Former chief secretary for administration Anson Chan Fang On-sang told reporters at a rally outside Beijing’s liaison office Sunday the impact on “one country, two systems” of the abduction of five Hong Kong booksellers “is even graver than the enactment of the national security clause [Article 23] of the Basic Law” would have been.
Some banners at the protest read “Stop political kidnapping”.
Members of the pro-Beijing camp may take umbrage at slogans like these, as there is still no concrete evidence of what happened to the five men who have disappeared.
Yet the public may surely feel more aggravated when legislator Ng Leung-sing, speaking under the immunity of the Legislative Council, alleged that Lee Bo and his associates sneaked into the mainland to patronize prostitutes.
Ng’s remarks were an outrageous insult to Hongkongers’ intelligence, and one can only marvel that these ignoble words could be uttered inside the Legco chamber, a reminder of the city’s distorted politics.
Lee is a Hongkonger who holds both a British passport and a mainland travel permit (home return permit).
The complexity of the case can be seen in the fact that a police investigation continues even after Lee’s wife withdrew her missing-person report.
Hongkongers have reason to raise questions about a wide range of issues, such as the cross-border notification arrangement between local and mainland law enforcement authorities, mainland agents taking action in Hong Kong and the Basic Law’s protection of Hongkongers with dual nationalities.
Now the plain truth is that no matter how many foreign passports a person has, or how hard he avoids traveling to the mainland, he may still fall foul of China’s security enforcers.
Beijing’s red flag flies high in Hong Kong, and the city’s own Bauhinia flag and the Basic Law are nothing but cosmetic.
Just forget about Hong Kong’s status and autonomy in the face of China’s imperial assertions.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said no law enforcement agency from outside the city’s government has any authority to enforce laws in Hong Kong.
But he weaseled out when asked if he could make his stance clearer, for instance by stating that Lee’s disappearance is thoroughly unacceptable.
Given his poor past record, don’t expect Leung to stand up for his constituents in tests like this.
The common perception is that Lee went missing because he was engaged in publishing books revealing scandals and dark secrets of senior communist cadres north of the border who, in public, strive to project an approachable persona and an image of probity.
These books besmirch their honor, and thus publishers must be caught and interrogated to find out the sources of the books’ allegations.
But the fact is that when a party magnifico is nailed down, he is invariably corrupt and promiscuous, just like these books alleged.
Political muckraking, particularly about corruption and extramarital affairs, is nothing unusual in an open society with freedom of speech, and it is exactly the duty of journalists to ensure the public’s right to know.
The more such muckraking, the more resilient the freedom of press is.
The United States is exemplary in this regard.
We are seeing a spike of mudslinging as the nominations for this year’s US presidential election near.
The most notable case is a 500-page book titled Bill and Hillary — So This Is That Thing Called Love, which has a scathing expose of Bill Clinton’s debauched private life and many love affairs since his school years.
One of the women that he “forcibly tried to seduce” was Jacqueline Kennedy, Katharine Graham, the late publisher of the Washington Post, was quoted as saying.
The release of the book is obviously timed to ruin Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.
But how did she respond when asked about the book and all the accusations against her husband?
“I would say that everybody should be believed at first until they are disbelieved based on evidence,” she told reporters.
I wonder whether, if mainland cadres had shown even the slightest tolerance and broadmindedness, like Hillary’s, the whole missing-bookseller saga that sent a shiver down our spine and further tarnished Beijing’s image could have been avoided at the outset.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan. 12.
Translation by Frank Chen
[Chinese version 中文版]
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