How can Martin Lee really be a traitor?

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 October, 2007, 12:00am

There is a stench of political rot in the air. It has to do with self-proclaimed China patriots acting like attack dogs. But they exhibit moral outrage only for self-gain. They ripped into Martin Lee Chu-ming for linking the Beijing Olympics to the mainland's human rights behaviour. But they muzzled their mouths when Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen linked the Cultural Revolution to democracy.

That alone tells you something about these so-called Beijing loyalists. They are obedient to the point that they know exactly when to bark and when to sit still. Right on cue, they labelled Mr Lee a traitor for his newspaper article urging the US to use the Olympics to pressure Beijing on human rights.

But my question to these self-styled patriots is this: How can Mr Lee be a traitor to a country that has already disowned him? His home-return permit was cancelled in the 1980s and he has not been allowed back since. Those now rabidly attacking Mr Lee must first answer this before they can credibly call him a running dog who sold out his country by inviting foreign interference.

In the article, Mr Lee referred to China as 'my country'. In trying to dowse the firestorm fanned by Beijing loyalists, Democratic Party members placed newspaper adverts in which they too described China as 'our country' even though many are also banned from the mainland.

Is China really the country of Mr Lee and the other banned democrats, in practical terms, when they cannot even cross the border? The Beijing loyalists must make this clear before they employ further mob tactics to undercut the democrats in the December by-election contest featuring Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee and Anson Chan Fang On-sang. If the answer is 'yes', the attack dogs must turn on their own masters and demand that Beijing reinstate all home-return permits. If the answer is 'no', they must muzzle their mouths.

What is so repugnant about the attack on Mr Lee is that it uses patriotism to stifle free speech. US President George W. Bush used the same tactic in the aftermath of the September 11 terror attacks to bring down his critics. His jingoistic jabs at all those who disagreed with his Iraq invasion, torturing of terror suspects, curbing of civil liberties, and disregard for human rights created a fear among independent thinkers that took a terrible toll on free speech. That dark period is now thankfully behind us.

What is so jarring about the twisted words from Beijing mouthpieces such as Tsang Hin-chi is that Mr Lee's article does not advocate a boycott of next year's Olympics. In fact, he wants the event to proceed so that China can be made to see the sense in cleaning up its human rights act before the arrival of the international media.

Urging outsiders to talk some sense into China about democracy does not make Mr Lee a traitor. It is no different from pro- Beijing groups visiting the west to invite foreigners to take an active interest in post-handover Hong Kong.

The difference between Mr Lee and the Beijing mouthpieces is that he says what he thinks is good for the country that has disowned him, whereas they only say what they think will please their masters. He dares put his head on the block. They dare say only what they are told to say. That makes Mr Lee the better patriot.

Michael Chugani is a columnist and broadcaster.