Can Hong Kong’s ruling class please stop capitulating to China?

Erica Ng,  Director-General of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, London
Erica Ng, Director-General of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, London

[STOP PRESS: Chris Patten is talking RIGHT NOW to the Foreign Affairs Committee. I guess Emily Ng didn’t get her way after all.]

[tl;dr: Skip to the letter at the bottom of this post written by the woman shown above, and weep]

In case you haven’t noticed, Hong Kong has been convulsed (by Hong Kong’s standards) by “Occupy” protests, made under an Umbrella Revolution/Movement moniker [there are active debates about the name], which have now settled after a month into blocking a couple of second-tier roads and intersections. The city hasn’t actually stopped functioning in any important sense, but psychologically and spiritually Hong Kong has entered a new phase in its story.

These protests are too big and multifarious to discuss even their aims and motivation in detail, but one definite factor is most ordinary people’s wariness and fear and annoyance at the blatant extent to which China now interferes in Hong Kong’s politics and administration. While Hong Kong has an almost-completely separate political and administration system on paper, in practice everyone is noticing how the government blatantly pushes as much as it can in favour of the interests of the Chinese government and the local tycoons. This is not just a technical problem; it directly affects people’s lives and livelihoods, from preferring building roads to pedestrianised spaces, to manipulating the property market to push up prices. This has all been covered before elsewhere.

The aforementioned paper that keeps Hong Kong autonomous actually has a name: the Basic Law. Amazingly, the Hong Kong government actually treats this Basic Law as Jews treat the Commandments given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai: sacred, foundational to their creed, infinitely wise, and unchangeable. This allows them to claim to be acting according to that most moral of modes of governance, the Rule of Law. And indeed, with notable exceptions, Hong Kong is a lawful society, and we are all grateful for that.

But where did this Basic Law actually come from? From the Sino-British Joint Declaration, signed 30 years ago in 1984. This agreement, as the name implies, was between the then-colonial master of Hong Kong, the United Kingdom of Great Britain etc., and the People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong’s current sovereign. This agreement supposedly bound China to agree that Hong Kong would continue with its own capitalist system for 50 years after becoming part of China (again, if you like), i.e. until 2047. The Basic Law is the manifestation and codification of the Declaration.

And this Declaration is not just any scrap of paper; it is a formal bilateral treaty between two member states of the United Nations, and registered with the latter organisation. Therefore it is of legitimate interest to the whole world that the Declaration is adhered to. The UK is particularly entitled to continue to monitor the situation in Hong Kong, because it is one of the signatories of the Declaration, and indeed, Annex II of the Declaration set up a Joint Liaison Group where the UK and China could discuss with each other the implementation of the Declaration. The Foreign Office (the UK’s foreign affairs ministry) continues to issue reports on Hong Kong every six months, and even the US under Section 301 of its United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992 required its Secretary of State to “transmit to the Speaker of the House of Representatives and the chairman of the Committee on Foreign Relations of the Senate a report on conditions in Hong Kong of interest to the United States”.

At least the basic facts of this situation are pretty well-known by most of Hong Kong’s population, so I would presume Hong Kong’s highly educated (or at least highly schooled) bureaucrats would too. So riddle me this: why, when the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee set up an inquiry into the UK’s current relations with Hong Kong, focusing particularly on how well it “monitors the implementation of the Joint Declaration”, did one Erica Ng, Director-General of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in London, send the following letter to the committee? (I have converted the text from the scanned PDF offered).

Dear Sir Richard [Ottaway, MP, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee],

Thank you for your letter of 10 July 2014.

UK’s relations [sic] with the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region have always been a cordial one to the mutual benefit and satisfaction of both sides in many respects, such as trade and cooperation in education, technology, and culture, etc. [sic]

Matters such as constitutional development and domestic economic and social developments, however, are clearly internal matters for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and we strongly disagree and regret that the Foreign Affairs Committee should consider holding an inquiry on these subjects.

The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region strongly urges your Committee not to hold such an inquiry, which is clearly an interference into the internal affairs of the Special Administrative Region, and to call off public evidence sessions and visits to Hong Kong for the purpose.

Best regards,

Erica Ng,

Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, London

In light of the background to the situation that I described earlier, I don’t even know where to begin with the critique of this letter. The ignorance and arrogance it displays is breathtakingly astounding. Even without any knowledge of the situation — which I would consider in itself unacceptable in a representative of Hong Kong posted abroad — Ms. Ng’s request that the committee stops “interfering” is itself a clear example of an attempt at interfering! Furthermore, the only functions that Hong Kong is supposed to have handed over to China are defence and foreign affairs, and the committee indeed received two letters from state organs of China. So why is Ms. Ng writing to the committee too? How is this letter within her purview as a trade envoy?

I would like to know to what extent the Hong Kong government supports the sending of Ms. Ng’s letter and its contents. If the government does not support these things, then will it censure Ms. Ng, or has it already done so? At the time of writing, Ms. Ng is still the Director-General of the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in London.

So if the inference that the Hong Kong government therefore supports Ms. Ng’s letter is correct, we are in the situation where the Hong Kong government repudiates the Joint Declaration, and therefore its autonomy. And where does that leave us?