US has launched secret plot to encourage independence of Hong Kong

Oct 05, 2011 12:00 AM

by Kent Ewing

Fourteen years after this city's handover from British to Chinese rule, the United States has launched a secret plot to encourage Hong Kong to declare independence.
Ultimately, the aim is to undermine China's rise on the world stage and reassert US dominance in Asia.

That should have been the top news story around the globe, according to Hao Tiechuan, director general of the Department of Publicity, Culture and Sports of the Central Government's Liaison Office in Hong Kong. Then again, this is the same senior official who recently urged the people of Hong Kong to adopt a Beijing-prescribed program of national education in its schools because "brainwashing is an international convention".
In other words, anything Hao says or does should be regarded as suspect. Indeed, it is astonishing that he still has a job after all of his embarrassing miscues.

The worry, however, is that his clumsy, insuppressible honesty provides a window into official thinking behind the scenes. Otherwise, why does he hold such an important position? And why hasn't he been summarily sacked for his loose tongue?
Hao's comments -- which, remarkably, he posted (and then deleted) on Sina Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter -- followed on the heels of an unusually emotional outburst about US meddling in Hong Kong affairs from the Commissioner's Office of China's Foreign Ministry in Hong Kong. Responding to WikiLeaks' release of nearly 1,000 unedited US State Department cables about Hong Kong, an office spokesman accused American diplomats of contravening international law through their brazen interference in Hong Kong affairs.

"The conduct of the US has gone beyond the functions that are stated in the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and other international laws," a spokesman was quoted as saying.
"We have justification to be concerned and discontented. We demand that the US stop erring."

A China Daily commentary, written by staff writer Bob Lee and published in the paper's Hong Kong edition, added fuel to the fire.
"In the 14 years since the handover of Hong Kong to its motherland," Lee wrote, "there has been much speculation about 'a second governing body' running Hong Kong. Now, thanks to the release of unedited US State Department cables by WikiLeaks... the whole truth has come out in the wash."

Lee then gives the address of this anti-Beijing "task force" as 26 Garden Road, where the US consulate is located.
Lee and the Foreign Ministry's local office are upset because the cables show American diplomats have engaged in regular dialogue with Hong Kong political leaders and judges who sit on the city's Court of Final Appeal. Lee even goes on to name a Hong Kong "Gang of Four" -- former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang, founder of the Democratic Party Martin Lee Chu-ming, media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying and Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun, formerly the Vatican's Bishop of Hong Kong - whom he says are the most welcome and regular invitees to consular luncheons and meetings and thus clearly conspirators in the American plot to stoke trouble here.

It seems strange, however, that a local office and a China Daily commentator should react so stridently to the cables while officials in Beijing have yet to comment on them -- probably because the "secrets" they reveal don't add up to much.
The cables cover a wide variety of topics -- from education to water supplies to speculation about who might become the city's next chief executive -- but they contain nothing that is damning or even very surprising. Surely, Beijing cannot be taken aback by the news that present US Consul General Stephen Young and his underlings hold occasional meetings with Hong Kong's movers and shakers.

In the most interesting revelation contained in the cables, Justice Kemal Bokhary is quoted as saying that he and the four other judges on the Court of Final Appeal, "seriously considered resignation" after a landmark court ruling was overturned in 1999 by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPC).
The court had ruled that mainland children born before their parents became permanent residents of Hong Kong were entitled to right of abode in the city, triggering fears that a flood of migrants would overwhelm Hong Kong's schools and social welfare system. According to the cable, dated August 28, 2007, the judges decided against resignation because they "feared they would be replaced by less independent or competent jurists".

While the date of the cable demonstrates that Bokhary was still gnawing on his resentment nearly eight years after the NPC Standing Committee's reversal of the court's judgment, its contents should surprise no one. The five judges were outraged and irate; in effect, the NPC Standing Committee had just stricken the all-important word "final" from the court's title.
Another cable recounts remarks made in 2005 by chief executive Donald Tsang Yang-kuen to then US consul general James Cunningham about the disadvantages of implementing a fully democratic political system in Hong Kong, where more than half of a population numbering 7.1 mm pays no tax.

"The great fear in Hong Kong," the chief executive is quoted as saying, "is not taxation without representation, but representation without taxation, in which the non-taxpaying majority would dictate to the taxpayers."
In another cable, a prominent local political commentator, Albert Cheng King-hon, criticizes as "incompetent" then chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen, who stepped down from his position to mount a campaign to be the city's next chief executive; Tang is considered Beijing's favoured candidate to succeed Tsang and thus the frontrunner at this point. Yet another reveals the worries of James To Kun-sun of the Democratic Party that Beijing has infiltrated the party with spies.

All this may be mildly titillating, but it is hardly big news and certainly nothing to go diplomatically apoplectic about. If the reaction to the WikiLeaks release by the Foreign Ministry's local office rattled American consular officials and those named in the cables, Hao's cyber rant left them positively dumbfounded.
"Many mainlanders do not know that forces like the US have been attempting to use Hong Kong as a bridgehead to contain the rise of China," Hao wrote on Weibo. "They don't hope for China to attain democracy and the rule of law. They just want China to fall into turmoil."

Hao went on to accuse current US consul general Young, formerly director of the American Institute of Taiwan, of using his bloated staff of several hundred employees to foment a secessionist movement in Hong Kong.
"What are they doing in such a tiny place as Hong Kong?" Hao fumed. "They intend to stir up trouble in an attempt to secede the city from China. What kind of person is US consul general Stephen Young? He is an old hand who engaged in instigating Taiwanese independence and secession in eastern European countries."

While crazy posts like this are standard fare in the Chinese blogosphere and elsewhere on the Internet, they don't usually come from senior officials carrying sensitive diplomatic portfolios. Yes, they were deleted, but how could a person in Hao's position have posted them in the first place?
Clearly, Hao needs to go. He is an embarrassment who is only doing damage to the central government's reputation in Hong Kong and beyond. More broadly, Chinese officials -- among whom maybe Hao stands as a lonely extreme -- need to rise above their increasingly inexplicable paranoia about Hong Kong and the West. It is safe to say that diplomats stationed at Chinese embassies and consulates the world over are also talking to local leaders about the important issues of the day -- as they should be -- without being accused of contravening international law.

These 960 cables show that's all American officials are doing here. If there are more sinister things going on, they are not represented in the documents released by WikiLeaks so far.
Hong Kong is part of China now. That's not going to change, and a vast majority of the people here -- including local pan-democratic politicians and visiting American diplomats -- do not want it to change.

Hong Kong needs China. The US needs China. The world needs China.
There's less and less to be paranoid about.

Kent Ewing is a Hong Kong-based teacher and writer. He can be reached at
Follow him on Twitter: @KentEwing1

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