Voice of Hong Kong http://www.vohk.hk One Hong Kong, Many Voices Sat, 08 Dec 2018 14:40:53 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.17 Power and Journalism after Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong http://www.vohk.hk/2018/12/08/power-and-journalism-after-umbrella-movement-in-hong-kong/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss http://www.vohk.hk/2018/12/08/power-and-journalism-after-umbrella-movement-in-hong-kong/#respond Sat, 08 Dec 2018 14:31:21 +0000 http://www.vohk.hk/?p=1932
Umbrella Movement marks awakening of Hong Kong people.By Chris Yeung – This is a real-life story. Victor Mallet is a career British journalist. He had been sent by The Financial Times to...
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Umbrella Movement marks awakening of Hong Kong people.

By Chris Yeung –

This is a real-life story. Victor Mallet is a career British journalist. He had been sent by The Financial Times to work in Hong Kong twice, first as a correspondent, then Asia news editor in 2016. The Hong Kong Government rejected his application for a renewal of his work visa in October. No reason was given. He left Hong Kong later that month. On November 6, he returned to the city with a list of things he planned to do, including handing over his job to his successor, buying a present for friends, attending a literature festival and saying goodbye to colleagues and long-time friends. He was not given a chance to do so. He was refused entry after hours of questioning by immigration officials at the airport. No reason was given.

Thanks to Facebook, he bade farewell to friends and the city online – with a picture of his press card issued by the Hong Kong Government and an Octopus card, an electronic card for public transport and shopping and a note. Mallet said he will settle down in Europe for his next post. And he will re-read George Orwell’s novel 1984. In a parting shot at the Chinese and Hong Kong Government, he cited some of the wise words in it, “War is Peace,” “Freedom is Slavery,” “Ignorance is Strength.”

Mallet landed on an unlikely minefield on his path of journalism when he hosted a luncheon talk by a pro-independence Hong Kong activist Andy Chan, in his capacity as First Vice Chairman of the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents Club, known to many as FCC, in August. It came at a time when the Government had invoked the Societies Ordinance to consider outlawing the Hong Kong National Party, of which Andy Chan is the founder and the lone public face.

Chris Yeung speaks at the SISAIN Korea Journalism Conference in Seoul.

Chris Yeung speaks at the SISAIN Korea Journalism Conference in Seoul.

Inaugurated in 2015, the Hong Kong National Party was the first political party to advocate Hong Kong independence. The Foreign Ministry Office in Hong Kong was panic. They talked to the FCC to ask them to rethink, a diplomatic way of saying, “don’t do it.” The city’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam gave a more moderate response. She described the FCC event as “regrettable and inappropriate.” FCC stuck to their decision, insisting it was just normal for journalist groups to invite speakers representing a wide spectrum of political views. That does not mean they endorse their views, or in that case, Andy Chan’s pro-independence stance, in one way or another. The event went ahead. Despite lousy protests outside the FCC building, the luncheon talk was largely uneventful. Both the Foreign Ministry’s Office and Mrs Lam reacted again. This time in much stronger and sharper words. That was not unexpected. Journalists and many people had thought the saga was over. It was not.

When Mallet’s application an extension of his work visa in October was rejected, it caused a stir among the media community and society at large. Western governments spoke up and raised their concerns. In the absence of any other reasonable factors for the visa refusal, the only plausible reason is his role and involvement in the Andy Chan talk. Put simply, he has emerged as the convenient target of political reprisal by the Chinese central government with the intention of “scaring the monkey by killing a chicken”. Put plainly, it is seen as an attempt to send a no-nonsense message to journalists and the society at large for them not to cross the “red line” spelled out by Chinese President Xi Jinping during his visit to Hong Kong in July last year. The “red line” in the “One Country, Two Systems” constitutional map for post-1997 Hong Kong refers to Hong Kong independence, or more broadly, matters China deems as a threat to national security and the country’s core interests.

2017 and 1984

1984 is a special year for Hong Kong. It marks the beginning of the end of British colonial rule with the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration. Victor Mallet’s reference to George Orwell’s 1984 has evoked memories about the depth of anxieties and uncertainties engulfing Hong Kong since the 1980s. And worse, the world Orwell had envisaged in his novel has bore striking resemblance to the chain of changes unfolded in Hong Kong since 1997, in particular in the recent years. Hong Kong had boasted to be free and open society featuring Western liberal values and traditional Chinese culture. There are growing fears that it has become “mainlandised,” or put it more clearly, just another city in mainland China, featuring Chinese-style authoritarian rule that puts emphasis on power and control.

The communist authorities’ increasing assertiveness on its sovereign power and ultimate control over Hong Kong is the underlying cause of the 79 days of peaceful occupation at the heart of the city in 2014, also known as Umbrella Movement.

The civil disobedience movement did not come out of the blue. It could be dated back to July 2003 in the aftermath of a march by more than half a million people on the first of July in what has been described as a perfect storm. With public discontent over a list of governance fiascos simmering, a plan to enact a law aimed to uphold national security had emerged as the last straw on the back of the camel. Under the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, Hong Kong is obliged to enact law to prohibit acts such as subversion and secession, theft of state secrets and links with foreign political organisations. There were prevalent fears that the anti-subversion law would curb freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Opposition grew fiercer following a spate of provocative remarks by the minister in charge of the national security bill and pro-Beijing politicians. The national security bill was suspended after the July 1 rally.

2003 July 1 March

Shocked by the massive show of people power, Beijing has abandoned its hands-off approach to the city after 1997, and resorted to the Communist Party’s control mode. The central government had strengthened its department in charge of Hong Kong affairs and its Liaison Office in the city. United front work was stepped up. In 2007, the then Premier Hu Jintao paid a visit to Hong Kong to mark the 10th anniversary of the 1997 handover. In his speech, he called on the Government to strengthen national education among the youth. 10 years ago, Beijing had lamented that “the hearts of Hong Kong people” have not yet returned to the motherland.

Students stage protests against national education curriculum in 2012.

Students stage protests against national education curriculum in 2012.

It was followed by an attempt to introduce national education in the curriculum of junior school beginning from September 2012, two months after the then Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying took office. A group comprised of junior students, including Joshua Wong, who had since then emerged as a young democracy fighter, joined parents to stage a protracted boycott of classes and sit-in at the Government Headquarters. The then C Y Leung administration caved in. The national education curriculum was suspended, like the national security bill in 2003. The public furore against national education had again shocked Beijing, and prompted a rethink of their promise of universal suffrage in Hong Kong. The central government has made a commitment in 2007 that Hong Kong could elect its Chief Executive by a “one person, one vote” system by 2017 at the earliest possible time.

Following a rethink on Hong Kong, Beijing had moved to install a political screening mechanism in a universal suffrage system that would ensure the person to be elected would be acceptable to them. Call it election with Chinese characteristics. As a former British colonial official David Akers-Jones had been quoted as having said at a conversation with a journalist before 1997 about his observation of the Chinese thinking about election. Sir David reportedly said: “The Chinese style is not to rig election. But they do like to know the result before they’re held.”

Occupy Central with love and peace

With the earliest possible time of universal suffrage for electing the chief executive in 2017 drawing closer, the idea of a civil disobedience movement aimed to put pressure on the Chinese government for democracy was mooted in March 2013. The mass democratic movement had caused jitters to Beijing not just because it was another show of people power. Also importantly, its nature of civil disobedience was seen as a challenge to the city’s rule of law and a threat to effective governance.

As part of its intensified, multi-pronged tactic to counter the Occupy Central, the Chinese government had tried to rally the traditional mainstream media to support the central government and the SAR administration.

Protesters stage a 79-day sit-in in Admiralty.

Protesters stage a 79-day sit-in in Admiralty.

In April 2014, the Chinese government had invited a delegation of senior editors to Beijing. At a meeting with the delegates, the then Vice President Li Yuanchao had showered praises on the media for their contribution in fostering a smooth handover of Hong Kong. Li urged the executives to see the “bigger picture” and lead society in reaping the benefits of China’s strong economic growth. “I hope the media of Hong Kong could consider the collective benefits of the country and Hong Kong society and operate objectively, fairly, and impartially to lead society to grasp the new opportunities that have come with the country’s reforms and developments,” Li said. Li reportedly told the media executives the Occupy Central were an illegal movement.

The message was interpreted as a soft reminder to the media for them to oppose the civil disobedience movement or, at least, not to add fuel to fire by giving prominent coverage to the protests.

It is difficult to tell how effective China’s united front work has been when it comes to the Umbrella Movement. But judging from the editorial stance of newspapers, those who openly supported the civil disobedience movement was in the minority. Most media organisations either took a negative view towards the movement or preferred a wishy-washy editorial stance.

If the media as a whole had mostly taken an ambivalent position on Umbrella Movement before it broke out and in its early days, it was because the notion of civil disobedience had been novel in the city. On the surface of it, it goes against the city’s rule of law, which has always been seen as one of the pillars of the society. So, the idea of breaching the law deliberately to fight for democracy had been seen as unimaginable in the Hong Kong society. Media organisations found difficulty in gauging public opinion on the civil disobedience movement before it happened. Many preferred a wait-and-see attitude. With the events of the Occupation began to unfold, media and society at large were caught by surprise. Thanks to the peaceful and orderly manner the protests were held at the early stage of the movement, the coverage of the protests by both traditional and new media had been mostly positive. Opinion surveys showed a surprisingly sizeable support for the civil disobedience movement. The initial positive public opinion on the movement had in turn been reflected in media’s stance on Occupy Central, at least in the initial stage. Some critics have blasted the media for having “romanticised” the unlawful protest.

First mooted by the so-called “Occupy Trio”, or three co-organisers, namely two university professors in law and sociology respectively and one clergyman, the 79-day movement was largely a self-spontaneous event joined by people from different walks of life. It has gained its own life after the power of civil society was unleashed. Online media and social media played a big part in the movement by connecting people, forming groups and telling people what happened at the occupied areas. International media coverage gave a boost to the morale of the protestors, but also made Beijing more worried about what they deemed as foreign influence in the city’s democratic movement.

Umbrella Movement marks awakening of Hong Kong people.

Umbrella Movement marks awakening of Hong Kong people.

The rest of the Umbrella Movement is history. The “Occupy Trio”, together with six other pro-democracy activists named by the Government as the organisers, if not troublemakers, are now being put on trial in court. The charges mainly cover conspiracy to cause public nuisance, inciting others to cause public nuisance and inciting people to incite others to cause public nuisance. It is difficult to forecast the verdict.

Moreover, the jury of the Umbrella Movement is out. True, the movement has failed when it comes to the demand for genuine universal suffrage for electing the chief executive in 2017. Last year, Carrie Lam was elected by a 1,200-member Election Committee, which is mainly comprised of people seen as friendlier to the central government. There is no longer a new timetable of universal suffrage for the chief executive, not to mention half of the seats of the legislature, which are still chosen by what we call functional constituencies such as doctors and accountants. On the domestic front, the movement has brought about profound changes in the city’s social and political landscape. On the mainland-Hong Kong front, it has caused further strain to their relations. Put together, it has ushered a new phase of uncertainties in Hong Kong under the policy of “One Country, Two Systems.”

Rise of localism, self-determination and independence calls

Start with the domestic scene. Inspired by the spontaneous participation of ordinary people in the movement, new civil groups had sprouted during and after the Umbrella Movement. There is a long list of “post-Umbrella” groups formed by professionals and ordinary people with the hope of keeping the flame of the movement burning. They have given fresh impetus to the civil society. Of them, some have championed the notion of “localism”, which is primary a political movement that promotes the city’s autonomy and local culture and lifestyles. They emerged as a new faction in the pro-democracy camp, which has gained considerable support because of growing unease among people, in particular youngsters, about the increasing encroachment of the Chinese central government on the city’s domestic affairs ranging from political, economic and social affairs.

Despite its failure in fighting for universal suffrage, the Umbrella Movement has been hailed as landmark in the growth of the sense of awakening of Hong Kong people. It has come about the same time with the surfacing of activism in the advocacy of localism, self-determination and Hong Kong independence. The growth of the feeling of resistance against nationhood, in particularly among young people, has reflected the growing distrust in the “one country, two systems” policy and the central government.

To Beijing, those notions of localism self-determination are in essence separatism and splittist thinking. Against that background, it has come as no surprise that the theme of national security has become dominant during the visit of President Xi Jinping to the city during the 20th anniversary of the reversion Chinese sovereignty last year.

Xi Jinping sets out ‘red line’

In his speech delivered at the inauguration ceremony of the administration led by Carrie Lam, Xi reiterated that the central authorities would unswerving adhere to the policy of “One Country, Two Systems”. Second, he said they would stick to the correct direction of fully and accurately implementing the policy in Hong Kong to ensure it has not “deformed”. Xi’s speech has laid down the “bottom-line” and “red-line” in the “One Country, Two Systems” political framework.

Xi maintained matters relating to central-SAR relations must be correctly handled firmly under the principle of “one country”. The thinking of “one country” should be firmly established, he said. Any activities that endanger national security, challenge the power of the central authorities, the authority of the Basic Law and use Hong Kong to infiltrate the mainland are seemed to be a challenge to Beijing’s “bottom-line”. “They must not be allowed.”

In 2015, China has promulgated a new law on national security. One major difference of the new law from its version in 1993 is that it has covered more areas, in addition to crimes including treason, secession, subversion against the central government. The new areas include finance and economy, food, energy, internet and information and religion. It also covers outer s pace, the international seabed and the polar regions. When promulgating the new national security law, the central government designated April 15 as China’s National Security Education Day. Hong Kong and Macau are incorporated into the new National Security Law, but the law will not be directly applied in Hong Kong. But on April 15 this year, a think-tank, founded by a former minister, held a symposium on national security. Speakers include a list of top officials from the Government and the Chinese Government.

The symposium is just one of the cases of the central government and the Hong Kong SAR government doubling their efforts to promote the sense of nationhood, or the overriding principle of “one country,” among Hong Kong people. Beijing’s obsession with fears about threats to national security has given rise to conspiracy theory about the Umbrella Movement. Former Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has said publicly foreign political forces were behind the Umbrella Movement. He has said the Government would give evidence at an appropriate time. The Government has not yet given any evidence to substantiate Leung’s allegation.

Fears of Hong Kong becoming a subversive base

Flashed back to 1989, university students in Beijing had staged demonstrations since the middle of April to fight for democracy, free press and a clean government, among other things. Hong Kong people were inspired. Many believed Hong Kong would never have democracy if China is not a democracy. Many took to the streets in Hong Kong. They donated money to support the Beijing students. The movement was suppressed by Chinese troops. In the aftermath of it, the central government warned Hong Kong people not to turn the city into a base to topple China.

29 years on, China is still not a democracy, but its political and economic power is no longer what it was. Ironically, the stronger it has become the more worried their leaders are about what they perceived as threats to their national interests. Their fears grew with the election of Donald Trump to become the US President. Amid fears of a new Cold War, the Chinese leaders are getting more worried about hostile forces outside China seeking to turn Hong Kong into a subversive base against the central government. Confronted with an increasingly precarious and complex global environment, Xi is also faced with a far more complicated Chinese society with conflicts of various kinds surfacing.

PICXi

It is against the broader background of China under Xi Jinping tightening their political and social control across the nation that Hong Kong under “one country, two systems” is under growing strain. Media is not immune to the climate change.

Last month, a delegation of senior editors was invited to visit Beijing. They were met by the Communist Party’s propaganda minister, whose portfolio covers media. He reportedly said the Party the Hong Kong press to “prevent external forces from turning the city into a base for interfering with the mainland.” He also said at the meeting that he expected Hong Kong media to report more about the mainland to improve the younger generation’s knowledge.

Press freedom declines in China and Hong Kong

China’s economy and society saw increasing openness; but control over political dissent and media remains tight. Under Xi’s rule, China’s control over the media, in particular the state-run media, has been tightened. In short, press freedom in China has moved backwards after Xi took power. There were more journalists being locked up. A series of measures aimed to curtail thoughts and undermine press and speech freedoms have been introduced since 2012. These include a list of “seven banned topics” for state media and universities such as freedom of speech and universal values. According to the World Press Freedom Index compiled by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, China’s ranking has dropped further from the 174th place (5th from the bottom) in 2012 to 176th (4th from the bottom) in 2017. Hong Kong also saw a rapid decline from the 54th place to the 73rd place over the past five years. When the press index was first published in 2002, Hong Kong was ranked 18th.

The Hong Kong Journalists Association published our annual Press Freedom Index in April. Of the maximum of 100, the general public gave an average 47.1 points to the city’s press freedom in the last 12 months, down by 0.9 points from the previous year. It is the lowest score since the survey was launched in 2013. 73 per cent of journalists who responded said press freedom had gone backwards. The survey shows most journalists and members of the public said pressure from the central government is the major factor that undermines press freedom. Other factors are self-censorship and pressure from media proprietors.

2018Korea02

True, cases of Hong Kong journalists being sent to jail in Hong Kong and the mainland were rare in the past decades. But the room for press freedom and speech freedom is shrinking as China under Xi Jinping has become more assertive of its power and influence in view of growing paranoid about threats to his leadership and the nation’s interests. That is manifested clearly in a spate of recent controversies, including the Victor Mallet’s visa case and another case that involved a Chinese writer-in-exile Ma Jian. Ma was invited to attend two talks at an annual international literature festival at Tai Kwun art space in November. One was about his new book, China Dream, which is a satire echoing Xi’s talk of “China Dream.” On the eve of the talks, the organisers were told the Tai Kwun art space was no longer available because its senior management said they did not want to provide a place for people to promote their political interests. No elaboration was given. The cancellation cause a stir in the society. Arts and journalists groups fear it was a blatant case of self-censorship. The venue provider later reversed their decision on the ground that Ma Jian has said on his arrival he has no plan to talk about politics.

The Ma Jian case says a lot about the growing fears about the problem of self-censorship within some circles such as media and arts and society at large in view of the China factor. Media in Hong Kong is more vulnerable because of their ownership. On its face, most of the media outlets are owned by private investors. They are run on commercial rules. But there is concern that owners of half of the current media outlets have close political and business ties with the mainland Chinese authorities. They are more vulnerable to pressure from Beijing behind the scenes and may give orders on what their editorial staff should or should not cover.

The growth of China’s so-called “sharp power” has become a growing concern in Western countries. In Hong Kong, cases of merger and acquisitions of Hong Kong media by Beijing and its followers have caused concerns. Through merger and acquisitions, the new media bosses may decide on the business practices, resources allocations and personnel appointments, which would affect manpower resources and coverage of stories and priority of content. Journalists fear the media sector will become increasingly “dyed in red colour,” which means influence by red communist China.

Independent media struggling

The China factor is also behind the shrinking surviving space of independent media deemed unfriendly by Beijing. The Apple Daily and Next Magazine owned by businessman Jimmy Lai’s Next Digital Limited is a case in point. They have faced advertising boycotts by big local and mainland companies for years. Rumour has it been that some independent online media, including CitizenNews, of which I am a co-founder, are on the list of targets of online advertising ban by businesses friendly to China. CitizenNews was founded by a group of veteran journalists in 2017. We were driven by a sense of unease, verging on crisis, about the media scene and the broader shrinking freedom environment. We rely on public donations and subscription to fund our operation. Like a few other online media outlets founded by journalists, we are facing a string of difficulties similar to those independent media outlets in South Korea and Japa. One major difficulty is to find a sustainable source of revenue. The culture of readers paying for content has not yet established firmly and broadly in our society. The overall picture is gloomy. One sign of hope is that people cherish and understand the vital importance of independent media in exercising checks and balances on the power and the rich. They cherish Hong Kong as a free and clean society with rule of law and adherence to the truth. We firmly believe a free and independent Hong Kong media is also good for China.

That is also the source of strength and inspiration for journalists in Hong Kong for us to brace against the wind, which is the theme slogan of our Association’ 50th anniversary this year.

I started with George Orwell. Let me close by also quoting from 1984. “There was truth and there was untruth, and if you clung to the truth even against the whole world, you were not mad.” Journalists cannot agree more with the importance of truth. The truth, however, is that the business of seeking truth, telling truth from half-truth and lies, in journalism is getting more tough. Some say those who go for journalism these days must be mad. But let’s stay mad, and hold on to seeking the truth and telling it without fear, without favour.

This is the full speech presented by Chris Yeung, Chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalists Association and Chief Writer of CitizenNews, at the SISAIN Journalism Conference 2018 held in Seoul on December 4, 2018. There were minor changes and cuts when the speech was delivered at the conference due to time constraint.

 

 

 

 

 

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The pre-1997 jitters are back again http://www.vohk.hk/2018/11/25/the-pre-1997-jitters-are-back-again/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss http://www.vohk.hk/2018/11/25/the-pre-1997-jitters-are-back-again/#respond Sun, 25 Nov 2018 13:28:07 +0000 http://www.vohk.hk/?p=1927
21 years on, the pre-1997 jitters about Hong Kong's future linger on.By Chris Yeung – Below is the text of Chris Yeung’s Letter to Hong Kong broadcast on RTHK Radio 3 on November 25. It was...
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21 years on, the pre-1997 jitters about Hong Kong's future linger on.

By Chris Yeung –

Below is the text of Chris Yeung’s Letter to Hong Kong broadcast on RTHK Radio 3 on November 25. It was addressed to his journalism students at  Shue Yan University.

Dear Students,

Time flies! Our course on English editorial and commentary writing is nearing its end. I hope you will be able to get something from the course on ways to think and to write. One of the best ways to think through current events is to understand the past. And getting a grip on the present helps us make a better guess about the future.

A spate of political controversies over Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” unfolded in recent months shows doubts and anxieties in the past about the post-1997 political framework have run deep in both the local and international community. That was true before 1997. It still rings true in 2018. To allay those concerns, both the central government and Hong Kong leaders need action, not just words, frank dialogue and patient explanation to convince critics and convert doubters. Blunt rebuttal and flat denial loaded with bias and prejudices will be counterproductive.

Last week, a US report compiled by a Congressional expert panel warned of Beijing’s “encroachment” on the city’s rule of law and freedom of expression. They cited cases including the denial of a work visa for Financial Times Asia news editor, Victor Mallet, by the Government. Mallet, in his capacity as First Vice President of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, moderated a talk given by the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party founder Andy Chan Ho-tin in August. The visa refusal has been widely seen as a political retribution aimed to send a clear warning to Mallet and journalists not to cross the so-called “red line” laid down by President Xi Jinping during a visit in Hong Kong last year.

The report urged the US government to rethink its policy of giving special trading status distinct from China, under which exports of high-tech products to the city are less restrictive.

The report has come weeks after a meeting of a United Nations committee on human rights in Geneva. At a session on China and Hong Kong, an unprecedented number of Western governments have raised concerns and made recommendations on human rights situation in Hong Kong. Some government representatives have raised the Mallet case at the Geneva meeting.

Carrie Lam dismisses freedom concerns

Chief Executive Carrie Lam has been dismissive over the concerns of journalists over the Mallet case, insisting it has nothing to do with freedom of expression and freedom of the press. A chorus of calls and a joint petition by FCC and local journalists groups to her for an explanation have been stonewalled.

Confirmation that she has declined to attend FCC’s annual Diplomatic Cocktail reception is disturbing, though perhaps understandable. She was the guest of honour at last year’s reception. Her absence has given rise to speculation that it is another show of dismay at FCC’s decision to go ahead with the Andy Chan talk in defiance of a demand by the Foreign Ministry’s officials in Hong Kong for the event to be canceled. It is an opportunity lost for Mrs Lam to show the Government cares about what the international community thinks about Hong Kong – and want dialogue.

Mrs Lam may genuinely believe that the Mallet case has nothing to do with press freedom and freedom of expression. But perception is reality in politics. That is true before 1997 – and after 1997. Back then, there was a blitz of publicity in Western media about the doom and gloom of Hong Kong after the change of sovereignty. Among those was a cover story of the US Fortune magazine with a famous headline, “The Death of Hong Kong.” Both the then British Hong Kong government and the Chinese government had taken a pragmatic approach. They doubled their efforts to explain the safeguards of the preservation of the city’s systems under the policy of “one country, two systems.” Their lobbying drive had helped maintain international confidence at the critical time of sovereignty changeover.

It may sound exaggerating, and seem unreal, to say Hong Kong is facing another confidence crisis, as it was the case before 1997. The city has undergone sea change, as other parts of the world, in the past 21 years. In a nutshell, the city is still alive and kicking; but that is only on its surface. Beneath the surface, there are growing signs of fresh anxieties and renewed doubts about the viability of “one country, two systems.”

This is simply because new challenges and problems, some of which could hardly be envisaged before 1997, have arisen when the untried policy of “one country, two systems’ faces the reality check since then. The co-location immigration arrangements of the Hong Kong-Guangdong high-speed rail link is a case in point. However practical and inevitable the co-location arrangement is, the idea of stationing mainland Chinese cadres to enforce mainland laws within the territory of Hong Kong has blurred the border line between the two places. Again, perception, to say the least. Those fears have been aggravated by the case of missing Causeway Bay booksellers.

Lines between ‘two systems’ blurred

Amid growing anxiety about the increasingly blurred lines between the “two systems,” the intensified official talk of greater integration of Hong Kong with the mainland has also raised doubts about the uniqueness of the city under the nation’s macro development strategy. In view of the city’s physical constraints, it may make economic sense to integrate with the Guangdong Greater Bay region to enlarge the economic pie for a win-win situation. The adverse impacts on the identity and autonomy of Hong Kong, at least at the perception level, should not be under-estimated, nevertheless.

Put together, controversies such as the Mallet case and co-location and profound changes in mainland-Hong Kong interaction have brought about cumulative effects on the view of people in and outside Hong Kong on “one country, two systems.” It boils down to a simple question: is Hong Kong still functioning as a unique city separate and different from the rest of China? Or is it now just another mainland city? Those were the questions raised before 1997 by pundits such as the Fortune magazine and last governor Chris Patten. True, we have not yet seen People’s Liberation Army troops strolling the streets as the Fortune magazine wrote. But the case of PLA uniformed solders doing post-typhoon clean-up work in a country park, which was not done upon government request, has caused a disquiet. As for Lord Patten, he has said in his last policy address his anxiety was that the city’s autonomy would not be usurped by Peking, but given away bit by bit by some people in Hong Kong. Some said he was probably right.

Those pre-1997 jitters, among many others, have either proved to be correct or carried some truth in recent years. To make the Hong Kong story more complex, an increasingly powerful and assertive China have deepened the anxieties of people here and other parts of the world. Their views on China have also shaped their opinion on Hong Kong.

Flashed back to Hong Kong before 1997, the “one country, two systems” experiment had been given the benefit of doubt. Those benefits have been running out. The US congressional report and UN human rights hearing are among the signals of a change of perception on Hong Kong towards a more pessimistic view. It is a wake-up call for the Government to make renewed effort to convince the world Hong Kong is and will continue to be different from the mainland.

Chris Yeung, Chief Writer of newly-launched CitizenNews, is founder and editor of the Voice of Hong Kong website. He is a veteran journalist formerly worked with the South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong Economic Journal. He writes on Greater China issues.

 





 

 

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Think big over land plan http://www.vohk.hk/2018/09/02/think-big-in-land-plan/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss http://www.vohk.hk/2018/09/02/think-big-in-land-plan/#respond Sun, 02 Sep 2018 11:37:12 +0000 http://www.vohk.hk/?p=1918
IMG_4016By Bernard Chan – Even at this time of the year, I know a lot of people are out in our beautiful country parks. One...
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By Bernard Chan –

Even at this time of the year, I know a lot of people are out in our beautiful country parks. One of my family’s favourite pastimes is going for a hike along our amazing trails.

Visitors are often really surprised to find that a crowded city like Hong Kong has such wide-open spaces. And it does seem strange. We have a critical shortage of land for housing and other uses. Yet around 40 percent of our land area is green.

It is hardly surprising that we hear calls to use parts of the country parks for development.

It is probably true that some of the fringes of country parks are not beautiful or really worth preserving. In theory, we could get significant new land if we used just 5 percent of the country parks for housing.

Environmental groups oppose this idea. They say that after the first 5 percent, the same argument would come up again – and it would be another 5 percent. And then another. And so on.

I must say, I think the green groups are probably right on this.

If officials took land from the fringes of country parks, they would find a very easy new source of land. They would be very tempted to do it again – and then one day our country parks would be ruined.

The problem with the land supply issue is that everyone wants an easy solution that affects other people but not themselves.
But many people are also – I think – using the issue to score different political points.

I got in trouble a few weeks so ago when a newspaper quoted me as saying it would be “stupid” to use the Hong Kong Golf Club in Fanling for housing. I wasn’t actually defending the Golf Club. (For the record, I am not a golfer, but my company has a corporate debenture there.)

My point was that converting even the whole golf facility into housing would not have a meaningful impact on our land supply problem.

There is a good case for looking at how we use land currently occupied by exclusive private clubs. That is why the government is currently holding a public consultation on private recreational leases.

Many people think it is unfair that a small privileged group should enjoy such nice facilities – and for quite low rents. This is a “1 percent versus the 99 percent” conflict. And given public awareness of inequality, the government has to pay attention.
Personally, I think it would be appropriate to make Fanling golf course more open to the community. Maybe part of the area could be converted into a public golf course or parkland for everyone to enjoy.

But let’s not kid ourselves that converting clubs into housing will solve our long-term land problems – it won’t.
One problem with the land and housing debate is that people are arguing about different things. The Fanling golf course is a beautiful bit of green space – it would be pointless to destroy it for a few thousand apartments.

Another problem in this debate is that we confuse the current high cost of housing with the long-term land-supply issue. Obviously, there is a connection. But really – the land-supply issue is not about fixing today’s immediate problem. It is about making sure we don’t repeat the problem in the years and decades ahead.

It’s asking for trouble to make forecasts about any markets. But today’s housing prices in Hong Kong are massively out of line with affordability. This is the result of various distortions – like low interest rates. Many of these distortions are not permanent or sustainable. At some point, valuations will come more closely into line with what end-users can pay.

When that does happen, we will hear a lot of complaining from people who are angry because prices are lower!
But the debate about long-term land supply is about looking beyond this. It is about looking 10 years and more down the road.
If we look at the issue this way, we get a clearer view of what might be possible.

Much of the argument about brownfield sites, or using developers’ land banks, is about solving today’s affordability problem. We are talking about lots of relatively small parcels of land, with different owners and all sorts of existing uses. Each parcel of land comes with legal, planning, infrastructure and other complications.

By all means, let’s try and get more housing this way. But if we want to solve the long-term land-supply issue, we need to think on a different scale – in terms of time and of physical size.

The one big idea this is leading to is, of course, large-scale reclamation from the sea.

I recently appeared at a conference organized by Our Hong Kong Foundation proposing this sort of vision. That particular proposal was for a 2,200-hectare artificial island east of Lantau, which could house a million people.

This concept offers a way for Hong Kong to get its hands on a large amount of new land. This new land could be in one massive parcel, or several smaller ones. But it would not be hundreds of tiny scattered lots. And it would have just one owner – namely the Hong Kong government.

There would be no villagers or property developers to deal with. No debates over resumption. No need to worry about complicated zoning and planning regulations. There would be no need to fuss about land premiums. The government would have full control of things like apartment size and pricing.

We could use this new space to deliver plentiful, decent-size, affordable homes – through public rental, or some form of subsidized sales. It could include homes for retirees and child-care, more spacious leisure and retail facilities, and an alternative to ultra-high-density development.

We could design far more liveable and sustainable communities, with new approaches to transport and “smart city” features.
It means we could, at last, offer ordinary young Hong Kong people a hope of raising a family in a decent-quality environment that they can afford.

It would also give planners much more flexibility in dealing with old residential areas like North Kowloon. Much of the housing stock in these districts will come to the end of its life in the next 10 to 20 years. At the moment, redevelopment is on a building-by-building basis. The process will be far easier if there are relatively empty, attractive new districts for people to move into.

In other words, we could start again with a clean slate – or at least a large amount of space that we can work with to build a new sort of Hong Kong.

Of course, there are objections to this approach. Environmentalists are particularly concerned about the impact of reclamation.
But we have to make some hard choices.

Is the future of Hong Kong all about overcrowded districts with tiny apartments, where people don’t even have enough space for kids? In the short term, even using brownfield sites or golf courses, that is the best we can do.

Or can we be more ambitious and move on from this – and start making a genuinely more liveable city for the next generation?
Maybe something for us to think about next time we go out for a hike.

Bernard Chan is Executive Council Convener. This is the full text of his Letter to Hong Kong broadcast on RTHK 3 on September 2.

 

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Tough time for journalists http://www.vohk.hk/2018/08/05/tough-time-for-journalists/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss http://www.vohk.hk/2018/08/05/tough-time-for-journalists/#respond Sun, 05 Aug 2018 00:33:20 +0000 http://www.vohk.hk/?p=1913
Shue Yan journalism students take picture and Martin Lee during a visit to a vote-canvassing site in the Legco by-election in March.By Chris Yeung Below is the full text of a letter to journalism students for RTHK’s Letter to Hong Kong programme broadcast on August 5....
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Shue Yan journalism students take picture and Martin Lee during a visit to a vote-canvassing site in the Legco by-election in March.

By Chris Yeung

Below is the full text of a letter to journalism students for RTHK’s Letter to Hong Kong programme broadcast on August 5.

Dear Students,

How’s life after you finished your four-year journalism study in May? Are you enjoying the precious break before looking for jobs? Are you pondering about the question of ‘to be or not to be’? To be, or not to be, a journalist. I don’t honestly have a must-take advice for you. This is plainly because of the environment, both at macro and micro levels, for passionate and talented journalists to do what they are aspired to do is getting worse.

On last Sunday, there are two pieces of news about the media themselves, bad ones at least on the face of it. In the United States, President Donald Trump and the publisher of The New York Times, A. G. Sulzberger, were locked in a fierce clash over Trump’s threats against journalism. Trump revealed on Twitter he and Sulzberger had discussed “fake news” and how that fake news has morphed into phrase, “Enemy of the People.”

Sulzberger later issued a statement, saying he had warned Trump although the phrase “fake news” is untrue and harmful he was far more concerned about his labeling journalists as “Enemy of the people.” He was worried Trump’s inflammatory language would contribute to a rise in threats against journalists. Sulzberger warned Trump was undermining the democratic ideals of their nation.

The war between Trump and American media sounds remote. It also seems to be too dramatic to be something real. That the real-life battle has indeed been going on for months in a country arguably known as a beacon of freedom and is renown for its free press is troubling. It adds gloom to the worsened environment for journalists to do their job in arguably one of the freest countries in the world. Chilly winds are blowing on the other side of the Pacific Ocean.

JAAnnualReport

Back home, an air of doom and gloom has also engulfed the media scene. The Hong Kong Journalists Association, of which I am currently the Chairman, has published our 2018 Annual Report on freedom of speech and the press last week. We have taken a look at the broad picture of freedom of speech and the press, documented and analysed a list of media events in the past 12 months. One of our major findings is that the shadow of the principle of “one country” is looming while the room for freedom of speech and the press is shrinking. We are worried that self-censorship will get worse when it comes to politically sensitive issues like Hong Kong independence as people and journalists stay away from those “red-line” topics.

Doubters and critics have a point to question whether we are overly pessimistic. Some reporters have raised questions at our press conference and interviews thereafter about whether our concern about self-censorship over politically sensitive stories could be substantiated with concrete cases. Those are fair and legitimate questions reporters should ask. I have to admit it has never been easy to ascertain a case of self-censorship. Journalists or columnists involved understandably tend to be reluctant to speak publicly. In one of the articles in the Annual Report, a veteran journalist who now teaches journalism in university has detailed some subtle ways of censorship in the work process inside newsroom.

The report has also documented several suspected cases of self-censorship including the retraction of a business column from the website of the South China Morning Post shortly after it was posted. The column alleged links between a Singaporean investor and a top aide of President Xi Jinping. It was removed with a clarification stating that the piece was deleted as it included “multiple unverifiable insinuations.” The columnist, Shirley Yam, said she stood by her report. We put the different sides of the story on the record for the public to judge.

As we keep a close watch on media self-censorship, we are mindful of the danger of being interventionist and speculative over the way fellow journalists handled their stories. Being seen to be interfering with the editorial independence of media outlets is the last thing we want. But in view of the growing political and capital power of the mainland in Hong Kong, there are growing concerns that pressure for journalists to censor their work has and will become more subtle. It is vitally important for us to maintain an even higher level of vigilance against any threats to the city’s core values of freedom of speech and freedom of the press.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution legally protects freedom of the press in the U.S. If there is anything we can learn from the battle between Trump and American media, it is the grim reality that press freedom cannot be taken for granted. There are always threats from the power and the rich against journalists who refuse to be frightened and to be bought. Journalists and society should stay vigilant and strive to preserve an independent and free press.

The importance of an independent and free press cannot be emphasised more. Just take a look at the stories about the plight of Liu Xia, widow of late Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo, and poisoned products scandals, including baby milk powder and, more recently, vaccine. It has laid bare the dire consequences of a system with powers being exercised without effective checks and balances by an independent media and civil society.

When the going gets tough the tough gets going. For those who have passion and commitment to become a watchdog journalist, now is a good and challenging time to brace against the wind.

Wish you all a bright future!

Chris Yeung

Chris Yeung, Chief Writer of newly-launched CitizenNews, is founder and editor of the Voice of Hong Kong website. He is a veteran journalist formerly worked with the South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong Economic Journal. He writes on Greater China issues.

 

 

 

 

 

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Brace against the wind with a warm heart http://www.vohk.hk/2018/05/20/brace-against-the-wind-with-a-warm-heart/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss http://www.vohk.hk/2018/05/20/brace-against-the-wind-with-a-warm-heart/#respond Sun, 20 May 2018 07:49:19 +0000 http://www.vohk.hk/?p=1908
HKJA office-bearers propose toast with Sohn Suk Hee (second from right on front row), head of news department of South Korea's JTBC, and veteran photographer Chan Kiu (middle) at 50th Anniversary Gala Dinner on May 19.By Chris Yeung – 51 years ago, several reporters were injured when they were attacked during their reporting work on the 1967 Riots. To fight...
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HKJA office-bearers propose toast with Sohn Suk Hee (second from right on front row), head of news department of South Korea's JTBC, and veteran photographer Chan Kiu (middle) at 50th Anniversary Gala Dinner on May 19.

By Chris Yeung –

51 years ago, several reporters were injured when they were attacked during their reporting work on the 1967 Riots. To fight for the rights and benefits of reporters, the Hong Kong Journalists Association (HKJA) was set up in 1968. In the wake of the 1967 Riots, the British Hong Kong colonial government had changed their ruling strategy, embarking on major social and economic transformation and livelihood reform. Beginning from the 1970s and 1980s, the Hong Kong economy started to take off. The Sino-British Joint Declaration. Basic Law. June 4. 1997 Handover. Asian financial turmoil. Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome). July 1 rally. Umbrella Movement… Hong Kong had undergone “great times” one after another in the past half a century. One generation after another, reporters stood at the frontline of history, watching and reporting the unfolding of events. In times of historic changes, reporters, both as individuals and as members of the media profession, could not stay aloof from the changes. We are confronted with shocks from all directions in the midst of sea changes around the globe  – and the good times and bad times of the city under the “one country, two systems” political framework.

50 years on, our task in defending the “fourth power, playing the role of watchdog and fighting for their reasonable rights and benefits has become increasingly arduous. There is no sight of an end of the chilly winter. The wind turns gustier. Bracing against the wind, it is not easy to stand firm, let alone  moving forward.

Behind us as we move forward are young students who are aspired to join the fleet of reporters and frontline reporters, some of whom facing pressure from their parents who want their children to go for something else. Behind us are our China-beat reporters, who want to tell the true China Story without fear and regrets despite the increased hostilities and violence by the public security officers on the mainland.

Behind us are senior journalists, many of whom with more than 10 years of experience, but earning less than what a fresh university graduate who joins the Police pockets each month. Behind us are news editors who persist despite having to work long hours every day, shepherd fresh reporters while having to play mind games with their management on matters ranging from the handling of sensitive news to the allocation of manpower and budget. Behind us are gatekeepers, many of whom still have passion, belief and commitment to journalism but have to play brinkmanship on a daily basis.

Behind us are also You. Your presence at our Gala Dinner tonight is a show of support for us, and more important, for journalists and for independent fourth power. It is a backing for us to keep finding out the truth, unearthing injustice and unfairness in our systems and society in the spirit of professionalism and fearlessness. We long for changes. Changes for a better society.

Behind us as we go forward against the wind are the people. We understand our media  have not done our job well; we can do better. Hong Kong people have mixed feelings towards the media. Many of them criticised us as they read and watched news. Why? It is because they still believe society cannot afford to lose media, which keeps staying independent, daring to criticise, telling the truth and making dissenting voices. We cherish and hope our journalist colleagues will not let you and the people down.

Recently, journalist friends have asked me about the question of unemployment protection for reporters. They fear about job security and what if media companies decide to cut costs by laying-off staff and off-sourcing work. With better protection, those who are aspired to become journalists and working journalists who remain passionate about journalism would feel more secured staying in journalism work.

Hong Kong is a market-oriented capitalist economy. Media is business. Media owners need to operate from a commercial perspective. Call it the rule of survival. But media is not just business. A healthy, dynamic, lively and pluralistic media can monitor the society against injustice. This is vitally important to the overall long-term development of the society. We sincerely hope that media bosses will not treat their media as mere business and that they will think big on their media outlets’ importance to the society’s future development. Regardless of the difficulties they may encounter, face them up and persist together with their reporters.

Starting from 2013, we have joined hands with academics to conduct an annual survey, entitled Press Freedom Index. The latest results for the past year were announced in April. Out of 100, respondents in a public poll gave a score of 47.1, 0.9 point down from the previous year, which is the lowest figure since 2013. In a separate poll, journalists gave a score of 47.1, up by 0.9 point. But it is still below the 50-point Pass level. Asked to compare the present press freedom situation with the previous year, 73 per cent say it has turned bad. Survey found most of the journalists and public who responded attributed pressure from the Chinese central government as an important factor that has undermined press freedom.

The results are not surprising. Over the past year, the Chinese central government has repeatedly emphasised the notions of “one-country overriding two-systems,” “comprehensive jurisdictions over Hong Kong” and the “red line” and “bottom line” under “one country, two systems”. Journalists and the public are increasingly worried about the preservation of “two systems”. They fear that media bosses, who have intricate ties with the mainland authorities, would become “harmonised.” Fearful of provoking Beijing and creating trouble, media proprietors might practise self-censorship when handling stories that are politically sensitive. There have been occasional cases of stories that touched on sensitive issues relating to the central authorities being allegedly withdrawn or censored. Some are difficult to prove or disprove. With almost no exception, they have fuelled jitters that the room for free press and free speech is shrinking. The overall atmosphere has been suffocating. When legislative work of Basic Law Article 23 will resume is still unclear, not to mention how. But in the wake of remarks by Beijing officials that the negative impacts of a delay in the enactment of an anti-subversive law are clear and that Hong Kong is obliged to do so, journalist and society feel the issue is now at their doorsteps.

To HKJA, 2018 is a special year. We have embarked on our journey for half a century. To journalists, 2018 is perhaps not something special. As it was in the past, we have not forgotten our original intention. We have not forgotten the wise words from a veteran American journalist, “The press was to serve the governed, not the governors.” There is a traditional Chinese saying, “At 50, know the destiny.” The destiny and mission of journalists is to be a watchdog. Bark when there is injustice. Bite for the truth. The media environment keeps changing everyday. It was the case in the 60s and thereafter. It will remain so in 2018 and the future. Unchanged the mission and destiny of journalists are.

HKJA is the largest journalists’ labour union in Hong Kong We stand at the frontline of history fighting for the reasonable rights and benefits of journalists, improvement of work conditions and enhancement of professional standards. More important, we fight for freedom of the press and freedom of expression. This is because powers must be given checks and balances for them to be exercised wisely and properly without abuses for the best interests of the society. Journalists will lose their soul and not be able to monitor the authorities if there are curbs on free speech and free press. We have stuck to our goal and mission, work direction in the past 50 years. We will continue to do so as we look forward to the next 50 years.

Bracing against the wind, we move on with a warm heart.

This is the full version of the speech given by Chris Yeung,  Chairperson of the Hong Kong Journalists Association at its 50th Anniversary Gala  Dinner on May 19, 2018. An abridged version was delivered at the dinner. Chris Yeung is also Chief Writer of CitizenNews.

 

 

 

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Hong Kong loses bet on China http://www.vohk.hk/2018/03/11/hong-kong-loses-bet-on-china/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss http://www.vohk.hk/2018/03/11/hong-kong-loses-bet-on-china/#respond Sun, 11 Mar 2018 00:55:08 +0000 http://www.vohk.hk/?p=1902
Hopes among Hong Kong people that China will become more open, free and democratic after reform dim.By Chris Yeung – All eyes are on China this week. The so-called “two sessions,” namely the annual plenary sessions of the Chinese National People’s...
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Hopes among Hong Kong people that China will become more open, free and democratic after reform dim.

By Chris Yeung –

All eyes are on China this week. The so-called “two sessions,” namely the annual plenary sessions of the Chinese National People’s Congress, NPC, and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, CPPCC, kicked off in Beijing last Sunday and Monday separately. Stage-managed events though they are, the national plenums have and will shed some light on the latest development of the 1.4 billion-populated nation. And more important, what it means for Hong Kong and the world. This year’s “two sessions” are no exception.

There is no doubt a list of routine reports, including the government work report delivered by the Premier and others compiled by the country’s finance chief and top judge, are kind of must-read for those who are keen to know more about China. They will be tabled for a vote, or what cynics would say, being rubber-stamped by the national deputies. In addition to those reports, it is almost certain that members will also say yes to a proposal by the ruling Communist Party’s Central Committee to amend the Chinese Constitution. Scheduled to be tabled for an approval today, the proposed change, if approved, will allow President Xi Jinping to rule as head of the nation for as long as he chooses.

This is despite the fact that the move, which will effectively turn one of the most important reform initiatives taken by the late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping into history, seems to have caused a stir among the people. Outside China, concerns about China under Xi may turn from autocracy to dictatorship are even more apparent. They fear China is moving backwards. Their fears are not unfounded.

Deng leads reform

Following the introduction of reform and open policy aimed to lift the country out of poverty in 1978, Deng started to fix the flaws in the political system. He moved to amend the Constitution to put a cap on the term of office of the State President. This was aimed to avoid giving too much power to one person if he or she can stay on the position as long as he or she likes to under the Constitution. The reform drive, coming at the end of the decade-long Cultural Revolution masterminded by Mao Zedong, has come a long way since then. Today, China is the second largest economy; it is poised to challenge the supremacy of the United States on many fronts. It is too early to say whether it will pose a serious military threat to the region and the world. But there are growing jitters in the West about China under Xi Jinping.

XiEconomist

In its edition published last week, The Economist magazine put Xi on its cover, again. This time, without the costumes of an imperial emperor as it was the case a couple of years ago. It goes with graphics that raised a question about who Xi really is. Its headline read: What the West got wrong. The magazine’s verdict is bleak, saying Western countries’ bet that China would follow the path of many other countries, moving towards democracy and the market economy after it opened up, has failed. Hopes that Xi would move towards constitutional rule when he gained power five years ago were dashed. It says Xi has steered politics and economics towards repression, state control and confrontation.

With the NPC set to approve the amendment to the Constitution at the ongoing plenum, the article raises a question the West must face: What to do?

Xi reinstates life-tenure system

It is perhaps the same question that has come to the minds of many Hongkongers when they read and heard media reports about the proposed constitutional change last month. Like many in the West, they have reacted with disbelief, disappointment and perhaps disillusionment for the same reason. Isn’t that a Great Leap Backward after nearly four decades of reform and open door? If the answer is a clear yes, why? Their anxieties deepened as they reflected on what happened in the city after it became a Special Administrative Region under the “one country, two systems” political framework in 1997. The Economist’s article’s reference to “repression, state control and confrontation” has struck the raw nerves of many Hong Kong people. This is plainly because it sounds so familiar to them in the past few years with Beijing tightening its control over Hong Kong.

To be fair, there are no city-wide crackdown against political dissidents and human rights activists in Hong Kong as it happened in the mainland. Access to Internet remains free. There are increasing signs, however, the central authorities are trying to make the fullest use of their sovereign power without any restraint to dictate on how the city should be run. The fine balance between the principle of “one country” and the notion of “two systems” embodied in the letter and spirit of the Basic Law has been upset. Cases are aplenty.

One of the worst cases is the interpretation of the oath-taking provision in the Basic Law by the NPC Standing Committee last year, which came ahead of the ruling of a relevant case by a local court. On the political front, the central government’s Liaison Office, under its new head Wang Zhimin, is taking a more proactive on Hong Kong affairs, far exceeding what the name of its office, liaison, has suggested. In a striking resemblance to the penalty of stripping of political rights in the mainland’s judicial system, government officials have disqualified a student leader, Agnes Chow, from contesting the March 11 Legislative Council by-election. She lost the right to stand for election after a civil servant ruled the political party she belongs to advocates self-determination.

Hopes dashed

Like the West, Hong Kong people have put a bet on a China seeking to catch up following decades of political chaos and economic woes after Britain handed back the city to China in the 1984 Joint Declaration. They hoped the differences between the city and the hinterland would have been narrowed down as the reform drive deepened and broadened. With Hong Kong moving towards full democracy after 1997, democracy would have landed on the mainland, albeit in a slower pace. The bet has failed. The promise of democracy enshrined in the Basic Law has become a pipe dream, among other promises.

On the face of it, both Hong Kong and the West are losers in their bet on China. The ruling communist party, however, will be the biggest loser if their success in economic reform and opening up has failed to bring about progress towards a free, open and democratic China.

Chris Yeung, Chief Writer of newly-launched CitizenNews, is founder and editor of the Voice of Hong Kong website. He is a veteran journalist formerly worked with the South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong Economic Journal. He writes on Greater China issues.

This is the full text of his Letter to Hong Kong broadcast on RTHK Radio 3 on March 11.

Photo: VOHK pictures

 

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Lam’s ‘We connect’ slogan turns ‘We divide’ http://www.vohk.hk/2018/01/28/lams-we-connect-slogan-turns-we-divide/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss http://www.vohk.hk/2018/01/28/lams-we-connect-slogan-turns-we-divide/#respond Sun, 28 Jan 2018 10:42:50 +0000 http://www.vohk.hk/?p=1896
The pan-democrats hold a rally outside Government Headquarters on Sunday to protest against a government decision to ban Agnes Chow, a Demosisto student leader, from contesting a Legco by-election on grounds of her stance on self-determination.By Chris Yeung – At an Chief Executive election televised debate in March, former financial chief John Tsang Chun-wah upset Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor when...
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The pan-democrats hold a rally outside Government Headquarters on Sunday to protest against a government decision to ban Agnes Chow, a Demosisto student leader, from contesting a Legco by-election on grounds of her stance on self-determination.

By Chris Yeung –

At an Chief Executive election televised debate in March, former financial chief John Tsang Chun-wah upset Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor when he said Hong Kong feared she would become “divisiveness 2.0” if she was elected. She made a strong rebuttal. Seven months after she became the Chief Executive, Tsang may have proved to be right.

Pledging to mend the wounds of the society inflicted by her predecessor during her campaign and after she won the election, Mrs Lam has done the opposite since taking power on July 1.

On Saturday, the Government moved to ban Agnes Chow Ting, a student leader of Demosisto, from contesting the Legislative Council by-election. It has deepened the city’s political rift. Worse, it has seriously damaged the fundamentals of Hong Kong’s governance system and rule of law.

Defending the decision, Mrs Lam insisted it was done by the book. “Any suggestion of Hong Kong independence, self-determination, independence as a choice, or self-autonomy, is not in line with Basic Law requirements, and deviates from the important principle of ‘one country two systems’.”

Chow, a founding member of Demosisto, was seeking to regain the Legco Hong Kong Island geographical constituency seat left vacant after the party’s Nathan Law Kwun-chung was disqualified for his convicted failure to comply with the oath-taking law.

Anne Teng, returning officer of the Hong Kong Island constituency Anne Teng, who gave the green light to Law’s candidacy in 2016, thwarted Chow’s bid. She argued each case must be considered on its merits, but admitted that she has considered Beijing’s interpretation of the Basic Law provision on oath-taking.

Six pro-democracy lawmakers, including Law and Edward Yiu Chung-yim – who has signed up for the by-election in the Kowloon West constituency – were being disqualified following the National People’s Congress Standing Committee interpretation of the Basic Law.

Yiu’s fate in the balance

Yiu, whose candidacy is still in balance at the time this article was posted, revealed he was asked by a returning officer in Kowloon West constituency to answer four political questions. They include whether he accepts Beijing’s interpretation of Basic Law Article 104 on oath-taking and his views of a Taiwan group, which advocates self-determination. Yau had attended a forum hosted by the group last year.

Mainland officials were quoted by the media as saying independence and self-determination are different in terms of expression, but are the same in substance.

In their manifesto, Demosisto advocates a referendum on the city’s post-2047 future with constitutional effect. Even though they do not call for independence, they agree that independence should be one of the options in the referendum to realise the principle of “sovereignty comes from people.”

Agnes Chow of Demosisto is out. Will Edward Yau the next?

Agnes Chow of Demosisto is out. Will Edward Yau the next?

Although Chow has not even announced his election platform, the election officer ruled Chow do not support the Basic Law in view of her affiliation with Demosisto.

Under existing election law, political thinking and affiliations of election hopefuls are not factors to be considered by returning officers when they judge whether whey support the Basic Law. Contestants are required to make a declaration of their support of the Basic Law as required in the post-1997 constitution.

Chow stripped of political right

That Teng, the returning officer, banned Chow’s candidacy on the basis of her political affiliation has not only damaged the apolitical civil service system but also fair election. It also contravened with the safeguards of freedom of expression and rule of law in the Basic Law. Chow was found guilty and stripped of her political right to stand for election without being given a chance to defend herself.

As HKU law professor Eric Cheung Tat-ming has rightly opined, the Chow case is a blatant case of political censorship against dissent and “putting politics above the law.”

More accurately, it is a case of “Without Law, Without Heaven,” a notorious Chinese saying associated with the tumultuous Cultural Revolution, but with one more “without”. The decision to bar what the authorities deemed as “pro-independence” and “self-determination” advocates from sitting in Legco is without common sense.

If anything, the votes Nathan Law got in the 2016 Legco election (50,818, the second-highest in the HK Island constituency) have testified to their popularity, particular among the young generation. It is clear their advocacy for self-determination is not so much about a call for independence, but a demand for a say in their future and, also importantly, their voices be heard.

The Government’s failure to connect with them is one of the underlying factors of the Occupy Central movement and the prevailing divisiveness of the society in recent years.

Mrs Lam had campaigned on the slogan of “We Connect” in the CE election. She spoke in length of her initiatives to address young people’s livelihood concerns and connect with them in her maiden policy address in October.

But by first unseating six pan-democrat lawmakers including Nathan Law and then banning Chow, she has adopted the “friends-foes” mentality and approach in dealing with the student leaders and their supporters.

Not to mention the high cost of damages to the city’s sound systems, she will pay dearly for making enemies with a sizeable chunk of the populace, most of whom at young age.

Chris Yeung, Chief Writer of newly-launched CitizenNews, is founder and editor of the Voice of Hong Kong website. He is a veteran journalist formerly worked with the South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong Economic Journal. He writes on Greater China issues.

Photos: Alvin Lum, CitizenNews

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Teresa Cheng mired in credibility crisis http://www.vohk.hk/2018/01/07/teresa-cheng-mired-in-credibility-crisis/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss http://www.vohk.hk/2018/01/07/teresa-cheng-mired-in-credibility-crisis/#respond Sun, 07 Jan 2018 15:44:08 +0000 http://www.vohk.hk/?p=1891
Justice chief Teresa Cheng is sworn in on Saturday as a scandal over illegal structures found in her home erupts.By Chris Yeung – Less than one month after being given a pat on her back from President Xi Jiping for having made a good...
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Justice chief Teresa Cheng is sworn in on Saturday as a scandal over illegal structures found in her home erupts.

By Chris Yeung –

Less than one month after being given a pat on her back from President Xi Jiping for having made a good start since taking office on July 1, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is confronted with a serious political crisis erupted even before her newly-appointed justice chief was sworn in on Saturday.

Before Teresa Cheng Yuek-wah sat down in her office in the Justice Department on Saturday, she was struck by media reports about a scandal over illegal structures found in her house in Tuen Mun. Similar additional structures were identified by local media in a home next to hers. They include a basement, a rooftop glass house and a garden pool.

Cheng held a hastily-arranged press conference in the afternoon, offering an apology for “any inconvenience caused by this incident.” “I admit I could have done better in being alert in this respect.”

As if the saga has not been juicy enough, she revealed Otto Poon Lok-to, a leading engineer who owned the villa next to hers, is her husband. He has also admitted lack of vigilance over the additional structures in his home.

Cheng has kept mum after she apologised on Saturday. Mrs Lam, the Chief Executive, has issued a statement via her office on the same day, saying Cheng had informed her of the matter on Friday afternoon and that Cheng was advised to give an open account as soon as possible to allay public concern. Mrs Lam has sought to distance from the scandal over the weekend.

CS diverts attention

On Sunday, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung has pledged to review the effectiveness of integrity check system for principal officials. He called on the public to give Cheng more time to settle the matter.

Executive Council members and lawmakers from the pro-establishment camp made mild criticism against Cheng over her lack of political sensitivity.

Their attempts to shift public attention on Cheng’s lack of sensitivity and the effectiveness of integrity check, however, are not likely to put doubts on her credibility to rest in the wake of the scandal.

Serious questions have and will be asked about whether she was indeed aware of the existence of illegal structures in her home when she bought it in 2008.

Documents obtained by local media relating to the property deal showed she had either inspected or authorised other persons to inspect the home.

Cheng did not categorically say whether she was or was not aware of the additional structures when she signed the agreement.

With the string of controversies surrounding the illegal structures found in former chief executive Leung Chun-ying and some of his principal officials still vivid in the minds of people, revelation about illegal structures at Cheng’s home was greeted by disbelief.

It raises serious questions about the government’s integrity check system and the political sensitivity, or the lack of it, of the Carrie Lam team. The lack of vigilance, or perhaps more accurately, the failure of the new team to learn from the mistake of the Leung team is indefensible.

It is not difficult to understand why pro-establishment figures have moved to define Cheng’s problem as a case of lack of political sensitivity. Doing so could help defuse criticism on a far more important respect, namely credibility.

Credibility the burning issue

Nevertheless, her credibility has and will be mired in doubt if she fails to categorically deny she was aware of the additional structures when she bought the home.

Doubters and cynics have good reason to believe she knew her home has additional structures not found in the original house layout.

That she was not alert to the legal and political risk then is not difficult to understand. This is because of the simple truth that the additional structure would have been no big deal if she stays in private practice with limited public limelight caused by her public service.

It has become one now that she carries the official title, namely Secretary for Justice. That the government’s top lawyer is found to have breached the Building Ordinance is not just embarrassing, but dealing a body blow to her credibility and trustworthiness.

Insisting she has nothing more to add, Cheng is clearly hoping to cool down the row as soon as possible. While trying to divert public attention onto the issue of integrity check, top officials are anxiously keen to lower the political temperature to help ease the pressure on Cheng.

Coming in the midst of a bitter row over the joint checkpoint plan over the high-speed rail link, it looks certain the pro-democracy camp will give neither kindness nor benefit of doubt to Cheng. She looks set to face side attack on her credibility while defending the co-location arrangement when the bill goes to the Legislative Council.

Battered by the pro-establishment camp with the backing of the Government over the amendment of Legco’s Rules and Procedures, the pan-democrats will capitalise on the Cheng case to strike back.

Both Cheng and the Chief Executive are likely to have to pay dearly for their forgetfulness of the importance of being “whiter than white” for anyone who brave the heat to join the “hot kitchen.”

Chris Yeung, Chief Writer of newly-launched CitizenNews, is founder and editor of the Voice of Hong Kong website. He is a veteran journalist formerly worked with the South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong Economic Journal. He writes on Greater China issues.

Photo: GIS picture

 

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After 106 years, HKU at juncture of change http://www.vohk.hk/2017/12/03/after-106-years-hku-at-juncture-of-change/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss http://www.vohk.hk/2017/12/03/after-106-years-hku-at-juncture-of-change/#respond Sun, 03 Dec 2017 14:19:24 +0000 http://www.vohk.hk/?p=1886
HKU enters uncharted waters with a change of helm.By Chris Yeung – Founded in 1911 and at least until, if not after, 1997, the University of Hong Kong has acted as a pillar...
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HKU enters uncharted waters with a change of helm.

By Chris Yeung –

Founded in 1911 and at least until, if not after, 1997, the University of Hong Kong has acted as a pillar and a symbol of the British colonial rule. It has been and perhaps is still the major source of elites at the senior echelon of the Government and various professional sectors.

The cultures and values ingrained in them since they were brought up in local schools and their alma mater have helped create the uniqueness of the city. In the words of a retired Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee member Li Ruihuan, those are the tea residual left inside a Yixing teapot after years and years.

There are growing fears that it will not take long for HKU, perhaps the last symbol of the British colonial rule, to join the list of colonial relics to vanish. The “old” HKU Hongkongers are familiar with may only live in collective memory. The city’s oldest university looks set to find its new identity as it enters into the uncharted waters of a new phase of de facto colonisation, or, in a better-known term, mainlandisation.

Jitters among HKU staff, students and alumni turned into fears and anger last week after it was revealed that a mainland-born scholar, Professor Zhang Xiang, currently working at the University of California, Berkeley in the United States, has been chosen by HKU’s 11-member selection committee to become the next Vice-Chancellor.

A US national, Zhang is best known for his breakthrough research in metamaterials, a discovery that allows an engineered material to manipulate and bend light in unnatural ways. Time magazine called it one of the top 10 scientific discoveries of 2008. Zhang is one of the 90-odd foreign members of the Chinese Academy of Science.

Zhang Xiang, a professor at UC Berkeley, is tipped to become the next HKU head.

Zhang Xiang, a professor at UC Berkeley, is tipped to become the next HKU head.

His academic and management record may be a subject of different evaluation, varying in the eyes of beholders.

But his reported suggestion for HKU to embrace China and to seek funding from the Chinese Education Ministry for innovation and technology research has rubbed the sensitive nerves of Hong Kong people, in particular the HKU family. It fuelled fears about a change of direction of the 106-year-old institution.

From basing in Hong Kong with mainland on its back and facing the world since its inauguration, the change of helm at HKU may mark the beginning of a new era with internationalisation increasingly displaced by mainlandisation.

China dismay at colonial residual influence

If cynics deem the changeover as merely a matter of time, it is because the mainland authorities have made no secret their dismay with what they call residual influence of colonial rule in the city. More than 20 years after the reversion of sovereignty, they feel increasingly intolerant of the slow progress of “decolonisation.”

Speaking in Hong Kong in September 2015, a former senior mainland official in charge of Hong Kong affairs, Chen Zuoer has alleged Hong Kong has not completed “decolonisation” in accordance with the law. Conversely, he claimed activities that aimed to “discard China” have grown rampant, apparently referred to the growth of pro-Hong Kong independence activism in universities and society at large.

At least one HKU alumnus would not feel surprised. In a column published in the Chinese-language Ming Pao in October, 2015, Lo Chi-kin, a founding member of the Democratic Party and seasoned political analyst, said spate of controversies in HKU, in particular the Johannes Chan Man-mun case, reflected an intensified attempt by Beijing to rein in control over HKU.

Beijing had alleged interfered with the recommendation of Professor Chan, a prominent legal scholar, to become a Pro-Vice-Chancellor. Chan was alleged to be closely involved with the Occupy Central movement.

Lo wrote Beijing was determined to control HKU because of its vital role as an “ideological bastion.”

“If Beijing has to compile a list of targets that should be ‘decolonised,’ HKU is certainly high on the list,” he said.

Vowing to turn University of Hong Kong into Asia’s Global University, outgoing Vice-Chancellor Peter Mathieson has underscored the importance of internationalisation the leading institution should provide in the university’s strategic development plan.

“We will ensure that the education we provide is among the most international available anywhere in the world by further developing our curricula and our vibrant, cosmopolitan campus, nurturing globally-minded thinkers and leaders, and providing space and opportunity for students to gain exceptional learning experiences outside Hong Kong,” he said.

Formerly a HKU Pro-Vice-Chancellor and now President of the Baptist University, Roland Chin is even more direct when it comes to internationalisation of universities in Hong Kong.

In an interview with Master-Insight website, he said: “If we want to maintain our influence, the uniqueness of Hong Kong is no doubt internationalisation. This is something China lacks. It may take several generations for universities in mainland China to have what Hong Kong already has.”

Like Hong Kong, HKU is strategically best located to get the best of all worlds. All, HKU, Hong Kong and China are all losers if the city’s oldest university becomes just another Peking University, Tsinghua University or Fudan University.

Chris Yeung, Chief Writer of newly-launched CitizenNews, is founder and editor of the Voice of Hong Kong website. He is a veteran journalist formerly worked with the South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong Economic Journal. He writes on Greater China issues.

Photo: VOHK picture and picture taken from UC Berkeley

 

 

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Lui leaps over an sexual abuse ordeal http://www.vohk.hk/2017/11/30/lui-leaps-over-an-sexual-abuse-ordeal/#utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss http://www.vohk.hk/2017/11/30/lui-leaps-over-an-sexual-abuse-ordeal/#respond Thu, 30 Nov 2017 15:02:42 +0000 http://www.vohk.hk/?p=1882
Star hurdler Vera Lui wins a golden medal in the Asian Indoor Games.By Chris Yeung – Star hurdler Vera Lui has crossed many hurdles on track and field in different parts of the world. She finished first...
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Star hurdler Vera Lui wins a golden medal in the Asian Indoor Games.

By Chris Yeung –

Star hurdler Vera Lui has crossed many hurdles on track and field in different parts of the world. She finished first in the women’s 60-metre hurdles event in the Asian Indoor Games in September.

After more than 10 years, she today took the biggest leap in her life to tell a secret she had kept to herself except one close friend two years ago. In a post on her Facebook to celebrate her 23rd birthday, Lui claimed she was sexually assaulted by a coach ten years ago.

The city was shocked.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor lost no time to come out to say sorry for her ordeal, as many fellow Hongkongers feel. And like many others, she applauded her courageous move while pledging the Police will seriously investigate the case.

First inspired by the sexual assault case of Taiwanese author Elizabeth Lin Yi-han in summer, Lui said her impulse to reveal the unhappy experience turned into driving force when she read the story of McKayla Maroney, the American gymnast who won gold medals at the London Olympics a few months ago. Maroney revealed on social media that she was sexually assaulted by her team doctor.

Lui said she was coming forward for three reasons: to increase public awareness of sexual assault against children; to encourage victims to bravely speak up; and to let the public understand that sex was not an embarrassing, shameful or taboo subject.

It remains to be seen on whether similar victims would come forward to tell their plight. There is no doubt, nevertheless, Lui’s courage has marked a significant step forward not just to heightening public awareness of sexual assault against children, but breaking the taboo of sex in the society.

More importantly, it has given a big boost to the impulse of people taking the courage to come forward and speak up on what they believe to be right, not being deterred by the immense societal pressure stemmed from traditional values and culture.

呂麗瑤MeToo

As Lui plainly and aptly pointed out in her Facebook post, “In Chinese culture, sex has long been an embarrassing, shameful or taboo subject.” Traditional Chinese thinking has it been that families should keep scandals in wraps, not to make them public.

It is not difficult to understand why Lui had kept her unhappy experience for more than ten years in the face of the depth of traditional thinking prevalent in the society.

Time has changed. Signs are that some values and ideas deeply ingrained in the society are beginning to change. More people feel the impulse and the imperative of coming forward – and speaking up.

Cases are aplenty. Undaunted by the blistering attacks from the pro-Beijing, pro-establishment camp against their sons, the fathers of student leaders Alex Chow Yong-kang and Joshua Wong Chi-fung came out from their private worlds to defend their sons.

It may only sound natural for parents to be the first and the last to shield their children. But for the fathers of Chow and Wong, whose sons have been branded as the leading trouble-makers during the Occupy Central, they need tonnes of courage to come out to confront the barrage of verbal attacks.

Similarly, the experience of being confined to a cell without freedom and naked body search are the last thing people would like to share with others. Given, many would like to be forgotten and not be seen after having served jail term.

That the student trio, Alex Chow, Joshua Wong and Nathan Law, have come out to make allegations of inhumane treatment by correctional services staff during their imprisonment says something about the profound change of thinking about such once-taboo topics as imprisonment.

Taken together, those cases of people dare to come forward, stand up and speak out reflect cultural changes aggravated by factors including the growth of social media. Such global campaigns as “Me Too” hashtag campaign against sexual harassment have globalised values and thinking.

The culture of “coming forward” is set to grow further in the Hong Kong society, bringing about profound changes in the city.

Chris Yeung, Chief Writer of newly-launched CitizenNews, is founder and editor of the Voice of Hong Kong website. He is a veteran journalist formerly worked with the South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong Economic Journal. He writes on Greater China issues.

Photo: Pictures taken from Lui’s Facebook

 

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