Decoding the message in America's humdrum cables

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 September, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 September, 2011, 12:00am


The recent release of nearly 1,000 cable dispatches from the US consulate in Hong Kong by WikiLeaks is quite an eye-opener. They covered topics and events both big and small.

Going through some of these cables, the information is on the whole not any more revealing than most reports in any newspaper. Surely the hundreds of employees in what is purportedly one of the largest American overseas consular outposts must have more worthwhile endeavours than writing such humdrum dispatches.

Unsurprisingly, most of the classified cables are marked 'confidential', the lowest level of classification. Several were classified 'secret', and one of them relates to Democratic lawmaker James To Kun-sun. According to the cable, To sought help from the Americans to stop communist infiltration in the Democratic Party. His information apparently earned him a 'strictly protect' description in the cable. He probably named some names, although none was mentioned in the cable.

I wonder just what kind of protection the US consulate in Hong Kong had in mind. And, protection from what? Expulsion from the Democratic Party? Perhaps, and that is why I am very curious about the party's official reaction to what would appear to be such an obvious betrayal of its fellow members to a foreign government.

From this, we may be able to deduce the extent of influence the American government has over the Democratic Party. So far, the party has treated the whole thing as if nothing happened, and this seems odd.

More bewildering is the revelation that another member of the party, Professor Law Chi-kwong, described as a party strategist, was also tagged with a 'protect' label in a separate cable. In the document, he made a comment about the Civic Party, but that obviously would not have earned him such a 'special privilege'. What role is Law playing in Hong Kong's political arena, then? Apart from why, the same questions of protection from what and how also haunt me. WikiLeaks offers more questions than answers.

The most shocking disclosure in the leaked cables is Mr Justice Kemal Bokhary's divulgence of the thinking of all the then judges of the Court of Final Appeal regarding the National People's Congress Standing Committee interpretation of the Basic Law in June 1999 that overturned their right-of-abode ruling. It is highly indiscreet for a judge to mingle frequently with foreign officials, and totally improper to offer them information about the inner workings of Hong Kong's top court.

Looking at the bigger picture, the contents of the cables are so encompassing that one might wonder what business the Americans have here in Hong Kong. From the above examples, it seems they are interested in the internal rivalries of the Democratic Party, the competition between the Democratic Party and the Civic Party, as well as the mentality of our top judges.

What would the official American reaction be if they were to find that the Chinese government, for example, was deeply concerned about the Teamsters union being infiltrated by its Democrats - to the extent of offering protection to an informant?

Nobody would be so naive as to believe that the American government just filed these reports away and did nothing. Again, this begs more questions than answers.

It nevertheless reaffirms the long-held suspicion that the US consulate in Hong Kong has for many years been up to its neck in local politics.

There always seems to be a pair of white gloves behind various political parties here. Obviously, the ultimate object is not this small economy of only 7 million people, but an emerging China, and we are just innocently caught in the crossfire.

For one thing, people will from now on see our dissident parties, in particular the Democratic Party, in a different light. And, perhaps, our court as well.

Lau Nai-keung is a member of the Basic Law Committee of the NPC Standing Committee, and also a member of the Commission on Strategic Development