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Thursday, Aug 06, 2020

No, once again, it's not the death of HK

By Nury Vittachi
Dead again? Oh no! This is extremely inconvenient. We had just made plans to reopen our karaoke venues and lead a global economic recovery.
Dead again? Oh no! This is extremely inconvenient. We had just made plans to reopen our karaoke venues and lead a global economic recovery.

But there it is in print: "The Lonesome Death of Hong Kong", an essay by Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong.

The community of Hong Kong has been declared dead many times. Its expiry was announced in 1977, when businesspeople wanting to renew 20-year land leases complained to Murray MacLehose, governor of Hong Kong from 1971 to 1982, that Hong Kong wouldn't be around after 1997. He contacted the leaders of China to make a deal that became known as "one country, two systems".

In 1995, Fortune magazine's cover story had the headline "The Death of Hong Kong". In it, Louis Kraar wrote: "The naked truth about Hong Kong's future can be summed up in two words: It's over."

Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman said the Hong Kong dollar would be gone by 1999, and environmentalist Christine Loh Kung-wai expressed fears that Beijing would turn on those "considered to have conspired with the British, maybe me among them".

The opposite happened. Hong Kong thrived. The Hong Kong dollar grew old and fat. The government handed environmental responsibility to Loh and she did an excellent job-major air pollutants in Hong Kong fell between 34 percent and 80 percent between 1999 and 2019.

Hong Kong had blossomed into a city in China with a world-class legal system, a lively free press, and a freewheeling economic model. "One country, two systems" had been successful.

Despite the pollution we often complained about, our longevity was the world's best, overtaking Japan's legendarily high levels.

Today, Hong Kong is again being declared deceased because China's top legislature has passed a national security law for the city. Almost everyone has them. The United States has more than a dozen.

The truth is an anti-sedition law is an essential part of a community's constitutional infrastructure, just like a spoon is a default element of a cutlery set.

Hong Kong "democracy" campaigner Martin Lee Chu-ming and his colleagues, who drafted the Basic Law, recognized this. In the late 1980s, they included an anti-subversion law under the heading Article 23.

The US recognized the nature of such laws, producing numerous overlapping ones, such as the USA Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Act.

The United Kingdom recognizes this, too. Although it abolished a sedition law for its own people, it retained it for "aliens".

When the Hong Kong government tried to legislate according to Article 23 in 2003, a huge demonstration took place.

Hong Kong's establishment, although portrayed as heavy-handed, is quite responsive. The bill was shelved.

By 2009, everyone was calmer. In Macao, the equivalent of Hong Kong's Article 23 legislation was passed with minimum complaint.

Was it "the death of Macao"? Again, no. The place thrived.

But the gap in Hong Kong's legal cutlery set has become an obvious problem in light of recent protests. Activists openly planned to bring down the government and declare independence.

Instead of pushing Article 23 into law, the problem was surmounted by good lawyering. Researchers noticed that Article 18 of the Basic Law says that national laws can be promulgated in Hong Kong by being added to Annex III of the Basic Law.

The result will be that the missing spoon will finally appear in our cutlery set. The media reports by Patten and others are saying the same thing: "They want a full cutlery set! This is outrageous! Everyone else is allowed a spoon except them! Their cutlery set must lack a spoon forever."

That attitude is clearly ridiculous.

In recent days, I have been told that loudmouth commentators like me will be the first to be silenced. This week, I had an article full of inconvenient truths censored-not by China, but by Americans. On the same afternoon, China Daily offered me this space. There's a lesson in open-mindedness right there.

We all know China can be unpredictable. But honest journalists acknowledge its record in Hong Kong has been better than predicted.

At the same time, the success rate of the people writing obituaries about Hong Kong over the past 40 years has been consistent: 100 percent wrong. Every. Single. Time. Sorry, Mr Patten.



* The author, Mr. Nury Vittachi, is a Hong Kong media commentator and author.
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