24 March 2019
Teresa Cheng, Hong Kong's new justice secretary, has seen her integrity called into question following a controversy over illegal structures at her homes. Photo: HKEJ
Teresa Cheng, Hong Kong's new justice secretary, has seen her integrity called into question following a controversy over illegal structures at her homes. Photo: HKEJ

Are you yellow, blue, red or colorless?

Whose side are you on? We now have such rancorous politics that Hong Kong people are always having to choose sides. Some people say I have become a supporter of the establishment camp. They are wrong but it is easy to be labeled that way in our polarized society. All you have to do is disagree with the opposition on an issue. That doesn’t mean you agree with the establishment but you will still be branded as anti-democracy.

I lose no sleep over such childish behavior. But as a columnist I am finding it increasingly difficult to decide which side is right on the many political storms that are now swirling around us. I try to let the facts, not political bias, guide my opinion. Every time a political bombshell explodes, I examine all the facts before asking myself who I should side with. Ever since the Occupy movement divided our society into so-called blue and yellow camps there are not many independent thinkers left who rely on facts to form political opinions.

Are you on the side of the government, which banned Agnes Chow Ting from contesting the March Legislative Council by-election on the grounds she belongs to a political group which promotes self-determination? Or are you on the side of Chow who readily agreed to sign an election requirement to uphold the Basic Law, which explicitly rules out independence?

To decide, you must first ask yourself if you believe her when she insists she doesn’t advocate independence but just wants Hong Kong to determine its own future under one country, two systems. Then you must ask if her localist group Demosisto’s support for self-determination equates advocating independence since there is a fine line between the two. Finally, you must ask if it is possible for a 21-year old girl, in or out of Legco, to achieve self-determination, whether or not you equate it with independence.

It takes a huge leap of the imagination to believe Demosisto can influence public sentiment to such an extent that the self-determination movement gains enough traction to become a real threat. For that reason, disqualifying Chow as a Legco candidate was like using a sledgehammer to swat a fly. One government official told me even though banning Chow could backfire among voters, it was a matter of principle to ban her since the Basic Law forbids independence.

But principles are ever shifting in politics. Demosisto’s website does in fact make clear the group advocates self-determination. It even describes the Communist Party as an oppressive regime that has exported authoritarian rule to Hong Kong. The returning officer, using government legal advice, concluded she had grounds to disqualify Chow because such strong words suggest the group is in conflict with the Communist Party. But surely, governments must consider political consequences too. Shouldn’t the legal advice have come with a rider that letting her run sends a strong global message our high degree of autonomy is alive and well, not dead as many have claimed?

We must ask whether it was politically worth it to further alienate Hong Kong’s young people for the sake of a principle. Opposition legislators rejected the central government’s 2014 political reform framework with the argument it screened out chief executive candidates Beijing didn’t like. Now the opposition is already claiming Beijing is also screening out Legco candidates. Allowing opposition candidate Edward Yiu Chung-yim to run has not silenced those claims because disqualifying Chow had already sent the global message Beijing is tightening its grip on Hong Kong.

Was it therefore in Hong Kong’s overall interest to ban a candidate for her political beliefs, an act which legal experts agree violates a person’s rights in a free society? Already, 30 top names in Hong Kong’s legal sector, including Bar Association chairman Philip Dykes, have issued a strong statement condemning Chow’s disqualification. Should we not have let voters decide if Chow was worthy to be elected? I am not sure whether I will be labeled as being in the blue or yellow camp by asking myself all these questions.

When the media exposed Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah’s illegal structures at her Tuen Mun home my initial reaction was we should forgive and forget since illegal structures are everywhere. But when more skeletons tumbled from her cupboard, I began to question her integrity. Like so many other Hong Kong people I wondered if such a politically-damaged justice chief still had the credibility to perform her many duties.

Now that she has tried to redeem herself by finally facing tough questioning in Legco last Monday, I feel she should be given a chance to prove herself but only on the condition that no more skeletons emerge and she shows in coming weeks and months she is worthy of being justice secretary. Otherwise, I will lead the charge to demand her sacking. Which camp does that put me in – blue or yellow?

Putting large parts of the high-speed railway terminus in West Kowloon under mainland law is the biggest constitutional crisis we now face since reunification. Which side are you on? Do you agree with those who say the HK$84 billion railway will speed up travel for Hong Kong people, link our city with the mainland’s express rail system, bring huge economic benefits, and would become a white elephant if there is no joint immigration? Or are you on the side of those who argue economic benefits cannot come at the expense of violating the Basic Law since nothing in the mini-constitution allows mainland law in Hong Kong?

To decide, you must first face the fact the railway is already built but will lose its purpose without joint immigration at West Kowloon. Then you must ask if you fear having mainland law in parts of the terminus and if the majority of Hong Kong people fear it too. The hardest part is to decide which argument you accept – the government’s argument that a decision by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee in itself legalizes joint immigration or the opposition’s argument that since the NPC decision was based on China’s civil law, not Hong Kong’s common law, it violates the Basic Law.

I have shared all these questions to show how I reach an opinion. I think disqualifying Agnes Chow has greatly harmed Hong Kong’s global image, a big price to pay for a questionable political principle. I think Teresa Cheng should only be fired if she fails in the short term to prove she is a capable justice secretary. I think since the express rail is already built, we must live with joint immigration even if many legal experts believe it violates the Basic Law. Now, am I yellow, blue, or red?

– Contact us at [email protected]


A Hong Kong-born American citizen who has worked for many years as a journalist in Hong Kong, the USA and London.

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