This directly contradicts the Communist Party’s view of ‘seamless’ government – the reason police, electoral and other departments have lost their (relatively) impartial public-service character in the last four years and become political tools. He also hopes, or dreams, the international community will do something.
If it’s any consolation, Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her colleagues, grasping for something coherent to say while Beijing freaks out, can sympathize with such helplessness.

May 17, 2018

Lawfare Waged by the Hong Kong Government Is Crushing the Hopes of Democrats

May 15, 2018
Lawfare Waged by the Hong Kong Government Is Crushing the Hopes of Democrats
Image Credit: Flickr / studiokanu
Law is being used to silence the democracy movement in Hong Kong.
One in three pro-democracy legislators has been prosecuted by the government since the Umbrella Movement of 2014. More than 100 democracy activists and protestors have been prosecuted. The secretary of justice has constantly sought to maximize sentencing, slapping years of jail time on young students and digging up obscure, outdated charges – designed for 19th century Britain, not 21st  century Hong Kong – to increase the time that pro-democracy figures spend in jail.
Hong Kong’s political system is rigged in favor of the establishment. A committee of 1,200 people made up of tycoons, property developers, and other elites chooses the chief executive. Forty percent of the seats in the Legislative Council are decided by functional constituencies, elected not by the general population but by businesses and professions, which consistently vote to maintain the status quo. Despite the democrats representing 60 percent of the popular vote, they have no way of holding the secretary of justice, who oversees prosecutions, to account.
As a result, the law is being used to intimidate opponents, disqualify lawmakers, and limit freedom of expression. Legal commentator Antony Dapiran has called the strategy “lawfare” – the use of law as a tool in the political battle to create conformity.
The conviction of Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-Ching, two localists elected as legislators in 2016, on charges of “illegal assembly,” is just the latest example of lawfare against democrats. Accused of attempting to barge their way into a meeting after they were barred from entering to retake their oaths as lawmakers, they could be jailed for up to three years for gathering in the legislature to which they had been elected. Their failure to take their oath in the correct manner the first time would, in most normal democratic legislatures, have been addressed through an internal disciplinary mechanism – a temporary suspension from the chamber, perhaps, followed by a chance to retake their oath “properly.” Indeed, that is what Hong Kong’s legislature offered and past precedent provided for, but Beijing reinterpreted the Basic Law, effectively amending the legislation, and turned it over to the courts. Instead of being given the second chance they should have had, they were disqualified from the legislature, denied the right to retake their oath or appeal, and convicted of a criminal offence that could land them in jail. The mix of farce, absurdity, and cruelty is astonishing.
A few days previously, democratic legislator Ted Hui Chi-fung was released by the police on bail, facing potential prosecution on four charges including criminal assault, dishonest access to a computer, obstructing a public officer, and criminal damage. His actions were undoubtedly absurdly foolish – he took it upon himself to snatch a mobile phone from a civil servant in the legislature, claiming she was monitoring the whereabouts of lawmakers in order to marshal their support for a government bill. He disappeared into the men’s toilet for a few minutes with her phone. In any other legislature, Hui would be subject to some disciplinary sanction for such a stupid act – perhaps suspension for a day or two – but the disproportionate criminal charges take an already farcical case to even greater heights of absurdity.
Outside the Legislative Council chamber, the crackdown on protestors and democracy activists has been even more intense. The founders of the Occupy Central protests in 2014, Benny Tai and Chan Kin-man, are being charged with “public nuisance,” “incitement to public nuisance,” and “incitement to incite public nuisance.” Public nuisance charges in common law jurisdictions are designed typically for young delinquents who kick over bins and are supposed to be accompanied by a punishment of community service. Benny Tai and his colleagues are facing up to seven years in jail as the secretary of justice has concocted a cocktail of charges designed to maximize the punishment against peaceful protest for democratic reform.
And, separately, more than 100, predominantly young, people have been charged under the Public Order Ordinance. These charges are clearly politicized, as is evidenced by the fact that members of the establishment do not receive the same treatment. Police violence during protests was excessive, yet in the majority of cases has gone unpunished or investigated. Junius Ho called for those who advocate Hong Kong independence to be “killed mercilessly,” yet he has not been prosecuted – due to “lack of evidence.” Where has the principle of everyone equal before the law gone?
It is worth noting that the problem lies with the choice of prosecution and the abuse of law by the state, not the independence of the judiciary. By and large, judges’ integrity is still intact. But the rule of law is increasingly threatened by its unequal application.
So what is the way forward?
First, in order to protect the rule of law in Hong Kong, the secretary of justice, who is a political appointee, should no longer be in charge of prosecutions. In Britain, for example, prosecutions come under the director of public prosecutions and the Crown Prosecution Service – the secretary of justice shapes the policy, not the prosecutions.
Second, it is time for the international community, and the United Kingdom in particular, to press China to allow the genuine universal suffrage, which the people of Hong Kong were promised under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, to protect the rights guaranteed under the Basic Law, and to ensure proper checks and balances are in place for the executive, legislative, and judicial system.
Third, democrats of all shades in Hong Kong need to reflect on their own conduct and exercise both greater unity and maturity. Swearing at China in an oath-taking ceremony or stealing an official’s mobile phone are not sensible acts conducive to advancing democracy. They are foolish and counterproductive. Nevertheless, they are moments of stupidity not criminality, and are born out of the depths of frustration to which Beijing’s broken promises and the Hong Kong government’s failure to stand up for Hong Kong have driven them. They deserve a sympathetic frown and a friendly raised eyebrow, not a prison sentence and a criminal record.
Lastly, while some individuals have acted unwisely, Hong Kong’s democrats include many deeply impressive, inspiring people, of all generations and persuasions, who deserve the admiration and support of the world. For the younger generation in particular, they deserve respect – they do not deserve, by any measure, to spend their formative years behind bars. It is time to get behind Hong Kong’s democrats, and put an end to Beijing’s “lawfare.”
Benedict Rogers is founder and Chair of Hong Kong Watch, and East Asia Team Leader at Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

May 01, 2018

Lord Ashdown: Windrush highlights how the UK has failed Commonwealth citizens in her last colony - Hong Kong

Former Liberal Democrat leader Lord Ashdown compares the Windrush scandal to how the citizens of Hong Kong were treated twenty one years ago when the last British colony was handed over to 'a burgeoning post-communist China'.
Lord Ashdown
Britain’s continued failure to her former colonial subjects, as exemplified by the Windrush scandal, is a national embarrassment. The last couple of weeks demonstrate that institutionalised racism, stimulated by Government policy – especially targets -, is alive and kicking within government departments, and has, with the almost certain knowledge of Ministers, been there for decades. Its consequence is that those from the Commonwealth have been treated as second class citizens and not as equals.
The scandal initially focussed on the Windrush generation in the Caribbean, but it is increasingly clear that Britain has failed in its duty of care to Commonwealth citizens across the globe. Numerous cases involving non-Caribbean Commonwealth-born citizens from Kenya to Canada have now come into the open.
We are urgently in need of some soul-searching enquiry about our neglect of duty towards our former colonial subjects. This should not only focus on the cases of sudden deportation or denial of rights which are now coming to light, but should also consider the rights of other minorities such as British Nationals (Overseas) in Hong Kong.  
Twenty one years ago Britain handed over her last colony, Hong Kong, to a burgeoning post-communist China. Although under British sovereignty for a century, the British and China decided that Hong Kongers would not be part of the Commonwealth or be given the right to self-determination, and therefore after 1997 Hong Kongers were given no special status in the eyes of the United Kingdom.
At that point, there were about 3 million British Dependent Territories Citizen (BDTC) passport holders (including people born before July 1, 1997 in Hong Kong, and naturalised British subjects) with right of abode in the UK. But against their wishes, Hong Kongers were stripped of their right of abode and many of the core rights which they desired and deserved, and given the option to apply for ‘British National (Overseas) Passports’ or the ‘BNO’ with their rights limited to holiday travel and the right to vote.
At the time, the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989 was recent memory and many in Hong Kong felt their British citizenship was a vital lifeline in case China were not sincere in their handover commitment to give Hong Kong a ‘high degree of autonomy’ and uphold their ‘rights and freedoms’. I campaigned for Hong Kongers to be given the right to claim British citizenship as a last resort if China failed to live up to the promises enshrined in the international treaty to which Britain laid its hand. But the then Conservative government refused to consider this. The BNO, sarcastically referred to by Hong Kongers as ‘Britain says no’, was viewed as a betrayal as the UK just cancelled the citizenship of her former colonial subjects.
In the immediate aftermath of the handover, those who thought this move was justified felt vindicated as Hong Kong’s autonomy was respected and ‘one-country, two-systems’ functioned well. But in recent years things have taken an ominous turn for the worse.
In November, I visited Hong Kong and met with people from across the political spectrum. They shared that over the past five years, the freedoms guaranteed to the people of Hong Kong in its mini-constitution, the Basic Law, have been increasingly eroded. Booksellers have been abducted, press freedom is under pressure and many political activists are being jailed. Judges are complaining that rule of law, although intact, is creaking as the objectivity of the Department for Justice is in doubt and the city appears no closer to democracy.
While on that trip, Emily Lau, the previous leader of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, asked me if Britain would throw a lifeline to Hong Kong and give them the right of abode, “so that they can feel they have a home to go to, if things go desperately wrong here.”
Just as we failed those who travelled to the UK on the Windrush, we have also failed Hong Kong during the handover negotiations by stripping British citizens of their citizenship. The Windrush saga highlights that we have consistently neglected our former colonial subjects who have been used, abused, betrayed and disregarded. Britain’s honour has been dragged in the dirt over Windrush. We must not allow this to happen again over the British Nationals we left behind in Hong Kong.   
Lord Ashdown of Norton Sub-Hamdon is the former leader of the Liberal Democrats and a patron of Hong Kong Watch

Posted On: 
30th April 2018