Warnings of dark plots by foreigners hide darker intentions
Stephen Vines says they're trying to stigmatise calls for democracy
Everyone likes a chuckle, and so connoisseurs of the absurd should give heartfelt thanks to Hao Tiechuan , the propaganda chief at the central government's liaison office. Hao's latest venture found him accusing Britain of trying to stir up trouble in Hong Kong following an article in this newspaper by Hugo Swire, a UK junior foreign minister.
The reality is that the British government barely gives Hong Kong a passing thought and has not done much since 1997. No doubt the fine people at the Foreign Office in Whitehall will strenuously object and point out that they issue a six-monthly report on the implementation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, alongside dispatching various luminaries for what amounts to trade missions.
Yet, according to Hao, "since 1994 [sic], Britain has tried to retain its benefits and influence in Hong Kong and tried to cause difficulties and troubles for the future SAR government and China".
He does not elaborate why 1994 is his chosen date but he is presumably referring to the political reforms introduced by governor Chris Patten at this time, which were, just for the record, opposed by the pan-democrats.
Surely he can't be talking about the anodyne six-monthly reports from the Foreign Office crafted in advanced diplomatese. Or maybe he objects to the fact that officials, such as Swire, have the temerity to turn up here on visits where they quaff a few cocktails, do the dreary round of meeting government officials and then go home to tackle more pressing issues.
The reality, contrary to Hao's fantasy about Britain always stirring up trouble in the colonies from which it retreated, is that once the Union flag has been hauled down, the British have a pretty consistent record of turning their back on the former colonies, especially in places where their departure was accompanied by turmoil, as, for example, in Zimbabwe, Kenya and Palestine.
Of course, the Brits issued big statements deploring violence and expressing hope for unity, etc., but in reality British officials believed that, once colonial rule ended, they did best by doing nothing.
In the case of Hong Kong, Britain was not faced with blood on the streets following the end of colonial rule but, then again, this was the only colony that was never offered the option of self-rule in deference to the very strong wishes of the incoming rulers. Indeed, British post-1997 policy has largely been premised on the need to get a whole lot friendlier with China after the colonial baggage was cleared away.
Hao does not let the record contradict his story because he is on a special mission, which involves attacking the hapless Swire, alongside equally vitriolic attacks on American meddling in Hong Kong. It is safe to say that if Hong Kong ranks low on the list of British foreign policy priorities, it ranks even lower on America's must-do list.
Hao is not interested in this because he has a very specific agenda, which is to imply that pressure for democratic reform is somehow foreign in origin and that those advocating democracy are little more than puppets of foreign powers. This tactic is hardly new or indeed exclusive to China. Authoritarian regimes intent on preserving their control generally accuse those who oppose them of being the tools of dark foreign intervention.
The truth in Hong Kong is that pressure for democratic reform comes from within and, paradoxically, although this place prides itself on being an international city, the rest of the world is really not much bothered by its internal politics. However, if the call for democracy can be stigmatised as being something alien and part of a dark plot, some feeble minds might just believe this nonsense.
Stephen Vines is a Hong Kong-based journalist and entrepreneur