Beijing tells Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club to call off talk by separatist party leader Andy Chan Ho-tin
But the club’s first vice-president says the August 14 event will go ahead
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has asked the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club to call off a talk by the founder of a separatist party facing a possible government ban, but organisers still intend to hold the event.
The club’s first vice-president Victor Mallet confirmed the ministry’s office in the city had made a representation to it regarding the August 14 session with Andy Chan Ho-tin, the founder of the Hong Kong National Party. It may be outlawed for being an “imminent threat” to national security.
Mallet said the club would not change its plans and the talk titled “Hong Kong Nationalism: A Politically Incorrect Guide to Hong Kong under Chinese Rule” would go ahead. It is open to FCC members, their guests and members of the media, and will be streamed live on Facebook.
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“We welcome speakers of all political views from left to right. We do not care if people are supporters of the Chinese government or opponents of the Chinese government … We like to hear views from everybody whatever their political views might be,” he said.
Beijing’s Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong issued a statement on Friday night stressing its opposition to the event.
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“We resolutely oppose any external forces providing a platform for the independence forces to spread their absurd ideas,” the statement said.
Sources familiar with the matter said the office held a meeting with the FCC this week, and the advice given was that Chan ought not to speak at the event.
Chan condemned the move by the office as an attempt to treat Hong Kong like other parts of China and to “blatantly exert pressure on the FCC”.
He also pointed out that this proved the ban on his party did not originate from local police.
“It was orchestrated from the top to the bottom. It is completely a political decision forced by Beijing,” Chan said.
The Hong Kong National Party, a small-time outfit, was thrust into the spotlight last month when Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu said he was considering a police recommendation to ban the party under the Societies Ordinance.
It would be the first time a political group was banned since Hong Kong’s return from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
Lee originally gave the party 21 days to submit arguments against the force’s proposal, but the Security Bureau later extended it by another 28 days, or until September 4.
Mallet said the club previously hosted a talk by Benny Tai Yiu-ting, the co-founder of the 79-day Occupy protests in the name of greater democracy in 2014, and tried to invite pro-Beijing politicians to speak at the same time “but they all refused even when given a chance”.
“We do try to invite people who are supporters of the Communist Party of China as well as opponents,” Mallet said.
He said the club had a “good relationship” with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and both sides had regular meetings at least once every few months.
It is understood that this is not the first time the ministry’s office here has expressed unhappiness over the FCC’s choice of speakers.
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They also voiced their dissatisfaction when US actress Mia Farrow was invited to give a speech criticising China’s ties with Sudan in 2008, and did the same when Chris Patten, the last British governor before the handover, gave a talk in 2016.
Farrow supports the movement for Tibet, an autonomous region of China, to be free. Patten has voiced support for greater political freedom for Hongkongers though he has made clear that independence advocacy is a bad idea.
According to a description of the talk on the FCC’s website, Chan will “cover a brief history of the party, and touch on what [he] feels it means to be at the helm of a movement trying to construct a national identity for Hong Kong, and his reaction to the strong resistance from the government faced by his party.
He will conclude with his view of the possible future for Hong Kong as a nation, which has drawn a very strong objection from the Hong Kong government.”
Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai also accused the ministry of undermining freedoms in the city.
“Many people disagree with Chan’s speeches but support his freedom to speak. If Hong Kong or the Beijing government do not know the difference, they are undermining our treasured freedom of speech,” he said.
Wu added that the issue centred on the internal affairs of Hong Kong, which Beijing, under the “one country, two systems” principle, should not interfere in.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association issued a statement on Friday evening, outlining concerns over what it perceived as an attempt by the ministry’s office to exert pressure on the FCC, and saying that this might encourage self-censorship among the city’s institutions.
“[We] stress that freedom of speech in Hong Kong is protected by the Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance,” the statement read.
But Professor Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, a semi-official think tank, said the ministry’s office had reasons to raise concerns.
“The talk will act as a platform for Chan to advocate independence and condemn ... [the Chinese and Hong Kong governments],” he said. “Under the tense China-US relationship, it would be fuel for Western critics.”
Although the FCC would push ahead with Chan’s talk despite Beijing’s bid, Lau said it was more of a demonstration from the central government against the event, than an actual intention to change the outcome.
He added that the ministry’s actions, however, might cause the FCC to be more wary of inviting controversial figures for future events.
In 2009, it was also reported that an FCC event headlined by Kate Saunders, a leading activist on Tibetan affairs, was postponed after pressure from the ministry’s office.
The office had suggested that the talk was too one-sided and should include a speaker representing Beijing’s views.
Saunders eventually spoke without a pro-Beijing voice at the venue.