Leung Chun-ying

Leung's job is to protect our freedom to wave any flag

Keane Shum is proud of city's role in the Chinese experiment in freedom

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 November, 2012, 1:59am

It is understandable that the population of seven million in Hong Kong share different opinions on the government," Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said last Thursday.

"But, in any case, they do not need to wave the colonial flag to vent their frustrations."

When I was in university a decade ago, on the other side of the world, I used to hang up a Hong Kong flag in my dorm room or outside my window.

It was a balm to homesickness, its five stars evoking the yearning they were originally intended to, when Zeng Liansong first aligned them in 1949 on his winning design for the flag of the People's Republic of China.

It was also, as flags are, a symbol of pride: I was proud of the incredible city I called home, and proud to represent it at an esteemed institution of higher learning in the United States.

As a history major who would carry Edward Said's Orientalism under my arm across campus, I was also proud of my flag for one more reason: there was no Union Jack.

I felt - and still feel - deeply proud that the flag of my hometown was a marker of the end of imperialism all over the world.

Much of that pride rested on a leap of faith, that China would honour its word not to curtail the expansive freedoms we enjoy.

I was proud to show that Hong Kong was part of China not only because it marked the end of an empire, but also because it signalled the beginning of a new frontier, a place that could hold aloft both the freedom of expression and the flag of the People's Republic of China.

If Hong Kong was once the world's laboratory for unbridled capitalism, we are now the great Chinese experiment in freedom.

I would like to think that the chief executive wants that experiment to succeed. In fact, I believe that is his job. On July 1, Leung took an oath to uphold the Basic Law and bear allegiance to, and serve, not the People's Republic of China writ large but, specifically and exclusively, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Nowhere in his oath of office or the Basic Law does it say that the chief executive's job is to make sure Hongkongers play nice when a Chinese leader is in town.

It is not his job to mollify fading Chinese Communist Party stalwarts who call some Hong Kong people "sheer morons" and liken others to a virus.

It is not his job to tell the people of Hong Kong how we should vent our frustrations.

And it is certainly not his job to tell us whether we can wave the colonial flag, or any other flag; if we wanted his permission, we would have asked for it.

When I was in university, I once engaged in some back-and-forth with Leung in this very newspaper, questioning his commitment to universal suffrage.

He responded by quoting various provisions of the Basic Law, which, as he often reminds us, he helped draft.

So when Leung swore on July 1 to uphold the Basic Law, I presume he meant he would uphold all of it, even Articles 27 and 32, which he would know means it is as much his job to represent Hongkongers in Beijing as it is to protect our freedom of speech and our freedom of conscience.

I am proud of being from Hong Kong, and that Hong Kong is part of China.

And I am as proud today of the Hong Kong flag as I was when it used to hang in my dorm room in New England.

But it is not because Leung tells me to be. It is not his job to tell me which flag I should wave.

It is his job to make sure I can wave any flag I please.

Keane Shum is a lawyer in Hong Kong