US Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks for the release of the State Department's annual Human Rights Report. Photo: EPA

America losing the public opinion war in Asia

Lau Nai-keung bristles at the unfairness of its human rights report

This newspaper is carefully read in some quarters. I found this out through one of the WikiLeaks cables that originated several years ago from the US Consulate General in Hong Kong, about the city's water supply. Some very conscientious readers incorporated into the dispatch what I wrote in an article on the subject.

Last November, this newspaper carried a report on the proposed legislation to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people from discrimination.

In it, Leticia Lee See-yin, president of the Federation of Parent-Teacher Associations of Yau Tsim Mong District, was quoted as saying that the society feared that legislation against discrimination might make it illegal for schools - especially religious ones - to teach that homosexuality is wrong.

This was picked up by the US consulate, but their counterparts back home in the State Department were sloppier this time.

Without seriously checking the context of this remark to a reporter, and without knowing that this actually reflected the values of the Hong Kong mainstream, the United States government, in its 2012 human rights report on the city, named this non-governmental organisation for opposing the legislation.

Naming this federation in this way, which is tantamount to accusing it of human rights violation, is unjustifiable.


Lee called a press conference and filed a complaint to the US State Department, demanding a retraction and an apology.

She made some very good points. To start with, what a Hong Kong NGO said is none of the US State Department's business. Surely vilifying the opinion of one NGO in an official report for worldwide consumption constitutes a blatant violation of the freedom of opinion and expression, under Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, not to mention the first amendment to the US Constitution.

In addition, it also violated Article 26(3) of the UN declaration, which states: "Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children." As a parent-teacher association, it has a duty to voice the concerns of its members.

Ironically, the US took a leading role in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Yet, it still does not have nationwide legislation regarding the discrimination of the gay community.


No doubt, the State Department will issue an official reply in due course, acknowledging the facts, ditching the issue and insisting that America's noble mission is to uphold human rights in any corner of the earth.

As a post-war baby, I grew up during the zenith of Pax Americana and the Anglo-Saxon culture and could not help but be dazzled by everything associated with it during my youth. Now, the million-dollar question many Americans are asking is: why does the world hate us?


I can't speak for the people in the Middle East and Afghanistan, but in this part of the world, "disenchantment" would be a more appropriate feeling.

Stripped of their halos, Americans are no longer seen as supermen who can save the world; they are more likely to be seen as double-crossing hypocrites who still think that by putting up a self-righteous front they can carry on fooling all the people all the time.

There may be little that Lee or her association can do to redress the issue, but she is free to despise this country. And she can do so without fear of revenge. This is no way for the US to win friends and influence people, and certainly no way to further the cause of sexual minorities.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: US leads - in how not to win friends and influence people