The gap between Xi’s words and reality


Five days after President Xi Jinping spoke at a ceremony in Hong Kong marking its 25th anniversary of the return to Chinese rule on July 1, China’s top envoy in the city acted swiftly to spread Xi’s words trumpeting the success of the “one country, two systems” policy in the former British-ruled enclave.

Liu Guangyuan, who heads the Foreign Ministry’s Commission, told more than 100 local dignitaries, including consulates’ representatives, Xi’s declaration of long-term commitment to “one country, two systems” policy is a “calming pill” for the international community and all sectors.

The guests, he hoped, would understand Beijing’s policy more accurately and present “the vibrant and promising Hong Kong to the world in a more objective way.”

A report of the session on the Commission’s official website quoted some unidentified foreign consul-generals and business chambers’ leaders as saying after the briefing Xi’s speech boosted their confidence in the city’s future.

Hanscom Smith, the outgoing US Consul General to Hong Kong, is unconvinced. It is unclear whether he was one of the participants.

In a farewell speech at the American Chamber of Commerce on Monday night (11/7), he painted a bleak picture of the Hong Kong SAR. The mainland authorities’  “broad, crude, and chilling” application of the sweeping national security law, he said, threatens Hong Kong’s role as an international business hub while recent electoral reforms undermine its future.

Though resonated in some quarters of the jittery community, Smith’s talk of a gloomy Hong Kong had been left largely unattended by the media. Intriguingly, it was later picked up by some media outlets after the Foreign Ministry and the Hong Kong Government hit back. Not surprisingly, the focus of their stories is the official rebuttal, not Smith’s critique.

Welcome to the new, untold rule of political reporting in the NSL era.

Shortly after Smith spoke on Monday night, the Foreign Ministry condemned him, saying he “slandered” China’s governing policy on the city and “defamed” the successful implementation of “one country, two systems.” On Tuesday morning, the Government issued a statement saying Smith’s remarks were unfair and untrue.

Raising the heat of the fresh round of China-US political bickering over Hong Kong was a report by the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China released on Tuesday. It called for sanctions on 15 of the city’s prosecutors and new justice secretary Paul Lam Ting-kwok.

The commission alleged Lam’s Department of Justice had “infringed on the universal human rights of a wide range of people”, including protesters, journalists and opposition figures. The Government accused the commission of “cheap, bullying behaviour.”

In a related development, Reuters reported on July 5 Monsignor Javier Herrera-Corona, the Vatican’s unofficial representative in Hong Kong, told the city’s 50-odd Catholic missions the freedoms they had enjoyed for decades were over. He issued the warning in a series of private sessions before finishing his six-year posting in March.

Quoting unnamed people who were familiar with the sessions, Reuters said he urged missionaries in Hong Kong to prepare for a tougher future as China tightens its control over the city and he urged his colleagues to protect their missions’ property, files and funds.

The Government kept silent on the report.

Coming hot on the heels of Xi’s speech, the latest spate of political events has laid bare the reality of the worsened assessment in some quarters of Western community on the shape of the city’s “one country, two systems.”

Taken together, they have drowned out the seemingly reassuring messages Xi has sought to convey to the 7.5 million people and the world in his July 1 speech.

Amid growing doubts about Beijing’s commitment to the “one country, two systems” formula, Xi said: “There is no reason to change such a good system. And it must be adhered to in the long run!” Local pro-Beijing heavyweights have interpreted “in-the-long-run” as beyond 2047, thus clearing the uncertainties of the formula.

Xi’s reaffirmation of the preservation of the common law system has also been given a positive spin by the pro-Beijing circle, who seems to have forgotten Basic Law Article 8 says the common law, among others, shall be maintained. Xi was merely stating the obvious.

That Xi’s reassurances help little, if any, to allay fears of the erosion of semi-autonomy and freedoms in Hong Kong prevalent in the city and the international community is plainly because they do not match with the city’s actual situation.

The applications of the laws on national security and elections have changed the fundamentals of the political landscape and the civil society. The “one country, two systems” policy and common law remain unchanged in name, but not in substance.

Cases are aplenty. One of which is the officials’ attitude towards foreign media.

Reporters from major international media outlets were among dozens of journalists who had their applications for covering Xi’s visits rejected on ground of “security concerns” by the Government without explanation. Meanwhile, repeated requests by foreign media for an interview with Chief Executive John Lee during his election campaign and after he took office have been ignored.

That is in itself a bad story for Hong Kong.

An endnote: I was asked to give a name to this space on the Green Bean Media platform. In a throwback to my days at the South China Morning Post, I named it “At Large”, same as a weekly column I wrote for the English daily since the 1990s before I left. Not so much because of a feeling of nostalgia, but a modest hope for free expression amid the present circumstances.

▌[At Large]About the Author

Chris Yeung is a veteran journalist, a founder and chief writer of the now-disbanded CitizenNews; he now runs a daily news commentary channel on Youtube. He had formerly worked with the South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong Economic Journal.