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Hollow mouthpiece for Hong Kong opposition

By Tony Kwok | China Daily | Updated: 2018-01-20 09:29
Zhai Haijun/For China Daily

When I read Lord Paddy Ashdown's report on Hong Kong,"Hong Kong 20 Years On: Freedom, Human Rights and Autonomy Under Fire", based on a visit in November last year, my first thought was"who paid for his trip and for the report"?

Ashdown said he visited Hong Kong for a week in November, "to gather information about human rights, the rule of law and democracy". A business class airfare from London to Hong Kong costs about 5,200 pounds ($7,165), while hotel accommodation and daily expenses for a week in the city could come to at least HK$100,000($15,577). Was he doing this freely or was he engaged as a consultant to produce the report? If it is the latter, the minimum daily rate of honorarium for an international consultant is 1,000 pounds. Therefore, Ashdown's mission could cost more than HK$240,000 - a very attractive sum compared with the daily allowance of 300 pounds he would receive for attending one House of Lords' meeting.

I believe he has an obligation to declare his sponsor or employer - to see whether or not there is any conflict of interest. If it is someone associated with the opposition camp in Hong Kong or a United States organization, people will then understand why the report is so biased. I would not even be surprised if it was drafted by a member of the opposition camp - as it merely repeats all the publicly known accusations leveled by opposition politicians and activists toward Beijing and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government in recent years.

I have visited many countries in my capacity as international anti­-corruption consultant to assess corruption problems. In each case, I ensured I had the opportunity to speak to all stakeholders before coming up with my recommendations. This would include anti­-corruption officials, senior government officials, public prosecutors and judges, political parties, NGOs, chambers of commerce members and academics.

Ashdown claimed he had spoken to "fellow legislators, legal experts and political activists". But he did not identify them; one cannot help wondering whether he only spoke to those from the opposition camp, considering the obvious bias of his report.

For instance, he said the rule of law in Hong Kong has been eroded because "elected lawmakers were thrown out of the Legislative Council". But he did not check the much­-reported facts that these lawmakers were subsequently disqualified upon a court ruling after failing to take their oaths of office "solemnly, sincerely and in its entirety in accordance with the law". These lawmakers only have themselves to blame. Would Ashdown expect a member of the British parliament to be allowed in the House of Commons if he or she refused to swear allegiance to the Queen, or mocked the Queen during their oath taking?

He complained that "student protest leaders were imprisoned" but did he bother to read the judgment of the Court of Appeal? It clearly said they were not imprisoned because of their public protests but because they had incited people to use violence which caused injuries to a number of security guards. It is also pertinent to ask: What was Ashdown's reaction to the well-­publicized protests in 2010? At the time students in the United Kingdom demonstrated against the government's planned increases in tuition fees for universities, which resulted in riots in many cities in Britain and injuries to hundreds of police officers, students and citizens. Does he think the students involved in those riots should not have been punished?

Ashdown alleged that "Hong Kong's democracy has been further damaged by recent changes to the rules of the Legislative Council in Hong Kong". I wonder if this is not a case of the pot calling the kettle black. He ought to know about the disgraceful and often violent behavior of opposition lawmakers within the LegCo chamber. I am also interested to know what Ashdown, who claims to be a champion of the press, thinks of opposition legislator Eddie Chu Hoi­dick's motion evicting the media from the LegCo chamber as a filibustering technique to delay voting.

When I watched the House of Commons debates live, I often saw only a handful of MPs present late at night. They are never interrupted by frivolous quorum calls. So how can Ashdown criticize the change of rule in Hong Kong which aims to minimize such interruptions so that legislators can carry on with their duties? Does he know that in just one year alone, the opposition legislators called quorum counts on 95 occasions. It led to delays in legislation which held back commencement of much-needed infrastructure projects, and resulted in losses worth billions of dollars due to rises in costs. Incidentally, the rule change enjoys overwhelming support according to a public opinion survey.

He criticized Beijing for imposing its"decision to implement mainland law at the new West Kowloon high-­speed rail terminus", implying jurisdictional trespassing. How is it we never hear of such complaints in joint customs border checkpoints in other parts of the world?

He alleged that Hong Kong has deteriorated as an economy since the 1997 handover under the "one country, two systems" principle. On the contrary, the city has continued to thrive in economic terms, overtaking many leading cities around the world, including London - which is expecting an exodus of expatriates as Brexit looms.

In Hong Kong, our expatriate community is voting with their feet in support of us. The SAR has seen a near doubling of US and a tripling of French nationals since 1997. Businesspeople and worldly professionals are hard­-nosed individuals. They are not blind to the facts - for instance, Hong Kong's latest annual GDP growth rate is 3.6 percent compared with the UK's 1.7 percent. The unemployment rate for Hong Kong is now 3 percent, compared with 4.3 percent in the UK.

Corruption is generally regarded as the best benchmark for the rule of law. For the past 20 years, Hong Kong has remained one of the least corrupt places in the world. The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index 2016 ranked Hong Kong as 15th most corruption­-free place in the world with an assessment mark of 77, the highest mark in the past four years.

In another authoritative assessment, the Trace International Trace Bribery Risk Matrix 2017, which measures corruption risk, under the "Anti­-bribery Laws and Enforcement", Hong Kong's risk score is 5, better than UK's score of 7. That means the UK has a higher risk of bribery occurring than Hong Kong. The World Bank's Worldwide Governance Indicators project put Hong Kong at the 94.7 percentile for rule of law in 2015, compared with UK's 93.8.

I find it ironic that with the UK losing out to Hong Kong in most of the international rankings, we have a prominent British public figure lecturing us on our shortcomings. So I cannot help suspecting that it is the UK's underhand way of interfering with our internal affairs.

And at a time when the UK is confronted with the Brexit crisis and other serious problems, we can tell this fleeting visitor from the UK: "Mind your own business!"

The author is adjunct professor of Hong Kong University's School of Professional and Continuing Education, council member of the China Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, a former deputy commissioner of International Commission Against Corruption, and an international anti­corruption consultant.

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