Benny Tai’s incredible lightness of meaning

University of Hong Kong academic says one thing about independence, but really, he and his supporters assure us, he means something else

PUBLISHED : Monday, 09 April, 2018, 1:41am
UPDATED : Monday, 09 April, 2018, 1:41am

No one would deliberately keep saying something they didn’t believe in just for the sake of upholding free speech or testing its boundaries.

This is an astute observation, made by disqualified lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung during a recent online podcast. He and his co-hosts were commenting on Benny Tai Yiu-ting’s controversial take at an anti-communist forum in Taipei on an end to one-party dictatorship and the conditions for Hong Kong to declare independence.

Hongkongers rally at legislature over ‘attacks on free speech’ after Benny Tai’s independence comments

Leung is right. It’s just hypocritical and tiresome of Tai and his supporters subsequently to keep adding conditions and circumstances and hypotheticals to qualify what the University of Hong Kong law lecturer really meant. In fact, they have so watered down his original statements – available for viewing on YouTube – it would appear he is not saying much of anything at all.

An end to dictatorship in China? Well, he just meant all nations, civilisations and regimes collapse eventually. Hong Kong’s independence? You never know what the distant future holds, Tai seems to mean.

Perfectly innocuous statements, nothing to them!

No need to link Benny Tai’s independence comments to launch of national security laws, Hong Kong No 2 official says

Tai and his friends want to be able to say anything without taking responsibility for them, and any criticism is an attack on free speech. Having explained away Tai’s talk in Taipei that admittedly would mean he was saying absolutely nothing, all that is left is his freedom of speech and academic freedom to say nothing or anything, and they are under threat.

But first, what academic freedom? He offered no original research and was not talking to academic peers. “Some asked why I crossed the red line and provoked Beijing,” Tai said at a rally. “I can only ask: where is the red line?”

Benny Tai’s mob lynching and the age of intolerance in Hong Kong

Of course, if he had said nothing, no red line could have been crossed. But he actually said a lot in Taipei. He travelled there with an army of independence-minded localist student leaders, to take part in a forum organised by a long-standing pro-Taiwan independence group, to talk about an end to one-party dictatorship in China and independence for Hong Kong. Even if he had said nothing, his participation would have already said a lot.

Maybe Tai had the perfect right to say what he said. But it’s absurd to deny Beijing doesn’t have a well-defined red line or that Tai isn’t challenging it: independence for Hong Kong, independence for Taiwan, and an end to the Chinese communist regime.