Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
You’ve got to laugh. This week Hong Kong took another lashing at the United Nations Human Rights Council. I laugh because I can make a persuasive argument that we enjoy the highest levels of human rights in the world. And yet, if you believed the activists, who deliver their opinion-heavy verdicts, you’d think we lived in a Gulag.
It’s the usual crowd of naysayers. A convicted criminal, self-appointed guardians and a few agenda-driven types. None of them stands-up when exposed to scrutiny. Please don't apply the term ‘independent or balanced’ to this motley crew. Behind their overblown prominence is a false idea that these groups are representative.
Human Rights Monitor illustrates the point. This group sometimes appears at demonstrations with the protestors. Then when it suits, they switch to a monitoring role. Its members don reflective vests as if this confers upon them some special status or power. They then wander around monitoring the police. I’ve yet to see them criticise the actions of violent protesters or defend the human rights of the cops. In their world rights only flow one way.
Human Rights Monitor comes with particular political point of view. There is nothing wrong with that. Except that it's never mentioned when appearing on the international stage asserting their ‘independent’ opinion.
Even the worst aspects of the criticism that these groups level at Hong Kong look trivial when compared with what’s going on elsewhere. Fair enough, bring up your concerns but get a sense of proportion. To me, there is a depressing absence of rationality as ‘human rights’ is pursued by these zealots as dogma. We all know where doctrine leads.
The UN Council itself is hardly above criticism. In the past, its hosted known terrorists and displayed a biased attitude in its reports. It’s not the court of final appeal on human rights. With no monopoly on deciding standards, it’s a talk-shop, where allegations are made without much substantiation. At least this week it had enough sense not to have its findings dictated by Joshua Wong (yes, he of the hunger-strike between meals fame). Young Joshua wants to appropriate the UN Council’s report for his purposes. His rejected attempt caused the usual hissy fit.
You will hear that many of the Hong Kong activists aspire to the US as their model of a free society. This is in part because of ignorance. Most have never lived in the US, nor experienced the reality of life there. Don’t get me wrong, the US has much going for it, but it’s not the nirvana they seek.
On a practical level, if Joshua Wong conducted himself in the US as he did in Hong Kong in 2014, he’d likely suffer a bruising experience. I was there and up close when the NYPD was dealing with the aftermath of Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park. It wasn’t pretty. Compared to the NYPD, the measured Hong Kong Police response during Occupy was benevolent.
As a discussion point, it may be helpful to balance the ‘human rights’ record of Hong Kong against the US. Let’s start with democracy. The US has it, although the systems favour those with the 'cash-to-splash' on campaigning. In turn, that means the big corporation weald considerable influence. Hong Kong doesn’t have full democracy. It’s a small circle election dominated by commercial interests. Different approach, but sounds familiar.
The courts in both places remain nominally independent. In the US the judges at the top are political nominees. The corrosive nomination process for Judge Kavanaugh exposed the political influence in the US judiciary. In Hong Kong, Beijing has the final say through the National People’s Congress interpretations. Although rarely used, this gives Beijing a veto. Thus, both systems have a political dimension.
Erosion of press freedom is the standard mantra of the activists. I’ve asked this question several times ... “Can you cite me a specific example of a story or commentary suppressed?" I'm still awaiting an answer.
Naturally, allegations about dark forces operating behind the scenes garner headlines. But I’ve not seen a tangible example of a killed story. We know that journalists face pressures. That's not unique to Hong Kong. I've not seen a Hong Kong reporter have the microphone snatched away yet.
By any measure, Hong Kong has a robust press corp. They are vigorous in their activities although lacking professionalism at times. You only have to look at the ‘Apple Daily’ or the so-called ‘Hong Kong Free Press’ to witness agenda-driven reporting. Likewise, the US has a multitude of campaigning media outlets holding the government to account. A tie on that one.
I’d also put forward the following proposition. In the Internet era suppressing stories is near impossible. Currently, the Internet is hosting revelations about the terrible treatment of a deceased Hong Kong TV star. Hong Kong journalists are staying away from the story. Not so the Mainland media outlets. Is it that Hong Kong journalists lack courage? I don’t know the answer to that. Only they can tell us.
Nonetheless, questions remain. The disappearing booksellers rightly raised heckles. A kind explanation would be Chinese agents operating beyond their brief to stifle subversive books. The 'who will free me of this turbulent priest' defence. Whether this is the case, it remains a disturbing episode.
The Victor Mallet affair appears more about crossing a red-line and giving sinecure to the independence movement. The Foreign Correspondents Club wantonly taunted the government with consequences bound to arise. And there have.
In daily life, I can make a strong argument that Hong Kong citizens enjoy freedoms well above those of Joe Average in the US. For starters, our kids are free of fear of getting gunned down at school. They go to school to learn, and that doesn’t cover how to deal with an ‘active shooter’ on the premises. As a Hong Kong parent waves a child to school in a morning they can be certain little Charlie won’t die from a hail of bullets. Can a US parent be as assured?
In the US, there are 120.5 guns for every hundred residents. Hardly a week goes by without another mass shooting. Bars, cinemas, shopping malls, offices and schools all feature. A Washington Post study found over the past two decades more than 187,000 students attending at least 193 primary or secondary schools have experienced a shooting on campus. This year 32 school shootings took place with 90 injuries and 43 deaths. At times it looks like the US is at war with itself.
In the main Hong Kong enjoys freedom from the tyranny of violent crime. The streets are safe, public transport is safe. People go about their business unfettered. Our prisons are run in a humane manner. The staff and prisoners don’t face routine threats of violence or intimidation. The Hong Kong Police are civil, subject to close scrutiny and effective in keeping people safe.
Unchallenged protesters march here on a weekly basis. They disrupt traffic flows, block the pavements and create noise. Everyone gets on with it.
The UN Council talks about safe drinking water and sanitation. Those are a given here. Can the people of Flint, USA, be as comfortable? Preventable maternal mortality and morbidity sit high on the list of freedoms the UN Council cites. Hong Kong is near the top of that list with 1.8 deaths per 100,000, for the US the figure is 18.8. Likewise for infant mortality; Hong Kong’s rate is 2.7 deaths per 100,000, the US 5.8.
Of course, I'm cherry-picking my data. Nonetheless, I can supply a raft of figures across education, opportunities and health care that make a case for Hong Kong’s premier status.
Most of the activists attacking Hong Kong’s human rights operate with prejudices against the Mainland. Their motivation is to find a scintilla of evidence then blow it up. This is then used for political leverage. That strange creature ‘proportionality’ appears beyond them. Like all zealots on a campaign, there is a reluctance to engage with facts. Especially when facts are an irritation.
Granted Hong Kong is not beyond criticism. Far from it. But, nothing comes from these distortions. Those lambasting Hong Kong display a numbing conceit. I ask them “If Hong Kong is so bad, why are you still here?”
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.