"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
“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.