"If you want to read a blog to get a sense of what is going on in Hong Kong these days or a blog that would tell you what life was like living in colonial Hong Kong, this blog, WALTER'S BLOG, fits the bill." Hong Kong Blog Review
“…as if Boris hasn't got enough on his plate with Ukraine, the cost of living crisis, and a failed migrant programme.”
My sojourn in the not-so-United Kingdom coincides with a couple of notable annual events. It's intriguing how these play out and what it says about the national character. For starters, Glastonbury, the yearly middle-class woke fest, concluded last week.
I must admit to watching the Paul McCartney set on TV, which came buttressed by Bruce Springsteen in case Paul faltered. Paul even summoned up the ghost of John Lennon from the digital afterlife to conduct a duo. But I guess I'm unkind. Paul is 80 years old. How many 80 year olds could pull off such a performance?
Meanwhile, Julie Burchill's piece in The Spectator wonderfully deconstructs the absurdity and hypocrisy of the evolved Glastonbury. With its origins in a hippy event, the gentrification process is now complete. Burchill delivers the killer critique on those who pay thousands to attend, "In short, the sort of soppy eternal student who has more Mummy than sense." And, "Glastonbury appears to be like childbirth – you have to take a lot of drugs to withstand the horror and make you willing to try it again."
Then having left tons of rubbish behind in honour of Greta — who canoed in on a wave of dolphin tears for a personal appearance — the green-welly brigade trooped off to Wimbledon. That provided some real excitement for me as Serena Williams, at 40, fought hard against the much younger Harmony Tan. Thrilling stuff.
Eventually, Tan triumphed but not before my admiration for Serena reached new heights. Unfortunately, the match lasted so long that it displaced a BBC documentary on the 2019 Hong Kong riots. You've got to get priorities right.
But, the captivating 'Sherwood', a BBC cop drama with roots in the 1984/85 Miners strike, faced no similar fate, as the tennis moved aside. The intrigue and mystery didn't falter once in this six-part thriller, as murders and dodgy undercover cops intertwined with a polarised 'former mining community' struggling to resolve events from decades ago. In the end, there were no tidy answers, no complete atonement or total resolution. Only forgiveness prevailed. A lesson there for Hong Kong?
On the division issue, wee Jimmy Krankie (aka Nichola Sturgeon) wants another go at Scottish independence. Come on, Nichola, as if Boris hasn't got enough on his plate with Ukraine, the cost of living crisis, and a failed migrant programme. Undeterred, the Scots are chanting 'freedom' with full Mel Gibson zeal. I suspect more fun and games to come on that front with legal and constitutional challenges.
The way things are going, Boris may be seeking to exit the PM role. But while he struts the international stage, his long march out of office is held in abeyance—trips to Ukraine, Rwanda, and the G7 summit sustain the impression he's in charge. Yet, it's noticeable that fewer cabinet members are openly defending him. The suggestion is that Boris hangs on because he's broke; Carrie and assorted offspring by various 'ladies' are draining his wallet.
Maybe Boris should set up a charity taking bags of money from Middle East power brokers seeking influence. The unfortunate Prince Charles pioneered that venture, with millions passing through 'Fortnum and Mason' carrier bags. Nice little earner.
On a more positive note, I must say the service I've seen the NHS deliver while here is exemplary. Yes, things take time, and resources are tight — but none of that distracts from the care and compassion. Nigel Lawson observed in 1992 that "the NHS is the closest thing the English have to a religion.”
I can see why.
“I've concluded that people don't incline to take in the tangle of truth.”
History is a story. Sometimes it’s the easier story that wins out or the more comfortable one — the neatest version of events that sits well with personal or national perceptions. That’s the distinct impression that forms as I write this blog sitting in the UK.
As seen from here, there is no doubt that the interpretation of events in Hong Kong is either shaped by the self-serving chroniclers like Lord Patten or agenda-driven pundits. Sometimes it’s so is out of kilter it’s laughable. This week I was asked, “Were you in Hong Kong when the Chinese army invaded to stop the riots in 2019?” Oh Lordy!
I've concluded that people don't incline to take in the tangle of truth. Hence the easy line is that China crushed Hong Kong while everyone else is blameless. And that is as far as the commentary goes. Boom. Done.
Of course, with the 25th anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to Chinese rule, the likes of Chris Patten are milking the opportunity with books and opinion pieces. Before moving on, it’s worth anchoring a couple of points.
Patten, having had the boot from the people of Bath, and knowing little about Hong Kong or China, parachuted into the role of Governor in 1992. Convinced that he knew more than everyone else, regardless of their previous experience and detailed knowledge, he was late on the scene.
The negotiations for the handover concluded years before, and the "Joint Declaration" was signed in Beijing by Margaret Thatcher in 1984. The Basic Law - the cornerstone of Hong Kong’s administration after 1997 - was published in April 1990, including a provision for the National Security Law.
Hence, Patten had little to do except make a nuisance of himself, and upset the mainland Chinese. He succeeded. Hong Kong was poorly served in those final years of British rule by Patten operating in 'Catholic savour' mode. Did a sudden pang of guilt take hold having cut off Hong Kong people from the UK with the 1981 Immigration Act? Looks like it.
Yet regardless of well-meaning or not, Patten was running against the clock. All Beijing needed to do was wait until 1997. Perhaps a wiser politician could have played the game better.
Also, wiped from the record or downplayed in all the discussions is that Hong Kong was taking steps towards more democracy under Chinese rule until the opposition decided to scupper what was on offer. That derailed the whole process. Proposals on the table in 2014 set out a path to limited democratic reform. It was a start.
With that rejected, the seeds of the 2019 troubles germinated, which China felt compelled to address with an imposed National Security Law. Still it’s odd that commentators aren’t acknowledging that the NSL contains more safeguards than similar legislation in the West.
Reading the UK pundit's account of these events, I realise despite being there; I don't know my own story — not for them, the deep, more tangled view. So, supposedly, the whole of Hong Kong rose in protest, a 'fact' supported by images of streets filled with people. Truly that is incontrovertible evidence.
Hence there is no truck with the idea that the majority didn't protest or march. Moreover, once the violence took hold, attitudes turned on a sixpence, as the numbers showing willing support fell away dramatically.
Meanwhile, without any sense of irony, last week, The Times ran an article suggesting the Commonwealth be a bulwark against the rise of China. With opinion leaders still wedded to the idea that the UK commands the world stage, such views border on the delusional.
The Times also suggested that taking Hong Kong by force was a 'good thing', blithely ignoring the fact this was done to secure the opium trade that led to untold addictions and dislocation in Chinese society.
In essence the author argues that drug trafficking was fine and dandy because this led to modern-day Hong Kong. That misses the point that Hong Kong was held for strategic reasons, with the interests of the people having no bearing on events. Some recognition of that side of the story would be welcome.
Mind you, I shouldn't express surprise at such disingenuous behavior because half-truths and outright lies pepper British politics. You could argue this is par for the course when the ‘head boy’ routinely breaks the law, reneges on international agreements and can't keep his ethics advisors. That he even needs an ‘ethics advisor’ speaks volumes.
At the same time, Boris is moving to distance the UK from the European Court of Human Rights because it has ruled against him.
In the coming days no doubt we can look forward to Boris and others lecturing us about the ‘rules based international order’ and erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong, while he acts as a law unto himself.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.