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 misconceptions; 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.)