If a scintilla of decency still lurks somewhere deep in the soul of John Lee Ka-chiu, Hong Kong’s Secretary for Security, there will come a day when he deeply regrets having acted as an apologist for China’s 21st century gulags.
There is a long and woeful history of one-party states carrying out mass detention for reasons of ethnic or racial cleansing, for putting down rebellions and generally to scare the living daylights out of potential regime opponents.
At its most extreme Nazi Germany and the Khmer Rouge of Cambodia used these camps for mass extermination; the Soviet Union’s massive gulags also killed vast numbers of people but more slowly and as a by-product rather than as part of the intent of detention. China is following the same path but a century later.
And, as was the case with both the Nazis and the Soviets, these vile policies found defenders and apologists from outside the regimes who parroted the official line and somehow tried to make it credible by asserting their distance from the perpetrators of these crimes against humanity.
There will be understandable outrage at the fact that Hong Kong officials have opted to join this dismal cohort of apologists. Lee led this effort when he recently told legislators about the visit of seven of his officers to Xinjiang to study counter-terrorism methods, a trip made in early December that was supposed to be kept secret.
He said that “everything we saw was humane”. The official urged people not to wear “colored glasses” when considering the situation in the region, and gleefully noted that the methods employed to suppress terrorism had succeeded because there “had been almost no real attacks in the past two years”. In other words, an almost word-for-word repetition of the official Communist Party line.
His remarks come against widespread allegations of torture, murder and detention of at least one million Uighurs in Xinjiang where there is also an intense effort to “Sinocise” the region’s Turkic Muslim people whose culture, religion and way of life stands markedly apart from that of the Han Chinese.
Tight controls on access to Xinjiang have resulted in limited independent information emerging from this closely policed region but, without exception, non-official sources have painted a grim picture of what’s going on.
Lee himself did not join the delegation which visited North Western China but reported its findings without expressing a scintilla of doubt over the information provided by officials. Another picture is available but was of no interested to Lee as he embarked on a grotesque parody of the official line which portrays happy Uighurs willingly allowing themselves to be detained in massive centers for the purpose of re-education where they get ‘free education’ etc. etc. as a means of combating their susceptibility to becoming terrorists.
The most chilling aspect of coopting Hong Kong officials in this propaganda offensive is that it is designed not just to give credence to the lies but also to identify how methods employed in Xinjiang could be applied in the SAR.
Lee’s address to legislators came on the day that the government unveiled plans for a national anthem law, giving it wide powers to prosecute those found guilty of not respecting the anthem. It is a mirror image of the legislation already in force on the Mainland and provides yet another nail in the coffin of the idea that the SAR would be allowed to operate its legal system in a fully independent manner.
It remains unclear how the law will work but it is a classic piece of authoritarian legislation giving the government wide powers of prosecution because of the ambiguity contained in its provisions. As ever officials have used the age-old dictatorship-style of explanation saying that people will know whether or not they are disrespecting the anthem – whereas the underpinning of the Hong Kong legal system relies on clearly laying out what is lawful and what is not.
This puts the SAR on a path to arbitrary use of the law for political purposes. This, combined with the willingness of senior members of the Hong Kong administration to be apologists for the most egregious aspects of the Communist dictatorship on the Mainland, yet again suggests a direction of travel with a scary destination.
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