ANDY CHAN AND THE FCC CONTROVERSY: Fallout … and Damage Control?

No sooner had Hong Kong independence advocate Andy Chan Ho-tin finished his August 14 speech and answered the last question than the expected thunderclap sounded in the northern sky. It came first from the Hong Kong office of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and then, the next day, directly from Beijing itself.

The two statements are the strongest official sign yet that central government authorities are seriously displeased with Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents Club for hosting a talk by someone who has been elevated to the status of national traitor. The Hong Kong office had asked the club to cancel Chan’s talk, but the FCC’s Board of Governors refused.

The controversy left behind many questions. They follow especially from the threats targeting the press club itself, and from the political vilification of Andy Chan for daring to articulate the idea that Hong Kong should separate from China. Questions also surround the unexpected unexplained second thoughts expressed by some ranking Hong Kong power planers


According to the foreign ministry’s August 14 statement, Hong Kong is not a place outside China, and the FCC is not a place outside the law. Therefore, “we urge the FCC to repent and correct its wrong doing, take concrete actions to abide by the related laws of China and of the Hong Kong SAR, and respect the feelings of 1.4 billion Chinese people … Any words and deeds attempting to separate Hong Kong from the rest of China will be punished by law. Any individual or organization’s move to embolden Hong Kong separatists will meet the firm opposition of the Chinese people” ( 

One evening news broadcast helped out with its own interpretation of the day’s main event, saying the FCC had been warned, in effect, not to make the same mistake again. The next day, Zhang Xiaoming who heads the central government’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council in Beijing went further. Speaking to Hong Kong reporters, he said Andy Chan’s FCC speech revealed Hong Kong’s inadequacies in terms of the legal remedies available to prevent such an event(South China Morning Post, Ta Kung Pao, Apple, Aug. 16).

The Hong Kong government is currently in the process of banning Chan’s Hong Kong National Party (HKNP). But Zhang suggested more was needed. His implied reference was to the national security legislation mandated by Article 23 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law constitution. The legislation aimed at criminalizing treason, secession, sedition, subversion, and so on, was aborted after massive protests in 2003. Pressure is now mounting to try again.

Zhang said Andy Chan’s ideas and activities are seditious, and the FCC knowingly abetted his seditious intent by rejecting official advice to cancel his talk. But in the absence of a proper law to get the job done, Zhang suggested the government try using Hong Kong’s old updated colonial law against sedition. He referenced the Crimes Ordinance, part I, section 9 that defines seditious intent as bringing into hatred or contempt or exciting disaffection against … the Hong Kong government … as demonstrated in acts and publications(

Adding weight to the pressure was the petition of 32 pro-government Legislative Councilors (among the current 68 total), who held a press conference immediately after Andy Chan’s August 14 speech. They took their cue from former Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s campaign to deprive the FCC of its government-owned premises by raising the rent (Aug. 15 post).  

The legislators urged the government to consider not renewing the FCC’s seven-year lease when it comes due in 2023. They said the government should also think about breaking the lease ahead of time and evicting the FCC from the historic old building. The FCC had abused the government’s good-will by not respecting Hong Kong’s laws and by allowing the premises to become a venue for advocating Hong Kong independence. Hence the government had the right and the duty to act if the club continued to sponsor such events (China Daily, Wen Wei PoTa Kung Pao, Aug. 15).  Scarcely a day has passed since then without someone raising the same demand and the former Chief Executive’s online campaign continues.

The gauntlet has thus been thrown down. Beijing made a demand the FCC had to refuse.  But what if they do make the same mistake again? What repercussions are likely to follow? Is it time for the Board of Governors to begin making contingency plans and start looking for a more tolerant landlord?

But then, what if they don’t make the same mistake again? What if they begin violating what is supposed to be the most sacred trust of the profession … press freedom, the public’s right to know? What if they bow to official pressure and do what most everyone else with cross-border interests has long since learned to do: accommodate and acquiesce? All it would take is for a few members of the board to say no, the next time someone gets a bright idea about inviting some local dissident on Beijing’s black list … of which there are now many … to speak at the club.

No foreign-run organization in China would invite Andy Chan to talk about Hong Kong independence. Does that mean the FCC must  behave like every other such organization in China? That would mean what the likes of Andy Chan have been talking about for years: the fear of Hong Kong becoming “just another Chinese city.”

But more important than questions about the FCC’s future are those about the legal ramifications … about how Hong Kong’s “inadequacies” can be remedied to prevent people like Andy Chan from having their say in a public venue.


After Zhang Xiaoming mentioned it, legal minds naturally focused on Hong Kong’s Crimes Ordinance … but with surprising results. The most definitive conclusion came from veteran pro-Beijing loyalist Maria Tam Wai-chu.

Given Hong Kong’s common law tradition and past precedents, she said there was probably not enough evidence to show that Chan had enough influence over others to warrant a charge of sedition. Nor had he incited anyone to violence.(South China Morning PostSingTao Daily, Aug. 21). He has said in the past that violence would be acceptable if all else fails, but he now says he does not advocate violence. Tam said if it was left to the Crimes Ordinance alone, Andy Chan had not done enough to warrant prosecution.

Other legal authorities said much the same thing. Provocative words alone are evidently not sufficient. They must stir up enough discontent and disaffection among a significant number of people to provoke something concrete like public disorder and violence. Andy Chan’s valiant one-man effort has yet to register any such accomplishment (SCMP, Aug. 17, 21).

In fact, even if Article 23 legislation as drafted in 2003 had been passed into law, Andy Chan’s speeches and pamphleteering would still not rise to the level that could permit the charge of sedition. This was the view of Ronny Tong Ka-wah, who counted himself a democrat in 2003 but has now joined the government as a member of its Executive Council cabinet of advisers (HKEJ/Xinbao, Aug. 20).

Despite all the sound and fury, Andy Chan is suddenly not even threatening enough to warrant prosecution under Hong Kong’s old societies Ordinance, much less the shelved national security legislation. Still, if the 2003 draft was not good enough, what might the future hold? What to do about that Article 23 mandate?

Maria Tam said the way is actually already being prepared for Hong Kong via all the new cross-border initiatives. Beijing has not yet begun promoting the projects in this light. But it adds another dimension to President Xi Jinping’s new concept of “organic integration,” introduced at last year’s Communist Party Congress meeting (Oct. 23, 2017 post).   So, national security is a calculation after all … just as some have suspected all along.

The new highspeed rail link is just one example. Democrats have been protesting its construction for the past 10 years, all to no avail. The new cross-border link is finally finished and due to begin carrying regular passenger traffic next month … with mainland law enforcement personnel stationed inside the local terminus, for the first time on Hong Kong soil (Nov. 20, 2017 post)

Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee carried the Article 23 national security discussion a step further during a TV interview last week. She was Secretary for Security in 2003 and her hardline sales pitch at that time was often cited as a major cause of the popular uprising against it. Now a Legislative Councilor and a member of the Executive Council as well, she said their thinking about national security in 2003 was somewhat dated by today’s standards. The draft legislation had focused on the commission of violent acts as the standard necessary for prosecution.

Now, she said, there is much else to consider … cybersecurity had added a new dimension to the national security equation and there are many others if China’s new national security law is any indication. Regina Ip mentioned the possibility of even newer dimensions … inspired by someone’s description of President Trump’s “treasonous” behavior at the U.S.-Russia summit in Helsinki, Finland last month. Who could have imagined a short speech at the press club by a minor player on Hong Kong’s political scene could have such dangerous  far-reaching implications?!

But she also added something else to the equation, saying in fact, there is no need for anyone  to be too alarmed. The 32 legislators’ eviction notice was just a political gesture. She herself had not signed their petition. She said forcing the FCC out of its club house would damage Hong Kong’s much valued reputation earned by all the work they had done to accommodate the international media.

Her interviewer, Michael Chugani, repeated this sudden surprising concern about international public opinion in his column two days later (SCMP, Aug. 23). And so did Executive Councilor Ronny Tong in his column (Ming Pao, Aug. 21).

Of course, the real motivation for this new-found concern probably lies elsewhere. It seems Hong Kong’s bottom-line interests do not always dovetail with President Xi Jinping’s “red line” concerns about separatism and independence.

Two former high-ranking Hong Kong officials, out n the usual post-career speaking circuit, have just cautioned their successors to choose their words more carefully. Especially they should take care to emphasize Hong Kong’s judicial independence.

The former officials said there are now international “misconceptions” about Hong Kong’s legal system … so much so that some business people are advising colleagues not to take their legal disputes with mainland companies to Hong Kong for arbitration … a common practice … because of doubts about Hong Kong’s much proclaimed judicial independence (SCMP, Aug. 24).

Apparently, all the rulings against dissident politicians … with the attendant stories about prosecutorial discretion and judicial deference to the executive … have not gone entirely unnoticed after all.


The storm surrounding his FCC appearance generated far more interest than what he had to say. Beijing officials panicked prematurely. They should have left it to the press people to sort things out for themselves. Because if the questions asked and news reports written afterward are any indication, the journalists were not particularly impressed. Chan said beforehand that he was prepared for the usual “talking head” putdowns for his one-man crusade (Apple Daily, Aug. 14). And that’s essentially what he received.

Someone called it a “charade,” another questioner asked how much time he expected to spend in jail. The New York Times’ August 14account concentrated on the controversy created by the talk, its venue, and the protests. Only a few lines were devoted to Chan’s basic argument that democracy can only be achieved with independence because democracy means the people are sovereign, a concept that Beijing rejects absolutely.

CNN’s online August 14 report also focused on the controversy, not the speech, as did the Financial Times and the Wall Street Journal in their August 15 accounts. The Guardian relied on wire service copy.

Time Magazine in its two-part August 14 review was the most detailed and the most critical: “ … the flames of Hong Kong separatism are not likely to be sparked by a man like Andy Chan … Neither has the charisma-free Chan made any substantial impression on the public or the media … Indeed, he appears unable to make a strong case for an independent Hong Kong. His prepared remarks at the FCC were very short on specifics, revealed a populist antipathy for mainland Chinese immigrants, and painted an apocalyptic vision of Hong Kong’s future in which the city’s identity is crushed by sinister communist apparatchiks.”

Steve Vines, a Hong Kong-based journalist and past FCC president addressed the “outrageous nonsense” provoked by Chan’s speech. But his irritation with the official protest was matched by impatience with Chan for leaving too many questions unanswered.

Among the questions were those about the fears of other less daring democrats that he is being used as an excuse to crack down harder on them all. Nor could he explain how his call for independence might succeed where all the other less-daring demands had failed … except to say their failure proved his point: true democracy cannot coexist with Beijing’s dictatorship (HK Free Press, Aug. 19).

Lost in the controversy over his right to speak was what he actually said. Andy Chan stands apart from others who count themselves democrats only because he has deliberately pushed their dissent to its logical conclusion, for the reason he gives. Not only can democrats not exist under Beijing’s one-party dictatorship, but the community has already begun treating his argument as the cause that must not be named and independence the word that must not be spoken.

Ming Pao Daily’s Aug. 15 editorial is a case in point: “Regardless of the FCC’s intention, its invitation to Andy Chan to give a talk … has definitely provided the independence movement with a chance to face the international community. This will definitely have political consequences and harm Hong Kong.”

Such self-imposed restraint is entirely understandable, of course, because it results from experience: legislators removed from the seats they won in 2016, candidates banned for “separatist” advocacies that do not necessarily include independence.

Fear has replaced the political freedom Hong Kongers thought they had won when their Basic Law constitution proclaimed the words and promises that are now being redefined not by Hong Kong voters but by decision-makers in Beijing.

Re-considered in this light, Andy Chan’s FCC speech is an important summation of the grievances that can be heard here every day … but increasingly now among friends, or in the privacy of small groups like his miniscule Hong Kong National Party. He hides names and numbers for a reason … because there is a price to be paid if he doesn’t.

The foreign correspondents perhaps expected to hear a stirring manifesto, a declaration of independence with truths everyone holds to be self-evident and a roadmap pointing the way forward.

Andy Chan says he and his school friends were inspired by Thomas Paine whose 1776 pamphlet Common Sense made the convincing and compelling intellectual case for American independence. Instead, what Andy Chan’s FCC listeners heard was something more like Paine’s rabble-rousing treasonous contemporary, William Cobbett, better known by his penname Peter Porcupine in America.

Chan’s speech was a litany of the accumulating grievances that Hong Kongers can only stand by and watch but are powerless to redress. He was much criticized by his liberal listeners for comments about mainland migrants … one million since 1997, in a total population of about 7.3 million.

But the 150-per-day quota of one-way permit holders has long been one of the untended grievances … not just because of the numbers but because all decisions about who qualifies are made in Beijing not Hong Kong and no one knows if everyone is really joining families here. The motivation is advertised as humanitarian but seen as another of Beijing’s integration strategies over which Hong Kongers have no say.  And in all the local political disputes, mainlanders are seen as augmenting local loyalist forces rather than as potential new recruits for Hong Kong’s autonomous causes.  If by some stretch of the imagination the newcomers could be seen as pro-democracy sympathizers, resentment would doubtless dissipate long before the seven-year waiting time whereby new migrants can qualify to vote in local elections.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam conducted her first live question-and-answer session a few days after Chan’s talk. Her appearance, like his, was streamed on Facebook.  As it happened, the most frequently asked question for Carrie Lam, by 572 participants, was about the one-way permit scheme for mainland migrants. But she gave only the standard official response. Family reunification is a basic human right, new migrants are an asset to the community, local opposition is due to “brainwashing” by social activists (SCMP, Aug. 18, 21). 
Posted by Suzanne Pepper on August 27, 2018.

The post ANDY CHAN AND THE FCC CONTROVERSY: Fallout … and Damage Control?appeared first on Hong Kong Focus.

CCP to get more piqued

by biglychee / Aug 9, 11:15

Beijing’s attempt to halt pro-independence activist Andy Chan’s forthcoming talk at the Foreign Correspondents Club is turning into a more glorious mess that anyone dared expect.

South China Morning Post columnist breaks with the party line apparently out of exasperation, criticizing Beijing for exaggerating the Hong Kong National Party as a threat, and for giving ammunition to China-bashers who can now highlight the Communist Party’s attacks on free speech.

It would probably be more accurate to say that this unfolding saga will highlight the fact that the Communist Party doesn’t give a damn about its reputation and is psychotic in its determination to crush any opposition.

Ever since Xi Jinping took over, China has been chipping away methodically at Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms. This is the first time the hammer and chisel have bounced back in the Party’s face.

It will not be gracious about it. The FCC lunch will no doubt take place unimpeded by rented mobs or overzealous cops – Beijing’s officials aren’t thatdumb, we more or less assume. But eradicating pro-independence ideas will become an even more urgent priority, calling for even less subtlety and charm.

And where are Chief Executive Carrie Lam and her administration in all this? Hiding in the corner looking petrified, hoping we don’t notice the idiocy of their position – supposedly representing Asia’s World City as a modern and free society while not contradicting their masters’ Leninist ravings and dismantling of rights.

Today’s criminals – tomorrow’s heroes?

Pro-independence activist Edward Leung walks inside a detention center before leaving for the High Court for a sentencing hearing in Hong Kong on June 11. Photo: Reuters

Pro-independence activist Edward Leung walks inside a detention center before leaving for the High Court for a sentencing hearing in Hong Kong on June 11. Photo: Reuters

by Stephen Vines / Jun 16, 17:30

Chief Executive Carrie Lam, her bosses in Beijing and the usual rabble of anti-democrats think that jailing Edward Leung and others for offenses arising out of the Mong Kok disturbances in 2016 can be seen as problem solved.

The fact that very harsh sentences were handed down adds to their pleasure.

However, the ‘strong message’ that was supposedly delivered by sentences of up to seven years in jail may well strengthen the resolve of those who believe that the system is unjust.

Among the cheerleaders for these tough sentences are members of organizations that were responsible for the far more serious 1967 unrest.

Under today’s new order the rioters of yesterday have been rewarded for their actions and they and their successors now occupy positions of influence. Back in 2001 the government went so far as to bestow its highest honor on Yeung Kwong, the leader of the Hong Kong and Kowloon Committee for Anti-Hong Kong British Persecution Struggle, which coordinated the riots.

History has a way of changing the prism through which insurrection is viewed. The brutal facts of life are that yesterday’s rebels and ‘criminals’ are transformed into heroes as the pendulum of history swings.

Meanwhile we are left with a messy situation in which the judge, Anthea Pang, has been widely criticized for the harshness of her sentencing.

The jail sentences she handed down are breathtaking in their severity compared to punishments given when Hong Kong was seized by the 1967 Cultural Revolution spillover riots, leading to the deaths of at least 51 people. Thousands of bombs were planted and 802 people were injured. Among the dead were ten police officers. Despite this mayhem and loss of life most of those found guilty of taking part in the rioting were sentenced to some two years in jail.

So there is definitely some imbalance here but criticizing judges is a tricky matter, albeit hardly unknown. The appeals system implicitly acknowledges this fact. Appeals are made on points of law and procedure; they do not consider questions of a judge’s motives or supposed bias. Yet Justice Pang has been accused of both bias and political motives for her judgment.

Judges are human but it is extremely hard to prove motivation behind judgments, however it is possible to make general observations, such as those made by legal scholar Benny Tai who said that this ruling reflected a strong ‘pro-order mentality’ which was common among the judiciary.

Others in the legal profession have gone further and pointed out that career advancement in the judiciary is in the hands of political officials who, in the current climate, are highly likely to favor judges seen as delivering a strong response to protest.

Then there is the question of the public order law under which some of the charges were made. Chris Patten, the city’s last British colonial governor, noted that these laws were open to abuse as they were loosely worded and amounted to a catch-all for rounding up people engaged in protests.

It is interesting to note that instead of responding to the substance of Lord Patten’s views, the usual suspects have focused entirely on the question of whether he has a right to express any view at all. However he clearly has a point because catch-all legislation is a dangerous thing when placed in the hands of an authoritarian-minded government.

The extent to which this is so is reflected in the number of politically-linked prosecutions that have been launched in recent years. Then, of course there are countless other manifestations of intolerance towards opposition, not least the delivery to the police of bigger and better anti-riot vehicles.

Lam’s general mindset was, perhaps inadvertently, revealed when she responded to a question in Legco as to whether the government was prepared to launch an independent inquiry into the causes of the Mong Kok unrest. The chief executive enthusiastically quashed this idea and demonstrated that, like her predecessor, CY Leung, she believes that the unrest was the result of some kind of external conspiracy.

Leung, it will be remembered, said he had ‘irrefutable evidence” that the Umbrella Movement was the work of some undefined overseas conspiracy. Unsurprisingly he has yet to produce this evidence.

Lam seems to believe that what happened in Mong Kok is somehow down to unnamed ‘educators’ who were behind these events. She thinks that unveiling this conspiracy is more important than getting to the bottom of why so many people are prepared to take to the streets to protest.

While she and Leung are busy with conspiracy theories they might like to take time to consider how history works. Putting people in jail for long periods of time does not thwart protest but it does create martyrs and encourage others to take to the streets.

Lord Patten criticises Public Order Ordinance following sentencing of Edward Leung

by Hong Kong Watch / Today, 14:46

On 11 June 2018, Edward Leung Tin-kei was sentenced to six years in jail jail for rioting. Lord Patten and other UK politicians expressed their concerns about the sentencing.

Chris_Patten_-2008-10-31-.jpgEdward Leung Tin-kei has been convicted of rioting under the Public Order Ordinance on the basis that an event is a riot if an ‘unlawful assembly’ leads to a ‘breach of the peace.’ The vague definitions of ‘unlawful assembly’ and ‘breach of the peace’, coupled with the extreme potential sentencing, has ensured that the law has been widely criticised.

In the 1990s, Lord Patten reformed the Public Order Ordinance to bring it in line with international standards, but the reforms were reversed by the ‘Provisional Legislative Council’ selected by the Chinese government in 1997.

Lord Patten of Barnes, the last Governor of Hong Kong, said:

‘We attempted to reform the Public Order Ordinance in the 1990s and made a number of changes because it was clear that the vague definitions in the legislation are open to abuse and do not conform with United Nations human rights standards. It is disappointing to see that the legislation is now being used politically to place extreme sentences on the pan-democrats and other activists.’

The United Nations have repeatedly highlighted that ‘the Public Order Ordinance could be applied to restrict unduly enjoyment of the rights guaranteed in article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’.

Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, a leading barrister who led the UN trial of Slobodan Milosevic in the Hague and was previously the senior barrister member of the Bar Standards Board that regulates the barristers of England and Wales, expressed concerns about the use of extreme sentences as a deterrent. He said:

‘I met Edward in 2017 and was struck by his articulate, gentle, personable character as well as his youth. He is clearly a talented young man who has enormous potential if given a proper chance. I am quite unable to see that Edward’s actions warrant him spending formative years of his life in jail. The sentencing today, clearly designed as a deterrent to mute further protest, will not help this bright, able and penitent young man who deserves a second chance. It is easy to think that imprisonment in this case is simply unjustified. It may be seen as a mean but dangerous act by those in this delicate world who still believe in the values of democracy. Sentencing politically troublesome young men to achieve collateral objective rarely works and often backfires – in the end’

Edward Leung will face a retrial for another rioting charge for which he was previously acquitted.

His sentencing is the latest in a series of political trials against pro-democracy figures. Fiona Bruce MP, the Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, said:

‘Edward’s sentencing should not be seen in isolation. It is only one of many examples of the Hong Kong government using the law to intimidate the pro-democracy movement and curtail freedom of expression. It is shocking that one in three pro-democracy legislators and more than one hundred protestors have been prosecuted by the government since the Umbrella Movement of 2014. This is an unacceptable crackdown which has a chilling effect on the pro-democracy movement, forcing people into self-censorship and silencing opposition.’

JUNE FOURTH, 2018: Same Defiant Slogan, Same Localist Counter-Current

by Suzanne Pepper / Today, 14:01

On June 4, 1989 all eyes were focused on Beijing and the Chinese government’s use of the People’s Liberation Army to clear protesters from Tiananmen Square. They had been camped out there for weeks in an unprecedented show of student-led popular defiance. Throughout all the years since, the Chinese government has imposed official silence, a total ban on all public mention of those events, the casualties inflicted by the use of military force against unarmed civilians, and the suppression of China’s own 1980s democracy movement that had culminated in the occupation of the square.

Many protest leaders fled the country via Hong Kong where the events of June Fourth probably had a more traumatic impact than they did anywhere else outside China. The crisis could not have come at a worse time since the city was just then preparing for the 1997 return from British to Chinese rule and reignited all the old fears about communist oppression.

The practice began immediately, in 1990, of commemorating the date by paying tribute to the dead of Tiananmen Square and the custom persisted after 1997.

Despite his best efforts, the new government’s first Chief Executive, Tung Chee-hwa, failed to persuade Hong Kongers to “lay down the burden of June fourth,” as he put it. But he only implored and admonished.

His government did not to enforce the national ban, allowing Hong Kong to become the only territory under Chinese rule that enjoys the right to remember this painful episode from China’s political past with large-scale public commemorations. Small memorials are sometimes held in the former Portuguese colony of Macau, but they are discreetly low-key.

Hong Kong’s candlelight vigil has been held in Victoria Park on the night of June Fourth every year since 1990. Some who move in official circles, including Hong Kong’s current Chief Executive Carrie Lam, have even taken to boasting that it proves Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms remain intact.

ATTENDANCE: Why and Why Not?

For Hong Kong itself, the vigil has become a kind of litmus test used by sympathizers and detractors alike to assess the public’s political mood. Do Hong Kongers still care enough 29 years later, to exercise their freedom of political expression in this way? Is attendance up or down? Who comes out and why?

If attendance is up, that might mean any one of several things: continuing generalized defiance, or dissatisfaction over the roadblock Beijing has thrown up against the long-promised goal of democratic elections, and over many other accumulating political grievances. Attendance is also up on ten-year anniversaries; and when special tributes are in order as with the illness and death of key leader Szeto Wah; or in hopeful anticipation of some new challenge in the offing.

If attendance is down, that might indicate growing public acceptance of Chinese rule. Or it might simply reflect cynicism, or that people are becoming resigned to Beijing’s meddling in local political life and see no point in continuing to resist.

Or it might mean not resignation but total rejection. This follows from the new … since about 2011 … ideas about city-state autonomy and independence. According to their adherents, these advocacies negate the need to commemorate 1989 because June Fourth and Tiananmen Square signify an identity of interests between Hong Kong and the mainland that need not exist. This line of reasoning is for those so alienated that they want to pull down the shutters, close the gates, and reject all reminders of Hong Kong’s cross-border associations.

For one reason or another, the indicators this year were all in negative territory. The University of Hong Kong’s Public Opinion Program (HKUPOP) carries on with its custom, begun in 1993, of taking the public pulse every year with a pre-June Fourth survey. It’s designed to assess Hong Kongers’ views about human rights in China and the June Fourth crackdown. But the survey reflects the identity of interests between Hong Kong and the mainland that autonomy advocates today want to disavow.

Attitudes this year, more than two decades after the survey was designed, were at near record lows … as though respondents were not impressed by the state of human rights in China but were also losing interest in June Fourth itself.

Some 47% thought human rights conditions in China had improved since 1989. But that was the second lowest view of conditions in China since polling began. Respondents who thought conditions had actually worsened since 1989 was, at 28%, the most since the survey began.

Another key question was about vindication for the victims, that is, reversing Beijing’s negative “counter-revolutionary” verdict on the Tiananmen Square occupation. The verdict was officially used to justify the military crackdown. That particular political crime no longer exists, although its contemporary equivalent is almost as bad: subverting state power and related crimes.

One of the lead slogans for June Fourth memorial activities has always been vindication or “reverse the verdict.” But his year’s HKU survey showed that only 54% of respondents cared enough to advocate reversing the official verdict and rehabilitating the Tiananmen offenders, with 24% actually against. As recently as 2013, these totals had been 62.8% and 15.7%, respectively (Apple, May 30, 2018)*

And this year another poll also gave campaigners cause for concern. It, too, was conducted by HKUPOP but commissioned by Anson Chan’s Project Citizens Foundation. She is a former top civil servant who has since become a senior member of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp. This poll fell into a trap so familiar that it’s surprising democracy campaigners are still laying it for themselves. But by asking a series of questions about what people value most, inevitably the issues that impact lives most directly receive top billing.

Respondents were asked about matters of public concern and to rank them on a scale of zero to 10. Public order, rule of law, and a corruption-free public environment were the top scorers, all ranking 9.2, with stability and freedom next. Democracy came in dead last with an 8.0 ranking (South China Morning PostAppleHKEconJournal, June 1). **

These are the kinds of questions the old colonial government used to ask in order to rationalize its failure to introduce political reform while prioritizing law-and-order. The answers are not too surprising since Hong Kongers are not accustomed to electing their own leaders and still unfamiliar with the tradition they have never really known.

All of which probably helps explain why Beijing leaders think they can get away with reneging on their original Basic Law promise of allowing universal suffrage elections here. In contrast, what happened on June Fourth this year helps explain why Beijing will not be able to get away with its growing effort to curb Hong Kong’s freedom of political expression.

But most negative of all was the message coming from the educated younger generation. The student unions representing Hong Kong’s main institutions of higher learning decided against formal participation in the June Fourth vigil. They have done the same in recent years, but this year they went a step further and decided not even to bother organizing any alternative events to mark the day. There was no point, they said, because there is nothing more to discuss.

They referred to a growing view among the younger generation that as Hong Kongers, they had no particular interest in what had happened on June Fourth and the cause of Chinese political reform that had motivated Chinese students in 1989. None of that has anything to do with Hong Kong today, say the students (AppleStandard, May 31; SCMP, June 1, 4).

This flies in the face of campaigners’ original 1990s view that Hong Kong cannot democratize if China does not do likewise. On the annual HKU survey, 31% of respondents said they felt Hong Kongers have no responsibility for advancing the cause of democracy in China, the highest proportion since the survey began in 1993. A majority, 56%, nevertheless answered affirmatively that Hong Kongers should maintain a continuing interest in that cause.

In fact, the younger generation’s new level of alienation dovetails neatly with the new ultimatum coming from Beijing. This concerns one key demand that June Fourth campaigners always raise with their slogan to “end one-party dictatorship” 【結束一黨專政】.

This year Beijing officials have gone out of their way to say that Hong Kongers can stand in the park and shout the slogan as much as they like. But that’s where the line must be drawn around Hong Kong’s freedom of political expression because the slogan is subversive of China’s Communist Party-led government. Those who insist on exercising that particular right will risk being barred from standing as candidates in future Hong Kong elections (May 23, 2018 post).

Even the weather bureau seemed intent on contributing to the gloomy mood with a prediction of rain likely on the evening of June Fourth!


Still, if anyone was influenced by Beijing’s ultimatum and all the negative indicators, it wasn’t readily apparent on any measure. Back at the beginning, in 1990, before the police were as diligent as they are today with their underestimates, a “full house” in Victoria Park on June Fourth, with standing room only on all the soccer pitches, was estimated by the police to contain 80,000 people (AppleSingTao, June 5, 2018).

Those of us with memories that go back that far can attest to the fact that on that first night, all the soccer pitches were full … just as they were this year. But as if by magic, 80,000 became 17,000, according to this year’s police estimate. Organizers claimed 115,000.

And there must have been some aspiring potential election candidates in the crowd. So, it’s going to mean big headaches for election officials if they actually try to enforce Beijing’s latest injunction and disqualify candidates for shouting the slogan. This is because instead of being shunted to the sidelines as happened a few years ago, it became a central feature of this year’s event.

The rain stopped just before the rally began at 8:00 p.m. But the ground was too wet for sitting so most everyone remained standing throughout and it would be impossible to say who shouted out the slogan when the call came at the end for a rousing final chant to “end one-party dictatorship.”

Organizers were as always leaders of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China. It was agreed that “end one-party dictatorship” must not be dropped from the agenda. Current Alliance leader Albert Ho Chun-yan 【 何俊仁】laments the alienation of today’s youth but remains as committed to the cause a he was in 1989. He says both China and Hong Kong should have democracy so by definition that would herald an end to one-party dictatorship (Apple, May 29).

There was some controversy a few years ago, in 2010-11, over the slogan. Critics claimed the Democratic Party, then chaired by Albert Ho, was going soft on the slogan in an effort to placate Beijing and possibly win concessions on political reform (June 14, 2011).  But not this year.

The lead slogans remained as always defiant and subversive: “Mourn June Fourth,” “Resist Authoritarianism,” “Release Democracy Movement Protesters,” “Reverse the Verdict on the 1989 Democracy Movement,” “Demand Accountability for the Massacre,” End One-Party Dictatorship,” “Build a Democratic China.”

The speeches, memorials, and tributes to the dead were all the same, and the sea of candlelight on the playing fields just as effective.

Critics insist it has become a ritualistic exercise held only for show. But they did sponsor a few alternative events on the sidelines just the same. One was a collection booth set up for the Justice Defense Fund, to help with legal expenses for the February 2016 Mong Kok “separatist” rioters many of whom are now serving prison terms. Another sideline event was a discussion group organized nearby.

Yet another was a small illegal gathering across the harbor in Kowloon, attended by Hong Kong independence advocates. It was illegal because they had been denied permission but went ahead and rallied briefly anyway (HKFree Press, May 4, June 4).

As for Beijing’s new resolve about disqualifying prospective election candidates who stand in the park and shout about ending one-party dictatorship, the real test is soon to come. First up will be Teacher Lau Siu-lai 【劉 小麗】 and veteran labor organizer as well as long-time Alliance leader Lee Cheuk-yan 【李卓人】.

Teacher Lau is one of the Legislative Councilors disqualified in the 2016-17 oath taking saga. She is planning to try and win back her Kowloon West seat in the coming by-election. But just in case she is disqualified, her back-up Plan B is Lee Cheuk-yan. He has agreed to run in the district if she cannot, although Lee actually has more strikes against him than she does.

Besides taking her oath-of-office in an improper manner two years ago, Teacher Lau led her group of supporters in the preparatory warm-up march two weeks ago. This is always held on a Sunday, before the main June Fourth vigil in the park. The march is usually small with just over a thousand people. But this year a special stand-alone banner demanding an “end to one-party dictatorship” was among those leading the procession … with Teacher Lau and her group following not far behind (AppleMing Pao, May 28).

As one of the original 1989 Alliance leaders, Lee Cheuk-yan has been present at just about every demonstration held since. He would also be among the least likely of anyone to consider recanting in order to win Beijing’s approval for qualification as an election candidate.





Posted by Suzanne Pepper on June 11, 2018.

The post JUNE FOURTH, 2018: Same Defiant Slogan, Same Localist Counter-Current appeared first on Hong Kong Focus.