Beijing’s best shot - we are as vile as you

June 29, 2020 08:43
Photo: Bloomberg

If your best argument is not that what you are doing is right but that what others do is even worse, it is safe to conclude that you have a problem.

Yet here we are as Beijing furiously mobilises all the usual suspects to support the National Security Law, sight unseen but insistent on unwavering adherence. Not only do the bill’s avid supporters not know what it contains but they sort of realise that it is hard to dress up the determination to curtail Hong Kong’s freedoms and so it is no surprise to find the people leading the charge are doing so in the worst possible ways.

They are left dogged following a narrative developed in Beijing which began with claims that Hong Kong was beset by terrorism. The problem is that aside from the shocking discovery of an explosion that damaged a toilet seat in Yuen Long, there is not much to support this claim.

However there were a great number of showy arrests of terrorism suspects. Those charged have yet to come to trial but, at the time of writing, it is possible to say that the principle of innocent until proven guilty still prevails. That presumption of innocence is highly likely to be turned on its head when the new law comes into force.

Second up in the justification stakes was the even more threadbare claim that mysterious foreign forces were pouring into Hong Kong directing and manipulating the protest movement.

To this day not one scrap of plausible evidence has been produced to support this claim but it is asserted with such regularity that many people actually believe it to be true. This is Hong Kong’s’ version of the big lie principle gleefully enunciated by the Nazi propaganda chief Josef Goebbels, who maintained that if you tell a lie often enough, people will believe it.

Thirdly, it was argued that Hong Kong had become ungovernable. Given that the admittedly totally dysfunctional Lam administration is indeed having problems, this claim at least contains a glimmer of veracity. However it is no more than a glimmer because Hong Kong’s civil society remains infinitely stronger than its incompetent government.

Thus the SAR remains peaceful and is quite capable of going about its business despite Ms Lam and her associates doing their worst. And no one should forget that Carrie Lam was handpicked for the job by Beijing, so it’s some cheek to suggest that the people of Hong Kong should suffer for the inadequacies of a leader who has been thrust upon them.

Given the paucity of these three narratives, Beijing has had to develop new lines of argument. It is, for example, argued that no one should worry about China’s dreaded security apparatus operating in Hong Kong because the British did much the same thing with the old Special Branch. Oh yes, in the dark old colonial days the Brits did indeed torture suspects and used emergency powers to suspend habeaus corpus.

However the facts are that the Special Branch was subject not only to the ultimate control of a democratically elected parliament but Hong Kong’s legal system was sufficiently robust to ensure that those arrested were brought before the courts which afforded all the protections expected in a society governed by the rule of law.

The new National Security Law not only wants suspects to be tried outside the established judicial system but insists that the judges should be handpicked for the purposes. Even worse some suspects will be shipped over to the Mainland for trial under a system that does not even pretend to be independent. And, of course, the ultimate controllers of the security apparatus are not elected politicians but the Communist Party.

Although evidence cannot actually be found of foreigners controlling the Hong Kong protest movement the defenders of the new oppression are quick to cite the hypocrisy of foreign countries expressing disquiet over the new legislation.

America, it is pointed out, is currently riven by racial conflict, police forces throughout the nation are accused of brutality to the extent of killing innocent people and, this is the one I really like, the United States is riven with inequality.

All of this happens to be true but how this justifies introducing a terrifying weaponised law into Hong Kong is hard to explain. The explanation given is that countries who are busy criticising China would be better occupied attending to their own problems.

Yet it is very hard to take seriously criticism of inequality in the United States when it comes from China where the gap between rich and poor is among the widest in the world. It is equally hard to take criticism over racialism from a nation that turned a blind eye to the vile treatment of Africans, mainly in Guangzhou, during the coronavirus crisis where they were thrown out of the homes, barred from entering shops and generally treated as leapers.

The rich diet of the Peking Duck eaters seems to blind them to the simple reality that there is not a binary choice between calling out oppression in China and condemning oppression elsewhere in the world. Human rights defenders are quite capable of doing both things simultaneously. The real hypocrisy lies in trying to justify oppression by pointing out that as it exists elsewhere, no one should be concerned that it exists in China.

The desperately inadequate defences for bringing new levels of oppression to Hong Kong are as unconvincing as they are vile.

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Hong Kong-based journalist, broadcaster and book author