Among Chinese, it is best to avoid talking about a person’s fault or weakness – whether unintentionally or not – lest we hurt their feelings and make them think that we are trying to put them down.
Development Secretary Michael Wong Wai-lun appeared to have forgotten this precept and found himself the target of criticism from Hong Kong’s finest.
Speaking at a book-sharing event last week, Wong dropped a quote from his favorite Japanese author, Keigo Higashino, who is known for his detective novels: “Criminals are not necessarily bad guys. There can be much objective reasoning behind a crime, and there may be areas we can sympathize on.”
Not too many people will argue against the truth of that statement, and Wong, who previously served as director of information services, could have saved himself from a lot of flak had he stopped there.
But he went on to say: “On the other hand, not every policeman is a good guy. I think this quote is realistic and says a lot.”
Some people got wind of Wong’s seemingly innocuous statement, and soon enough it spread like wildfire across the police force, prompting the Junior Police Officers’ Association, which represents about two-thirds of the 30,000-member police force, to issue a statement criticizing him for making an inappropriate statement.
The group’s chairman, Lam Chi-wai, said Wong’s remarks may lead to a misunderstanding: people might think that the minister was criticizing the police officers and this would greatly hurt the officers’ confidence.
Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung Kin-chung stepped in to prevent the controversy from getting out of hand. He stressed that the government recognizes and appreciates the contributions of the police force to the community, adding that Secretary Wong did not mean to denigrate the force with his speech.
Are the police just being over-sensitive, or is Wong being too insensitive?
In fairness to Wong, his comments were not directed at the Hong Kong police force per se; rather, he was sharing a self-evident truth about a particular profession, or professions, anywhere in the world.
His remarks did not make him look stupid because he was merely stating the obvious.
Even Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor dipped into the controversy, quoting President Xi Jinping as saying during a cadet graduation ceremony last year that our policemen will be bound together for good or ill.
Well, you might say that that is true in the case of the seven police officers who were jailed last year for assaulting pro-democracy activist Ken Tsang Kin-chiu at the height of the Occupy street protests in 2014. That incident did damage public trust in the police force.
Last year, when asked why 21 police officers were arrested for various crimes in 2016, Police Commissioner Lo Wai-chung said policemen are not perfect and there will always be bad apples in the force.
Just this week, a senior police official announced that 23 officers were arrested in the first half of the year for various offenses, up 85 percent from last year.
All this supports Wong’s remarks that not every policeman is a good guy. Wong’s only problem, as we see it, is that he tells the public his honest opinion.
He should remember that his freedom of speech is deemed forfeited once he becomes a government official.
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