The Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC), as expected, came in for fresh criticism from the Hong Kong and Chinese governments after it hosted a talk by independence advocate Andy Chan Ho-tin at the club premises on Tuesday.
Following the luncheon event, during which Chan suggested that Hong Kong should break free from China in order to protect its freedoms, the Hong Kong government issued a statement in which it slammed the FCC for giving a platform to a separatist group leader.
Lashing out at the club’s decision to go ahead with the event, the government said it is “totally inappropriate and unacceptable” that a forum was provided to someone who openly advocates Hong Kong independence.
Chan’s independence advocacy constitutes “blatant violation of the Basic Law” and “a direct affront to the national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity” of China, the statement said, adding that the same goes for any organization that provides a public platform to “espouse such views”.
Speaking to the media Tuesday afternoon, Acting Chief Executive Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said the government values freedom of the press and freedom of speech, but added that those freedoms have limits.
It is a matter of deep regret that the FCC offered Chan a platform to speak despite strong objections from the government, Chueng said, adding that he hopes similar incidents will not happen again.
Chueng made the remarks in his capacity as acting chief executive, as his boss — Carrie lam — was away from Hong Kong.
Asked if the government would take back the FCC’s premises on Lower Albert Road in Central, Cheung simply said that the site’s lease will expire in January 2023 and that the government will continue to maintain a cordial relationship with the club.
Meanwhile, Beijing issued its own statement denouncing the Chan luncheon event.
In the statement, the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong took a swing at the FCC for “openly disrupting the rule of law in Hong Kong and abusing the freedom of the press and expression” by providing a platform for an independence advocate.
In his speech of about 15 minutes titled “Hong Kong Nationalism: A Politically Incorrect Guide to Hong Kong under Chinese Rule”, Chan — who is co-founder and convenor of the Hong Kong National Party (HKNP) — told the audience in English that separating from China is the only way for Hong Kong to protect its freedoms, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
Ever since the transfer of sovereignty 21 years ago, Hong Kong has only headed backwards, the 27-year-old activist said, adding that the HNKP feels obligated to enhance Hongkongers’ “national consciousness”.
The “cry” for Hong Kong going independent is in fact “a cry against colonial invasion”, he said, suggesting that China has become the new colonial master.
Chan, who claimed at the end of his speech that he was speaking as “Andy Chan, a surviving Hongkonger” rather than as HKNP convenor, asked the British government to act as Beijing has turned its back on the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration that sought to protect Hong Kong’s freedoms after the 1997 handover.
Britain has an “inescapable duty” in relation to Hong Kong, Chan said, while also urging Washington to “review the conditions” in the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act and begin sanctioning the Hong Kong officials who trample on the human rights of local people.
The Chan event drew condemnation from pro-establishment lawmakers, who added their own voice to the protests from government authorities.
As many as 32 pro-establishment lawmakers issued a joint statement accusing the FCC of assisting in dissemination of views advocating Hong Kong independence.
The lawmakers urged the government to consider taking back the building that houses the club. Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, a lawmaker and barrister from the pro-Beijing Business and Professionals Alliance for Hong Kong, said she will ask the Department of Justice to consider indicting the FCC.
Pro-democracy lawmakers, meanwhile, offered support to the FCC, saying the club upheld the cause of free speech.
Cheung’s remarks denouncing the FCC can be taken as an unprecedented assault on free press, two-dozen opposition lawmakers said in a joint statement, adding that it is shameful that the establishment camp is trying to use the building lease issue to browbeat the club.
Noting that the FCC only exercised its rights of free press and speech, the Hong Kong Journalists Association urged the government to clarify clearly which Hong Kong laws a person has violated when the person merely made a speech about Hong Kong independence.
Also, would a media organization be deemed guilty of promoting Hong Kong independence if they report, quote or interview people having such views or invite them to attend media programs?
FCC’s first vice-president Victor Mallett said free press and speech are the bottom line and that the club will continue inviting people with different views to give talks as long as they do not break the law.
Mallet feels the government will not take any vindictive action with regard the club premises lease, as he believes the lease issue will not be linked up to the Chan event.
Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, suspects Hong Kong will face greater pressure now on the issue of enactment of Article 23 of the Basic law which deals with the national security legislation.
Chan’s speech could prompt the central government to seek faster action on putting in place a new law, according to Lau.
Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a member of the Executive Council, warned that the speech given by Chan is likely to be used as evidence in the case for banning the HKNP.
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