Andy Chan’s Hong Kong independence hot air will blow over – if we stop fanning the flames
Michael Chugani says there is nothing to be gained from giving the Hong Kong National Party convenor undue attention or from clamouring for the Foreign Correspondents’ Club that hosted his talk to be evicted
Let’s have tough national security legislation that jails anyone who uses the word “independence”. And let’s kick the Foreign Correspondents’ Club out of its historic building for fomenting sedition. Turn it into a shopping centre instead. Beijing loyalists want the FCC out and Article 23 legislation in, never mind that such a double whammy could spark another local uprising and global outrage.
Not that they care. China’s growing clout has emboldened its leaders to scorn international opinion. Do they not understand that the more they attack independence activist Andy Chan Ho-tin, the more prominence they heap on him?
They should learn from Executive Council convenor Bernard Chan. Last week, he told the media, after taking a question about Andy Chan, that he would no longer discuss him because doing so would keep the spotlight on the activist.
Another pro-government Executive Council member, legislative councillor Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, told me in a TV interview that evicting the FCC for hosting a speech by Andy Chan would attract damaging media attention globally. Both Bernard Chan and Ip understand that we should let this firestorm fizzle rather than fan it.
How to knock the same sense into other Beijing loyalists baying for blood? They must understand that evicting the FCC and rushing Article 23 would be like using a megaphone to tell the world Hong Kong is muzzling the media just because of a nonsensical speech by a nobody.
Watch: Andy Chan talks about his party’s possible ban
I fully understand that Beijing is spooked by the independence movement taking root after the 2014 Occupy movement and the Mong Kok riot. But Chan lives in another universe. His National Party is a fly without wings. No one takes him seriously except his handful of delusional followers. Even pan-democrats were appalled by his letter asking US President Donald Trump to expel Hong Kong and China from the World Trade Organisation.
Instead of attacking the FCC, Beijing loyalists should thank it for letting Chan make a fool of himself with an independence vision that can only be described as cartoonish. Even Beijing loyalist Maria Tam Wai-chu admits that current laws make it impossible to prosecute him for his speech. Yet the Beijing lobby is behaving as if he has put national security under imminent threat.
Chan couldn’t have been prosecuted even under the 2003 Article 23 legislation that the government killed after half a million Hongkongers protested. Does the Beijing lobby want something harsher still this time around just to cage kooks like Chan?
Is it even possible to draft laws that would specifically ban the kind of non-violent FCC speech Chan gave, or to ban organisations from hosting such speeches? I am no legal expert but I can’t see how. If we push the envelope to make it happen, what’s to stop demands for schools and the media to ban discussions or debates about independence? Surely, that puts our way of life on a slippery slope.
Some, including former Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying, want the government to tender out the FCC building when its lease expires in 2023. But, seriously, how profitable would it be for anyone to pay market rent for a historic building that requires expensive upkeep?
It’s too small for a shopping centre. No name-brand store would touch it after what happened to the one on Pedder Street, which paid such an exorbitant rent it couldn’t sustain operations there. The sparse pedestrian traffic in the area makes it unappealing anyway.
The government could lease it to yet another rowdy bar since it’s next door to Lan Kwai Fong. Or to a club for the super-rich, further highlighting Hong Kong’s wealth gap. Maybe we could let the historic building stand empty as a reminder it conspired to stir seditious activities. Tour groups could be shown the exact spot where Chan delivered his separatist speech.
Yes, I’m being flippant, but it’s time we let this storm blow over. Keeping it brewing only raises Chan’s profile. It’s time, too, for the media not to take him seriously, since what he says is nonsense anyway.
Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong journalist and TV show host