Hong Kong independence activist Andy Chan is neither a martyr nor a threat to Chinese rule

Peter Kammerer says the overreactions to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club talk go both ways: Beijing may have made an international celebrity out of a nobody, while those coming to Chan’s defence are blowing the threat to ‘free speech’ out of proportion

PUBLISHED : Monday, 13 August, 2018, 4:01pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2018, 1:29pm

You've got to be bemused by the fuss over Hong Kong independence advocate Andy Chan Ho-tin's talk at the Foreign Correspondents' Club. Beijing has turned a nobody into a somebody by making him out to be a pariah and provided the freest of publicity to a boozy place to meet friends and contacts. Neither deserve the attention. Wrapped around it all is an outcry that the special administrative region's freedom of speech and press are being trampled on. 

Let's get some basic facts in order. Chan and the Hong Kong National Party he founded aren't a threat to Chinese sovereignty, as nobody takes them seriously or ever will. The idea that Hong Kong can stand on its own feet is fantasy.

Surely those foreign policy experts from the Chinese foreign ministry learned something about the debacle over Joshua Wong Chi-fung and his pro-democracy activism? Guys, it's simple: unnecessarily making a martyr out of somebody attracts international attention and, the next thing you know, he's on the cover of Time magazine and the haters are out in force condemning you. Do it in front of a gaggle of foreign journalists and the outcome is as predictable as the rising sun.

Next, to the FCC. It's a nice place to drink, but I wouldn't want to be a member. I've been there a few dozen times or more, to meet this colleague or that, to hear someone in the news speak, to pick up awards for my writing; a dearly departed friend, Ian Stewart, was president in what I think of as its heyday during the Vietnam war in the 1960s and early 1970s.

It's good public relations for the government to provide a venue for journalists to hang out, even if it's at market rent rates, but there are plenty of places in town to get a cold beer and gossip. What's most special about the club is where it's housed – in a grade one historic building from Victorian times, one of the best examples in Hong Kong of a protected structure being preserved and put to good use.

Cut the FCC some slack in speaker storm

And now to that most sacred of all, the supposed right for Hongkongers and the media to say and do what they want. It's there in black and white in Article 27 of the Basic Law: “Hong Kong residents shall have freedom of speech, of the press and publication; freedom of association, of assembly, of procession and demonstration.”

Anyone who takes this at face value needs a lesson in reality. I'm not going to get heavy and start quoting Voltaire, John Stuart Mill or even Frank Zappa. Freedom of anything, no matter in which place on Earth you live, depends on politics and that is determined by laws, rules, regulations and edicts.

Hong Kong has thousands of them, covering every aspect of life. Companies, online and off, the ones we use for transport or shopping and the ones we work for, have their own sets of rules we are obliged to follow. From the day we're born, there are things we can't say and do, often based on culture and tradition. The Chinese have to respect their parents and the elderly. There are words that some people consider rude or offensive, so we have to watch our tongues where and when we use them.

Watch: What is the Basic Law of Hong Kong

Why independence activists are the flat-earthers of Hong Kong

Beijing and the Hong Kong government have made their position on people seeking independence crystal clear. Whether it's an issue of sovereignty or the Communist Party being sensitive to opposition to its one-party rule is immaterial; advocates who get up in public to push the idea and those who give them space to do so will be openly criticised.

There may even come a day when it's unlawful. That would be regrettable but, in truth, it's no worse than the inability of journalists to use a handful of words considered “dirty” or to express views that harm someone's reputation.

Peter Kammerer is a senior writer at the Post