EVENT TRANSCRIPT: Hong Kong: Protest and Responsibility
DATE: 1:00pm – 2:00pm, 19 August 2019
VENUE: Millbank Tower
SPEAKERS: Evan Fowler, Dr Brian Fong Chi Hang (方志恒), Emily Lau Wai-hing (劉慧卿), Chip Tsao (陶傑)
EVENT CHAIR: Matthew Henderson
Matthew Henderson: Right ladies and gentlemen the hour is upon us. Welcome all to the Henry Jackson Society and to our event today, which is entitled Hong Kong: Protest and Responsibility. At the start if the eleventh consecutive week of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, this briefing seeks to provide a framework for better understanding of the evolving situation by addressing the relevance of the protest in its Hong Kong and China context.
Matthew Henderson: Today we’ll be looking at how better to improve our understanding of the situation that is evolving in Hong Kong, looking at the relevance of the protests in context both locally and in China, the various responses, both direct and indirect, that these protests have provoked and why the way this crisis unfolds is unquestionably a question of international and particularly UK concern. Our meeting will last for one hour, this is very tight and we’ll do the best we can. It will comprise brief initial comments from keynote speakers, followed by questions and answers. I will be chairing the event.
My name, as you can see, is Matthew Henderson, I have recently succeeded Dr John Hemmings as director of the Asia Studies Centre here at the Henry Jackson Society. During nearly 30 years in the foreign office, much of my work was centred on China and East Asia, and developments in this region have been the focus of much of my activity since leaving government employment four years ago. The Henry Jackson Society as many of you will know, takes a close interest in Hong Kong’s future, in particular, the prospects for one country, two systems in the light of political, social and wider contextual changes since 1997. Our speakers today are well placed to provide first hand updates on what’s happened over the last few weeks, as well as comment on where events seem to be leading and why.
Today we will hear contributions from Evan Fowler, among much else a man who brings special insights into the question of evolving identity in Hong Kong as a political factor in the pro-democracy movement. He is co-founder of Hong Kong free press. Via video we’ll be hearing from Dr Brian Fong Ch Hang, a well-known public intellectual who’s also served in the SARG, who’s studies have provided authoritative discussion on how one country, two systems has fared since the handover, in particular with regard to reform of the electoral system. Via Skype we will be getting in touch with Emily Lau, who surely needs no introduction here, but who’s entire personal and professional life has been devoted to defending freedom, democracy and the rule of law in Hong Kong, not least by her prominent role in the events of 2014. Finally, we are very glad to welcome Chip Tsao , a famous Hong Kong political commentator, columnist and broadcaster, currently working with Apple Daily and Hong Kong magazine. His recent trenchant insights into conflicting vested interests in China and Hong Kong are particularly honest and refreshing, as well as his views on Hong Kong in the context of current Sino-US tensions. Chip will take part directly in our question and answer session.
I suggest we listen to the brief comments from our speakers first, after which I propose to use my prerogative as chair to open our question and answers before handing over to you all. So with no further ado, may I hand over to our first speaker, Evan Fowler. Thank you very much.
Evan Fowler: Thank you very Matthew. I have to start by actually saying that, when it came to, sort of, trying to gather my thoughts for today, I went through quite an interesting process, which I think says a lot about how things are developing in Hong Kong. I sat down early last week and put my thoughts down to then wake up the following day with news breaking, significant new, which made me reconsider, and I’ve basically gone through this process, almost as though every single day there were things coming out from Hong Kong that are important and that actually, sort of, move the situation on. It’s really developing very, very fast. I also have to say that the last time I was in Hong Kong was last month, and I know things have developed significantly since then and I will be returning to Hong Kong in two days’ time so I do keep my finger on the pulse but I am speaking as someone who follows what’s happening in my home, who certainly has connections in Hong Kong, but in the last month, you know, I have to state that I haven’t been in Hong Kong.
Anyway, to begin with I thought I would just, basically give a very broad outline and make a couple of points which I think are sort of forgotten when you follow the news as to what has been happening. The thing is the protests, they haven’t arisen out of the blue, there is an important sort of, context that we have to consider. Since 1997 and certainly since 2003, there has been what some commentators have called politically motivated immigration into Hong Kong. 15% of Hong Kong’s population today are mainland, essentially recent mainland migrants who have come over. I’m not saying that these are people who are coming over for political reasons but the important thing we have to understand is, first of all, that the understanding of Hong Kong’s core values is changing as people come in and if you couple that with the outflow of Hong Kong locals you are seeing understandings of things, again, which are important. The freedom, you know, the types of freedom that Hong Kong enjoys. The rule of law, what exactly does that mean? Press freedoms, the role of the media and journalism. Good governance, accountability and of course the democratic aspirations that are very clearly defined within the basic law. These are things which, they haven’t been directly undermined, but they are being subtly undermined by a change in attitude within Hong Kong and you’re seeing this, you know, with the immigration patterns.
The other point to make is, of course there has been, especially under CY Leung and in a very hardened way under Carrie Lam, the last two chief executives of Hong Kong, or the current chief executive and the previous chief executive, an assault on civil liberties. Again, like many things unfortunately in Hong Kong, it would be, I think, a stretch to say that this assault was systematic, though if you add up all the pieces it is worrying. You’ve seen a case against CY Leung dropped, sounds okay, until you realise that Teresa Cheng, who initiated the Chief Justice, decided not to take independent legal counsel, which is a first in Hong Kong. So again you’re seeing procedures, ways of doing things, changing in Hong Kong. You then, of course, have had the famous case of the booksellers, I have to stress that what happened to the booksellers was greeted in Hong Kong not by shock that, you know, you could have such open, essentially the kidnapping of Hong Kong residents, but it was, I found it very interesting, I was basically told by quite well placed people that what was shocking was that it was so open, it was so brazen.
So there’s that happening, you’ve had legislators of course who’ve been disqualified, I personally think taking an oath is important, but it’s interesting how hard they came down on these legislators, and it wasn’t just the oath taking thing, you know, there’s been a dozen legislators now who have been either disqualified or debarred from actually running for elections, and critically there as well as debarring them you’re preventing Hong Kong people not just from running but from expressing a political position, which is very concerning. There’s, while I think, you know, we have seen a general erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong, of these values and in many ways the protests of 2014 and the protests now are a reaction to that. In 2014 I think there was a sense that the way to solve the situation was to move towards universal suffrage. I think now it is different because now it’s actually about the preservation of what they have.
I then want to sort of, just touch I suppose a little bit on the protest movement itself. So one thing to understand, there is genuine mass support for this protest. One thing which I found interesting as well, a little story to tell you, I’ve been in touch with a private company in Hong Kong that actually collates survey data and their survey data was very revealing, it basically showed that there are a very small minority of people who are standing either behind the government line or, you know, behind the decision to escalate protests, but there is a significant silent majority who are supporting the protests, though not supporting the violence, and I think that’s a big difference from 2014 where really you saw Hong Kong divided, essentially into thirds. You know a third in support of the protests in 2014, a third against and a third who are generally quiet and somewhat apathetic. You are seeing regular people who are very fearful of an erosion of freedom at the moment.
The protests have of course moved on from 2014. They are leaderless, they are flexible, as they say “be like water”, they are pioneering new tactics. The philosophy behind the protests is one of basically everyone trying to do what they can in a way that they feel is right You know, the leaderless nature of the protests of course has both advantages and disadvantages, but I think the question we have to ask is, why do these protests need to be leaderless? Look at what happened to the protest leaders in 2014, in what was, certainly compared to the protests we’re seeing now, a pretty orderly and peaceful protest, and look at the way those protests were characterised then. The protests are also very specifically local. There is a strong, sort of, local, Cantonese focus on the protests. The issues are political, the protesters are not bringing up livelihood issues, which has certainly happened in previous pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong if you go back a decade, and the issue really is one of trust. So the extradition bill was about trust, essentially in China, what you’re now seeing with the current demands is a trust in the Hong Kong government and the Hong Kong police force, you know, these are, again, not social and not economic issues, these are political issues, and fourthly, the protests are very different because they are deliberately targeting international opinion. The protesters, they do not see a solution within the Hong Kong government and within Beijing. They are protesting to let the international community know that what they see as essentially an increasing facade of ‘one country, two systems’, to let people know that they are unhappy and to hopefully call them out on that.
So that’s the general context. I’d like to, sort of, jump to the international angle. I think it’s important to realise that UK policy is particularly important because the UK has a unique relationship with Hong Kong because of its history, it has a legal and moral obligation to actually speak out. No other international, well no other country can claim this, you know, the UK is an equal signatory to the joint declaration, and in many ways the international response that the protesters would like to see has to be framed by what the UK is prepared to do. I think what’s happening in Hong Kong must also be understood within the context of what’s happening in China. I like to tell people, when they ask, you know, ‘how have things changed in Hong Kong?’ Well really the question we need to be asking is, how have things changed in China under Xi Jinping (习近平)?
So, you know, I think Hong Kong needs to be sort of addressed as not merely Hong Kong alone, it has to be understood within what of course is happening in China and within the way we deal with, well, we address the issues in China, and finally, you know, I think it’s very important, not only for the UK but for the international community, to actually speak out in one voice. I think for too long Beijing has essentially had a free run when it comes to sort of constructing the narrative of China and of Hong Kong. I think the UK needs to stand by the Sino-British joint declaration, it is not a historic document. I think the UK also needs to reclaim its right to stand by and also critically define ‘one country, two systems’. One country, two systems shouldn’t be something which is defined purely by Beijing. The people in Hong Kong were sold one country, two systems with a very clear idea of what it was. I that concept is being, again, changed unilaterally by Beijing, and I also think that we have to… how to put it? We have to keep believing in Hong Kong. There’s been an awful lot of commentators who have been touching on, sort of, Hong Kong being past its sell-by date in many ways and losing its influence. The fact is Hong Kong’s uniqueness in china, the fact that it has these freedoms allows it to play a critical role for Beijing when it comes to investment, when it comes to actually engaging internationally. You know in some ways Hong Kong is China’s only, genuine, international city. If China benefits from that, I think the international community should also say, ‘well, you can’t have your cake and eat it, you know, if Hong Kong’s international element is so important, you can’t deny that the international community doesn’t have a stake or a say in Hong Kong’, so I think the UK does need to speak up with greater vigour than it has so far. Thank you.
Matthew Henderson: Well thank you very much indeed. Many important questions raised there which I hope we’ll be able to address, along. Shall we now move on to our recorded message?
Evan Fowler: Yes.
Matthew Henderson: From Dr Fong. We have a recorded a recorded message here, from public intellectual Dr Fong Chi Hang, who is a scholar of many things to do with the constitutional institutions of Hong Kong and the way in which… Yes, we will be hearing from Dr Brian Fong, who is a scholar of constitutional issues around One Country, Two Systems and who is sending us a recorded message. Thank you.
Dr Fong: Hi, I’m Brian. Thank you very much for inviting me to share with you my observations about the status of Hong Kong today. Today I’m going to mainly address three major questions that probably, I believe, many of you are thinking about. The first question is how should we interpret the anti-extradition movement. Secondly, what will Beijing do? And finally, what should the United Kingdom do?
The first question, how should we interpret the anti-extradition movement happening in Hong Kong since June, for me I think we should not consider this as an isolated movement, but one of the many chapters of Hong Kongers defence of our autonomy since 1997. If we look at the issue in a longer perspective, we can see that basically since 1997, Hong Kong peoples on various occasions of fighting for our autonomy, trying to defend the extensions of Chinese jurisdiction into Hong Kong. In 2003, during the anti-Basic Law Article 23 legislation movement, it is about resisting the extensions of Chinese criminal law into Hong Kong context. In 2006 and 2007, [inaudible] Queen’s pier, it is about defending our collective autonomy, collective memory about colonial history. In 2010 the anti-express railway movement, it is about resisting the cross border integration. In 2012, anti-national education movement, it is about resisting Chinese nationalist educations into Hong Kong context. In 2012 and 2003, we noticed lots of localist movements, such as the [inaudible] are, again it is about resisting the cross border integration. In 2014 we have the Umbrella Movement, which is about resisting the NPCSC power to impose unilateral decisions on Hong Kong, regarding our constitutional reform.
So this year we have the anti-extradition movement, as we all know it is about resisting extensions of Chinese legal jurisdiction in Hong Kong context through the extradition arrangement. So if we put all of these opposition movements in Hong Kong since the handover together, we can see that it is very clear that Hong Kong people are very, treasures our autonomy, our freedom, which all of these have been promised under the basic law in the Sino-British joint declaration. So, because of this, if we look at the anti-extradition movement in Hong Kong in this way we will understand why many Hong Kong people will treat the movement as a last fight for Hong Kong’s autonomy and also why many people refuse to retreat, despite the government’s announcement about suspensions of the extradition bill.
Secondly, most people of course is very concerned what will Beijing do? I don’t have any inside news but theoretically speaking I think, properly speaking, Beijing have three major options. The first option is to deploy the People’s Liberation Army, but I believe that it won’t be a… the chance is very low in the foreseeable future, simply if we look at the figures. If we look at the political, economic figures between Hong Kong and China, we will understand that the chance for deployments of PLA is very low. Hong Kong is the largest source of income from the West, investment for China. In 2018 it contributed a total of 96 billion US dollars. Constituting 71.1% of China’s total FDI. Hong Kong is the major listing place for Chinese companies. So far a total of 1,146 shares, red chips and mainland private companies have been listed in Hong Kong [inaudible], and the total amount of IPO reached 35 trillion US dollars in 2018. Hong Kong is also the most important source of bank loans for Chinese. In 2018 the total amount of Hong Kong Banks [inaudible] on banks and on bank customers in China exists 1,113 billion Hong Kong dollars. Hong Kong is also the crucial platform for bond financing for China. In 2018, a total amount of US bonds issued by Chinese companies in Hong Kong exceeds 72.3 billion US dollars. So the question is very simple. If China deploys the PLA in Hong Kong, immediately Hong Kong’s status as an international financial centre will be finished. All the expats will retreat from Hong Kong, the foreign capital will leave, the US will terminate the US-Hong Kong policy act, Hong Kong as an international, financial centre, all these things will be gone. So the options, the situation facing China is, if they deploy PLA, they will hurt themselves, very crucially, particularly in times of US-China trade war, in a time when China’s economy is already on a downward spiral. It will not only undermine the Chinese economy, it may undermine the whole CCP regime, so I don’t see any chance for Beijing to deport PLA in the foreseeable future, unless the sedition movement has spilled out, spilled over into China., becoming a more large scale movement that directly undermines the CCP regime.
So the second option, which has already been adopted by Beijing since June, is to strengthen police control and suppression. This is the most and comparatively less costly option for Beijing. That’s why we can see that over the past two months the police have been trying to arrest as many protesters as possible, trying to persecute as many protesters as possible, because they want to frighten Hong Kongers from taking part in the movement any more. So this is the major option and the most reasonable option, from the perspective of Beijing, that they can adopt at this moment, but the effectiveness of this option depends very much on the momentum of the movement itself. If Hong Kongers can still adopt a largely ‘be water’ strategy and still command Hong Kongers support and still command international support the effectiveness of the police control may not work in the weeks to come. So if Beijing’s still restrained from deploying the PLA and if increasingly police control is not that effective in dealing with the movement, Beijing will be under pressure to consider the third option. That means to make some form of concessions. Of course the scope, extent of the concessions is very large. It ranges from formally withdrawing the bill, replacing the chief executive, setting up some form of independent inquiry, granting amnesty for protesters or even reintroduce the constitutional reforms. So different forms of concessions may have different effects and this also depends on the interactions within Hong Kong itself. For example, some moderate concessions such as formally withdraw the bill, replacing the chief executive may be able to pacify the upper class, the business elite and also some moderate democrats, but probably won’t be able to pacify the majority of the protesters. Concessions such as amnesty, constitutional reform could maybe be able to pacify the protesters but that is… all these options are very difficult options for Beijing as we all know. So, broadly speaking, I think we can consider the way out of the extradition movement between these three options.
Finally, I would like to briefly discuss what should the United Kingdom do? As we all know, the UK was the former sovereign of Hong Kong and signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration, an international treaty that has been recorded in the UN, guaranteeing Hong Kong’s autonomy after 1997, but the problem for the British is that they don’t have any enforcement mechanism for the Sino-British Joint Declaration, even though the British government, all the Hong Kong people, many international friends consider that the Chinese government is breaching the provisions of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the UK cannot do anything to shoo(?) the Chinese government or bring it into the international court. So the problem now, I think, is the British friends should think about what can they do to help enforce the Sino-British Joint Declaration. Here I think one of the ideas that UK friends may think about, is to adopt a UK version of the Hong Kong human rights and democracy act. We all know that the US Congress is going to consider passing the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in September when Congress resumes its session. The most important mechanisms of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act is that it could allow the US Congress and the US government to impose individual sanctions on those officials who are considered as undermining autonomy in Hong Kong, for example, freezing their assets and also preventing them from entering the US. Actually the same version, very similar to the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act could be introduced by the UK Parliament, in order to supplement the Sino-British Joint Declaration. In other words, if any Hong Kong government officials or even Chinese government officials were considered as breaching the provisions of the Sino-British Joint Declarations, the UK government and the UK Parliament can impose individual sanctions on these guys, it could provide a very strong disincentive for these officials in Hong Kong and China from undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy, because again there’s lots of assets in Euro, in UK, in US and also they have lots of relatives, parents, children in UK and in US, so these kinds of individual sanctions, if could be imposed, will help a lot in providing a very effective check and balance mechanism in protecting Hong Kong’s autonomy. So that’s all for my sharing, I hope I will have the chance to have a face to face dialogue with all of you very soon. Thank you for supporting Hong Kong. We hope that we can have the chance to meet in the foreseeable future. Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our time. Thank you very much.
Matthew Henderson: Yes. We will now move on to attempt to make contact with Miss Lau in Hong Kong. I believe she’s in the Hong Kong club. We very much hope that we will be able to hear from her directly now.
Emily Lau: Hello.
Matthew Henderson: Hello, Miss Lau. Can you hear us clearly?
Emily Lau: Hi.
Matthew Henderson: Hello, can you hear us? Excellent.
Emily Lau: Can you see me? Can you hear me?
Matthew Henderson: We can both, very well. Please do begin your presentation if you are content. We are so glad to hear from you.
Emily Lau: Yeah, very good.
Matthew Henderson: We have been discussing, so far, some options that might exist for reconciliation and restitution of confidence between the three parties and those parties in the outside world. In the three weeks since you did a remarkable interview with China uncensored, do you perceive the prospect of such reconciliation more optimistically or less so?
Emily Lau: Well, I think we have to be optimistic because there are no alternatives. I don’t think anybody wants to see Hong Kong destroyed and Hong Kong people are intelligent people, so I think we have to really do our best to ensure that we can find a political solution to the current difficulties, and I’m sure all sides [inaudible] and I hope our friends in London and in the international community…
Matthew Henderson: I’m sorry, your line has broken, could you repeat your last sentence?
Emily Lau: Well I hope our friends in London and in the international community will do their best to help Hong Kong.
Matthew Henderson: Thank you for that thought. I wonder, where does this dialogue need to start? Do there need to be leaders of the protest movement who will act as spokespeople? With whom should they speak when it has been so difficult to get clear answers to questions about autonomy when speaking to the chief executive? Where will this dialogue best commence?
Emily Lau: Well, it has to be initiated by the authorities. We cannot initiate it. They have to take the initiative and invite people to take part, but with the protesters it’s a bit difficult because as you know, protesters say they have no leaders, it’s just a platform. It’s social media, they just, you know, discuss it online, and I don’t think that we can have a proper discussion that way, but there are other people [unintelligible 40:29] who can have and should have, of course have political parties. There are academics, the religious leaders, there are many groups which have spoken out and so it’s not difficult for the government to engage some of them to start the conversation.
Matthew Henderson: We must accept your view on that and I see its strong attractions. There are, however, undoubtedly questions of credibility and trust on both sides. Is there an initial phase where that credibility and trust has in some way to be developed? How could we progress that most effectively?
Where you able to hear my last comment?
Emily Lau: Well it is difficult but… [inaudible] Sorry? Come again?
Matthew Henderson: No, please continue.
Emily Lau: Can you hear me?
Matthew Henderson: Yes we hear you, please continue.
Emily Lau: Yeah, I think sometimes if we can find some honest broker to be someone between, to start the dialogue and try to, in the process, to build trust, and… it is difficult, but, I mean, like many things in life it’s very difficult but we just have to tell ourselves there’s no alternative because the alternative is to allow Hong Kong to continue with such chaos, with such unrest, and most Hong Kong people do not want to see that.
Matthew Henderson: Ultimately though, there are demands being made by people who are protesting because they believe that those demands are necessary for the continued success and survival of a free society and successful marketplace in Hong Kong. Do you have any feeling that there is an element of the current series of demands, which however modified or moderated, would be something that the current SARG would be willing and able to deliver.
Emily Lau: Well that’s what they have to negotiate and I think that any reasonable person, when you look at those demands, particularly the demand for the setting up of an independent commission of inquiry, and not just targeting the police, as some people have alleged, that’s not true, it’s a comprehensive inquiry, and I hope that the Beijing government and the government of Carrie Lam would be prepared to talk about that, and that’s what many people, you know those millions who marched in the rain yesterday, that’s what they want!
Matthew Henderson: Thank you for that very clear and cogent thought. Another issue that we were briefly touching on, a moment before you joined us, was the whole question of the risk-gain equation in regard to Hong Kong’s economic importance to the mainland, and the assumption could legitimately be made that Hong Kong is and will continue to be so important that any intervention which substantially undermined Hong Kong’s morale and its capacity to operate as a free market and to do so in an international context, would be seen by Beijing as impossibly risky and damaging. How much weight do you put to that estimation of the risk-gain equation seen from a very different northern optic?
Where you able to hear me? Do you think that Hong Kong’s continue…
Emily Lau: [inaudible]
Matthew Henderson: Sorry, could you repeat again…
Emily Lau: Come again?
Matthew Henderson: Yeah, how does the risk-gain equation look if actions are taken to control the ‘riots’ as they are referred to, the ‘demonstrations’ as we call them, which actually undermine Hong Kong’s to act as a major entrepot and deliverer of economic prosperity into mainland China? What does that risk-gain equation look like now and why, if it has changed, has there been that change?
Emily Lau: Now, I think that people have seen on the news, about the military exercises just across the boundary. Remember it’s a boundary, it’s not a border. We are the same country. I have corrected many foreign journalists in the last few days, and the military exercise, of course, is aimed at scaring Hong Kong people, but of course, they did not achieve the desired effect. If you look at the millions of people who marched yesterday, I don’t think any one of them were intimidated, and also, a few days ago, the Hong Kong police gave a briefing to foreign journalists, explaining to them that the police are in complete control here, there is no need whatsoever to bring in the mainland military to help to, you know, quell the unrest, and the police are also very conscious of the very bad image they’ve got internationally, but I think most people think that the possibility of the PLA being let loose on the streets of Hong Kong is quite slim.
Matthew Henderson: We are glad to hear your view on that matter which is of the very first importance. Since our time is short, may I shift our perspective now to the issue of how the disturbances in Hong Kong have been described at a high level by Chinese government officials, essentially as the activities of a small number of people of terrorist characteristics, extremists, radicals, aided and abetted by black hands from overseas, and the rest of the Hong Kong community, insofar as they are mentioned at all, being seen as naive dupes who are following along and being deceived both by these foreign forces and foreign media, which has presented apparently a very distorted view of the situation. Have you any comments on that presentation of these events which you have taken such an important role in over the years and remain such an important supporter of?
Emily Lau: Well I think that’s just utter rubbish, and that just makes China a laughing stock in the eyes of the world. As you rightly said there are hundreds of foreign journalists now in Hong Kong. They can see for themselves and they have been interviewing people from all walks of life and I don’t think they can find any evidence to back what the Chinese government allege.
Matthew Henderson: The trouble is that once these words are said it’s like climbing on the tigers back; it can be very difficult to come down. Perhaps some assistance may be needed. Let us hope the events of yesterday perhaps provided that.
Emily Lau: Well I hope our friends in London and in the UK will have the [inaudible] to tell your black from white, right from wrong and not to believe such ridiculous propaganda.
Matthew Henderson: Miss Lau thank you very much indeed. Is there anything more you would like to say to us now?
Emily Lau: Yes, I want to talk to our friends about the British national overseas passport, which has received some coverage in the UK media, particularly The Sun, The Sun has come out to support giving citizenship to the [inaudible], and Mr Tugendhat, who is the chair of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, and they published a report on China and Hong Kong in March, calling One Country, Two Systems no more! It’s only one country, one and a half systems, and they know things are getting quite desperate in Hong Kong, so I certainly hope that our friends in London, will also help to push the BNO case because that is Britain’s responsibility, that they speak out, and when people ask me ‘oh what does BNO stand for?’ I’ll say that it means ‘Britain say NO!’ And I think that’s quite disgraceful. I don’t have a BNO passport, but I hope those of you who can help, will do something to help these people. Thank you.
Matthew Henderson: Thank you very much. The iron lady of Hong Kong at her finest. We greatly appreciate your contribution.
Matthew Henderson: May I suggest therefore that we now move on to our questions and answers. I have already asked so many questions I don’t propose to impose my prerogative. I would be very happy indeed if everybody is content to throw it open to the audience straight away. Could I ask you please to make your question very brief as time is tight and to identify yourself and where relevant your professional affiliation. Please.
Bohemia: Hi everyone, thanks for your input. So my name is Bohemia, I’m not an activist just to clarify, I’m just a curious observer and a concerned one at best. I am from Hong Kong and what’s happened recently, over the past year, has been concerning for all of us. I believe that, with my observations, the anti-extradition bill is the last straw on the camel’s back, and everything is enmeshed together within peoples belief that they are not represented and there’s a lack of accountability with the government, the Hong Kong government, so a lot of people believe that political reform is the only way forward for the people to have more representation and for prosperity to come for them as well, not just the 0.1% elite in Hong Kong, but having said all of that, you know, it is without a doubt that this situation is happening within the US trade war and Hong Kong is inevitably going to be, is right now, a bargaining chip for the US. So, how do we extricate ourselves from this situation, from becoming a bargaining chip which China is going to resolutely refuse to, you know?
Matthew Henderson: Thank you for your exposition. I think I’d like to pass that, if I may, to Chip, because he had a very useful phrase about ‘a war between American and China in which they’re going waiting to see who’s going to blink first’. Perhaps we can build on that.
Chip Tsao: Well it’s a bit too late to talk about preventing Hong Kong from being embroiled in this new war between China and US. That’s what I have been warning in the past, at least four months in my column and my radio program. That Hong Kong must not be a… mustn’t get itself involved in two things, first, the latest US-China trade war and second, a high ranking or top level political struggles between Chinese leaders, and unfortunately Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong, has stupidly thrown Hong Kong into this chaos, out of her, bit of her stubbornness or naiveté, right? And now I’m afraid it’s too late, because we have wakened up a lunatic called Donald Trump on the other side of the Atlantic, he had been rather indifferent to any human rights, well allegedly, in Asia and in Hong Kong or China, whatever, but unfortunately he has raised the issue of Hong Kong as a bargaining chip to be discussed with his so called ‘dear friend’ in Beijing. Now I think you ought to, put that question to the Chinese government, now we, in Hong Kong we remain a little bit helpless.
Matthew Henderson: Thank you Chip. Evan, do you have any thoughts on this matter?
Evan Fowler: Well I… one thing to perhaps clarify, the extradition bill, as far as I understand, has nothing to do with Beijing, it was an initiative that was put forward by Carrie Lam, I think it’s wrong to see Beijing, you know, pushing this bill. What then becomes interesting then, if it’s Carrie Lam’s initiative, if it was something she put forward, why is Beijing not allowing her to withdraw it? So that’s one thing I think we should consider, we can speculate why that may be the case, and the other thing is why did she put it forward in the first place? It had been something that had been discussed for, you know actually almost 20 years, you know work had been ongoing. Why do it now? Now what I understand is that the timing here is all to do with pressure to pass article 23, which would be the security legislation which she knew would be a bigger bugbear. She in some ways, I think she sort of felt that passing this would be something that would give her time, you know, get Beijing off her back, but then of course that brings the question of how much pressure is Beijing pushing, indirectly, on the government? So coming to the point that Chip was saying, about the politicisation of Hong Kong, I’d like to ask is it the United states that is politicising Hong Kong, or is it actually the current regime in Beijing?
Matthew Henderson: Thank you, both of you, for these very important contextual observation. Sir you had a question? Please.
Johnathan Mirsky: Yes, I was a foreign correspondent for many years in both the mainland and in Hong Kong. I was present for the Tiananmen demonstrations from the beginning in April. They then spread to 200 other cities. Absolutely nobody expected that China would do what it did, we all thought, ‘oh, they’re on the back foot, they can’t make it out’. We now know that, almost from the beginning, that the Deng Xiaoping government was planning on how to deal with it, down to which units of the army and which commanders would be used. So my point, to my dear old friend Emily and others, is be very careful about underestimating China’s capacity for suddenly doing something very violent, which may have all kinds of effects which even they don’t expect, but nothing bad happened to them after Tiananmen. So I just want to say, I remember how good natured everything was and nobody thought that they would do what they did, so let’s be careful about foretelling what they may do now.
Matthew Henderson: Without for a moment questioning the logic of what you’ve just said, I do note however that in this instance the punches have been signalled. Do you think this is something is something we need to reflect on, therefore, differently?
Johnathan Mirsky: Maybe. It could be, could be.
Matthew Henderson: Sir.
Roger Garside: Well, following up on… Roger Garside, former British diplomat, served twice in Beijing. Following up on Johnathan’s question or point, I would like to hear form the panellists whether they think that if the PLA intervenes, will Hong Kong become ungovernable?
Matthew Henderson: A straight question, let’s see what we can do.
Chip Tsao: Well I think it will, from the very minute when CNN shows the scene of the PLA marching on the streets. Yes I know it’s very easy to compare what happened to Beijing in 1989…
Johnathan Mirsky: It’s very painful, it’s not easy.
Chip Tsao: Yes, I know. Yes, I meant especially from that. I’m very much traumatised, Johnathan Mirsky I know what happened to you, more than thirty years ago. Yes, I know. While Beijing in 1984 was rules by a paramount military leader called Deng Xiaoping, who had full credentials because of his long march past and his close association with Chairman Mao, who belonged to the first generation of the most Stalinist Communist leadership, and who had great credibility, who had great, so called, respect within his own party. That’s number one. Number two, Beijing in 1989, when the world, in 1989, was not that much of a globalised common village, and third, I think, paradoxically, Beijing and China in 1989 was not that well off as it is nowadays. One would argue that now China, after 1989, the crackdown of 1989 massacre, after the 1989 crackdown, has been very much spoiled, fat by the bunch of western liberal leaders, together with George Sr, George Bush Sr family, some argue that they made a mistake, however, Beijing is so rich nowadays and so obese with wealth, very much of which is now hidden in the financial market of Hong Kong. That’s what ironically…
Chip Tsao: …I couldn’t believe that, you know, this country uses their great names like Mark Odi (unsure if I’m hearing the name correctly) and rumours that Huawei is taking over the communication networks of this country is very much true.
Chip Tsao: Especially when you’re speaking at this spot, where through the window we can see that sensible, yellow building instead of hearing in many of 007’s movies.
Chip Tsao: But anyway, good luck.
Matthew Henderson: We live in hope.
Chip Tsao: So, I mean, where was I? So paradoxically, paradoxically, I think that would make them think twice or hesitate before they do anything nasty. I hope Xi Jinping, who claims himself as a disciple of Chairman Mao, would remember even in 1967, even with a brutal or merciless leader like Chairman Mao, when you had the case of grey, right? When you had the case of…
Matthew Henderson: [inaudible]…grey.
Chip Tsao: Yes, as Percy Cradock rightly remembered in his autobiography, when China was being turned upside down by the manic Red Guard movement, when Hong Kong became very much like West Berlin in 1948, even Chairman Mao and Zhou Enlai would not dare touch it because it was such an important throat for breathing, for China, so Hong Kong now, I wouldn’t say it is Beijing in 1989. While of course the PLA, any Chinese leader would consider unleashing, to unleash the PLA at the point when they honestly feel that their regime is on the brink of being toppled, right?
Matthew Henderson: Thank you. Another question if I may sir?
Andrew Corbett: Yeah, hi, my name’s Andrew Corbett, I served in the Hong Kong police force form the 1970s to the early 1990s. My first observation is during the period I was working in the Hong Kong government there was no mention, prior to the discussions of the joint declaration, about giving full autonomy to Hong Kong or full representation, full democratic rights, and I wonder if the panel have got any thoughts on what could have happened at that moment, to have possibly created a better condition now. Secondly a question, I’ve read recently in the press that property prices in Hong Kong have risen considerably, 300% I’ve heard, in the last 10/20 years and it’s driven the price of property outside of the reach of the ordinary, common person, many of whom are out in the streets now, and is that not one of the causes, the root causes of dissatisfaction. We haven’t heard about it very much.
Matthew Henderson: Very helpful and useful question, I think it’s, I don’t need to repeat it, it was very explicit, so panel?
Evan Fowler: Well I think on the issue of the democratic rights, I mean Britain, you know, bearing in mind we have some former diplomats here, you know, Britain didn’t really have any cards to play, so I think it’s important to understand that Beijing has always been the barrier to the development of a more open and democratic system in Hong Kong, and I think that with the cards that the British foreign office basically had, I think having the Sino-British Joint Declaration as it exists, just signing that in some ways was quite an achievement because there are clear, it’s clearly, sort of, in the spirit of that declaration and also in the basic law that Hong Kong would develop democratically.
On the issue of property prices, I think, you know, I like to sort of see this whole economic argument as, its, you know, it plays a part in dissatisfaction but it’s not really a cause of the protests. The protests are very specifically political protests. The people who are protesting are not just the down and outs, it’s not just people who can’t afford a new house or have, sort of, concerns about their future. The concerns are tied to the fact that they don’t feel the government is able to really, sort of, govern for the people, so I would reject that, but what I would like to just add is, just on the previous question about, sort of, the PLA intervening, I think it’s very easy to also, sort of, overestimate the threat, you know, I know we’re really sort of laying with fire here because it’s something so serious, we mustn’t underestimate the amount of control that Beijing currently has in Hong Kong. If Beijing, and we’re seeing this, Beijing can apply pressure on the business community, it can apply pressure on specific individuals, we’ve seen meetings between the liason office and these white-shirted, essentially triad thugs, so there’s a lot of things Beijing has done in the past and can, really sort of ramp-up to try and control these protests, and I’d like to stress a point that Bryan made. When I was looking at all the videos of the PLA, I kept asking myself ‘is this for Hong Kong consumption or is this actually for mainland consumption?’ So, you know, is it there? You know, Bryan, I think, you know, specifically, you know, he was saying what concerns, I think, the Chinese are that if this spreads across the border, and I think, personally, the military option is there to prevent that, not necessarily to move into Hong Kong, again, Hong Kong there’s plenty of other means by which they can influence Hong Kong.
Roger Garside: Could I ask for a one-word answer to my question, if the PLA intervenes, will Hong Kong become ungovernable? Yes or no?
Chip Tsao: Yes.
Matthew Henderson: Yes
Chip Tsao: Right away. Yes.
Evan Fowler: Yep.
Roger Garside: Yes. Ungovernable. Thank you.
Matthew Henderson: Dear colleagues, I’m afraid I must draw this event, with great regret, to a close. I’m grateful for your patience with the vagueries of technology; I think nonetheless we’ve done what we could. There are clearly an awful lot of things to think about, this is an international question, the concerns that people are feeling today in St Petersburg and Moscow, elsewhere in the world, about the erosion of rules-based systems where they exist and the replacement of even the forms of civilised society with autocratic and arbitrary powers, these are issues that affect us all. No man is an island and Hong Kong certainly is not an island. Thank you all very much.