Begging to differ with the government

An old joke: ‘How do you know when a politician is lying? Answer – his mouth is open’. It reflects the cynicism of people living in established democracies. In fairness, statesmen do not spend that much time trying to blatantly mislead. More usually, they spout falsehoods to pander to voters’ own SCMP-USbusinessmisconceptions; mostly, they just state obvious inanities as profound and original.

In non-democratic Hong Kong, however, senior officials today are required to insist categorically and repeatedly that total untruths and fictions are facts. With little in the way of a competent opposition to hold them to account, they get away with it. Thus many people believe that we have a shortage of space for housing, or that tourism benefits us all. But occasionally, someone will stand up and question them, or just call them out for talking rubbish.

It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy than Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen. And, as if to pile on the cruelty, fate decreed that he had to be wearing a ridiculous-looking wig at the time – the opening of the new legal year.

He pronounced at length how Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Occupy protests had attacked and damaged the city’s rule of law, and how the ongoing round-up of leading activists was not politically motivated persecution. But then the Chief Justice stepped up to mildly and more or less implicitly disagree that participants in recent events lacked respect for rule of law; he also stated, without pointing any fingers, that the law applied to the government and everyone else equally. And to finish things off, Bar Association chairman Paul Shieh criticized officials for misleading the public by blurring the difference between obedience of the law (which applies to all of us) and rule of law (which is about how rulers use or abuse the law).

Some half-clever spin doctor in government decided some time ago to portray the civil disobedience planned by pro-democrats as an assault on the ‘rule of law’, which the Hong Kong public instinctively cherish. Officials have managed to get away with repeating this lie over and again during the last year, not least because compliant media ignored critics’ objections. The Chief Justice’s words are harder to sweep aside.

The even-handed and impartial judiciary will soon be in the public eye again as the system deals with pro-democrats charged with ‘instigating’ protests. As participants in civil disobedience, the activists have by definition committed offenses, so the courts presumably have no choice but to punish them. But in a city where the authorities have for years gone easy on people organizing unauthorized protests, the decision to prosecute in these cases will obviously appear selective – as in ‘made under pressure from Beijing to kill chickens to scare monkeys’. To the extent that the government ‘wins’, the rule of law will lose.

(You can see Rimsky looking as well as sounding idiotic in his wig here, as well as a mace bearer, police bagpipers and other strange rituals that must be awkward to explain to Beijing officials.)

If the government hopes for support or sympathy from the American Chamber of Commerce, it seems it will be disappointed. At the opening of the new non-wig-wearing year, the Chamber’s chairman describes the Occupy protests as political and no big deal to business, when as a pro-establishment loyalist he should in fact be screeching that it is a great threat to civilization. Instead, he says Occupy ‘raised issues’ with companies, which we could interpret to mean it was a pain because officials were bullying businessmen into signing stupid petitions backing the embarrassing party line (though it could mean anything). He also warns that the main threat would be ‘any deviation’ from rule of law, freedom of speech or freedom of the press – which happen to be just the things many suspect Beijing wants to diminish in order to bring Hong Kong into line. Most shocking of all, he is quoted as saying: “We’re glad that Occupy is over but…”

What he says after ‘but’ is irrelevant. Occupy was an evil foreign-backed plot by brainwashed Killer School Kids to topple the Chinese government – end of story. There can be no ‘but’.

(As it happens, the Amcham boss essentially calls for the government to sit and talk with pro-democrats, when of course the government is currently working on putting the activists in chains and locking them up in cold, damp, rat-infested dungeons for decades. So, Amcham off-message again.)

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17 Responses to Begging to differ with the government

  1. gumshoe says:

    I never understood how rule of law got so twisted. You said it correctly: obeying the law is part of citizens’ responsibility, enforcing rule of law is completely up to the government. After years of letting traffic offenders run wild, blocked sidewalks in front of pharmacies, and vertical supply chains (which isn’t illegal yet, but would be in any other civilized country) squeezing literally everyone except those at the top, where does the buck stop?

  2. PD says:

    The rule of law is not operating in many of the villages, where civil servants and their subcontractors are reluctant to go in groups of less than four, where irate mobs wielding hob-nailed staves patrol, where outsiders are made to feel most unwelcome and where land regulations are systematically flouted.

  3. reductio says:


    Exactly. When the government starts to really enforce the rule of law north of Lion Rock (and Lantau; O boy, especially in Lantau) and clamps down on all the shenanigans in the NT, then I’ll pay some interest to what they’re saying.

  4. Cassowary says:

    The courts will give the Occupiers a slap on the wrist. Their real punishment will be extra-judicial.

  5. NIMBY says:

    The host and some of the guest host of Backchat (RTHK-3) hopefully will read the points on rule of law, though to be fair I doubt CY even gives a damn what anyone listening to that channel thinks. The Putonghua Channel is more important to CY.

    Rim-job Yuan looked like he was taking an unlubricated one up the back-side during his speech.

    However, when judges going on about impartiality, after making sure it’s a human speaking have a good laugh. David Webb has quite a few posts about how a surname, nationality, the shared golf club membership of the barrister and judge, or even venal money trend with the severity of sentencing in our beloved Hong Kong. Naturally it’s all coincidence, correlation not equating causation and all that. Our fine judges don’t have a racist, snobbish, greedy bone in their bodies -being sharks they just have cartilage.

  6. Bystander says:

    Rimsky Yuen – complete disinformation and what you would expect from Legal Department, oops, Dept of ‘Justice.’ (Legal Dept rode roughshod over Bill of Rights claims that localisation was unlawful as discriminatory. A bit of history.)

    Sometimes civil disobedience is required in democracies if the Govt, repeat Govt, is not getting it right. Rosa Parks broke the ‘law’ by not sitting in the back of the bus, and thus events rolled on to what we have today, Prez Obama (assuming he is more black than white.)

  7. NIMBY says:

    Don’t blame the USA today on Rosa Parks, she tried her best.

  8. Scotty Dotty says:

    Two things:

    1) Rimsky’s public speaking is not improving with age. Whoever rammed that banana up Rimsky’s rim, as it were, please remove.

    2) I agree, the Hong Kong government are abusing “rule of law” to mean “obey Beijing”. Sneaky.

  9. Scotty Dotty says:

    PS: Old lawyer joke, but appropriate:

    Q: Why did God invent lawyers?
    A: So there would be someone for estate agents to look down on

  10. PCC says:

    Man walks into a bar and says loudly, “All lawyers are arseholes!”

    Man sitting at the end of the bar says, “Hey, mister, I resent that.”

    Man who walked in says, “Why? You a lawyer?”

    Man at bar says, “No, I’m an arsehole.”

  11. PD says:

    reductio (ad absurdum?), Thanks — of course the NT lawlessness may have been there for centuries, but I do get the impression it’s getting worse.

    I in turn have appreciated your posts (and Cassowary’s and many others’) — keep them coming!

  12. Monkey Reborn says:

    One wonders the extent to which the Hong Kong political legal establishment and judiciary have been the target of Zhou Enlai’s “termite strategy”. It is sad to note that among Ludwig’s cabinet members, the best case scenario is that said member is a political opportunist, pursuing money and power and influence at the expense of personal honour and integrity; worst case scenario said member is a card carrying member of the CCP’s United Front. Given the rather murky, personal loyalty-driven nature of secret revolutionary organizations like the UF, there are two distinct possibilities in regard to the UF’s activities in Hong Kong: (1) they are executing the agreed policy/strategy of a united politburo in Beijing; (2) they are sabotaging efforts to implement such policy/strategy in order to discredit or damage the faction currently in power.

    Traditionally, Hong Kong’s UF organizations have been under the purview of Jiang Zemin and his henchman, particularly Zeng Qinghong (see Christine Loh’s great book on the CCP in Hong Kong as source). Given there is strong anecdotal and other evidence that the current CCP faction in power is strongly and actively against any form of conflagration or political demonstration in Hong Kong (for manifold reasons, not least the fear of contagion to social discontents in eastern Chinese cities – a very conservative estimate of 1~3% of 400 million is still a hell of a lot of people), a theory can be posited that many of the actions of HK Gov leaders during OC were deliberately intended to deepen social division and cause greater “chaos”, thereby undermining and discrediting the current leadership in Beijing and furthering the agenda of Jiang’s faction.

    If this theory is accurate, the trials of the OC “instigators” can provide us some insight into the state of affairs between factions in the CCP. If the trials are kept low-key and sentences are light, then we can safely assume that Xi Jinping’s faction has brought the United Front in Hong Kong into line and under some semblance of control by the current leadership. On the other hand, if Ludwig and other Exco members continue to actively create social division and conflict, putting gasoline on the fire whilst talking putting the fire out – as was obvious during the course of OC 1.0 – then we can deduce that the factional power struggle continues in earnest, and underneath the surface media image of a united CCP, there remains an endemic factional struggle with one faction intent on undermining the current leadership.

    As always, I watch what they do, and if I pay attention to what is said – as Hemmers rightly points out – I seek to understand it within the context of the social (or “mass”) forces and contradictions of our unique political situation (because this is how senior CCP leaders think – a Marxist-Leninist-Maoist social cosmology).

    p.s. the only true sign of the political liberalization of China, and IMHO this is the only path of political transformation through which the CCP has a viable future as part of the political landscape in China, is when the UF is mothballed as the obsolete, counterproductive organization that it is.

  13. Bystander says:

    If I remember correctly, and I think I do, during the localisation back stabbing in the 90s in Hong Kong, Martin Lee remarked that the concept of the rule of law was not deeply ingrained in the Chinese psyche, referring to HK Chinese at that time. He got that right !

    As Emperor Claudius said (in the TV series), all the poisons that lurk in the mud eventually hatch out. I see the present malaise as a continuation of addled thinking over the decades.

  14. NIMBY says:

    Paul Sheh is slightly off on there not being a definition of the rule of law, rather there is no definition of the rule of law within the common law system. There are however several political science definitions, the most recognised can be found here:

    What do you call 100 lawyers at the bottom of the sea?

    A good start.

  15. NIMBY says:

    Teeheehee, How will Rim-job deal with this bit of failure to conform to Rule of Law, or even Rule by Law.

  16. Scotty Dotty says:

    Alright, one more lawyer joke.

    Q: What’ the difference between lawyer and liar?
    A: The spelling.

    (Ed: That’s enough lawyer jokes)

  17. Cassowary says:

    Monkey Reborn, I hope that you are right that Xi’s faction is on the side of sanity and moderation, but given the sabre rattling in the South China Sea and the seemingly deliberate antagonisation of Tibetans and Uighurs, I am not so sure. He looks like a man on a power trip, and that is dangerous.

    It’s hard to know anything that’s going on inside the Chinese government, but one thing we can assume is that it is full of perverse incentives. The ghost towns and mathematically impossible GDP figures are proof enough. The pressures to tell superiors what they want to hear must be enormous, and when that goes wrong, it goes really wrong. Democracies have their perverse incentives too, with their inability to think beyond the next election cycle, but on the whole I much prefer them.

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