Hongkongers are ignorant – it’s official

May 03, 2019 17:52
Chief Executive Carrie Lam and Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung refuse to budge despite massive opposition to proposed changes to the extradition laws. Photo: Reuters/AFP/HKEJ

The problem with Hong Kong people is that they are irredeemably dumb. That, at any rate, was the view of Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, when he responded to the mass turnout at last Sunday’s demonstration protesting against government plans to change the extradition laws.

They simply "don’t understand", moaned Cheung, who went on without blinking to claim that a lot of thought had been put into this matter, implying that it gave rise to a level of complexity that was well beyond the comprehension of the people.

A day later, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor added to Cheung’s remarks by saying that it would be pointless for her to meet opposition legislators because she had no intention of changing her mind on the law. She obviously likes legislation giving her considerable power to initiate extradition proceedings to a number of jurisdictions but most crucially, to the mainland for offenses that may or may not be unlawful in Hong Kong.

Lam said lawmakers would do better to confine themselves to discussing amendments within the Legco chamber. Presumably this is the same Lam who has been banging on about the need to pass the law with extreme haste and minimal debate.

So, there we have it, the people are dumb and elected legislators are wasting their time if they want to change legislation proposed by the government because their function is to pass laws, not spend time discussing them.

None of this is particularly new but it comes in the wake of a timely reminder that those who were busy declaring that mass protests were dead in the aftermath of the Occupy Movement have been proved wrong.

And Cheung is wrong in thinking that members of the public don’t understand what’s going on as the protests arise from a very real public awareness of the issues at stake.

The unusual aspect of opposition to this proposed law reform is that business organizations have signaled alarm and there has been way more than the usual amount of diplomatic kickback. Unaccustomed to this, the government scrambled to make concessions to the business sector but this did little more than provide a reminder that the sweeping nature of the government plan was even more ominous than previously imagined.

Why, people asked, can you pluck out a clutch of exemptions from extradition for certain commercially-related offenses when it is impossible to protect certain fundamental aspects of Hong Kong autonomy relating to freedom of assembly, freedom of speech, etc.?

The protection of these freedoms was not previously high on the agenda of business organizations but the government has given them pause for thought because it is becoming clear that the enthusiasm to shuffle people across the border to face the mainland’s notoriously controlled judicial system is an enthusiasm striking at the very heart of the one country, two systems principle.

Fears over the implications of this move deepened when, shockingly, the defenders of the proposed law started to make deeply worrying statements about how the judicial system on the mainland has undergone significant improvements. Concern over the state of rule of law in China has been brushed as nothing more than the usual anti-China paranoia. And then there’s the claim that people who have done nothing wrong have nothing to worry about.

That’s just fine, but yet again it serves to underline the concerns because the proposed law would open the door to prosecution of people for activities that are perfectly legal in Hong Kong but not in China.

For example, the Chinese state is notorious for using its subversion and state security laws as a pretext for cracking down on freedom of expression. The authorities will swear blind that the way these laws are used has nothing to do with curtailing these freedoms yet there is a repeated pattern of weaponizing whatever law is at hand to crack down on opponents. Presumably, Cheung thinks that Hong Kong people are way too stupid to have noticed this.

Maybe, however, the government’s response to protest is not mere hubris. Arguably there is a deeper malaise at the heart of the Lam administration. This, after all, is a government that does not deign to engage with anyone expressing alternative views.

It launches consultation exercises to justify decisions it has already taken and, in the case of one of the biggest of exercises, the land supply consultation, did not even bother to wait until its conclusions were published before launching a megalomaniac land reclamation plan that did not even form part of the exercise.

The bottom line is not merely that the administration does not listen but actively believes that it is the sole repository of wisdom, which means that anyone who disagrees with official policy is either ignorant or just wrong.

Expect more street protests.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author. His latest book, Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and the world’s largest dictatorship, will be published by Hurst Publishers in early 2021.