Thought-crimes here we come?

Looking back, it is clear that since Xi Jinping came to power in late 2012, the Chinese government has decided to take the post-1997 gloves off and start smacking Hong Kong around as if the city were a bunch of uppity Tibetans. Hong Kong Chief Executive CY Leung – installed in office not long before – has seemed all too eager to go along with Beijing’s new ‘get tough’ approach. But most of the city’s top bureaucrats and other officials find themselves in an almost-impossible position.

Previously, they saw their role as broadly reflecting local needs in reconciling the contradictions in ‘One Country, Two Systems’. They performed ‘patriotic’ rituals for National Day flag-raising and other occasions. But otherwise they promoted and implicitly defended Hong Kong’s non-Mainland/Communist Party characteristics – every speech to an international audience stressing all the ‘rule of law’, ‘free press’, ‘clean government’ stuff to the point of tediousness.

Since around 2013, the city’s sovereign has increasingly required them to publicly downplay or disown these local values. A perfect example of this is how to treat Hong Kong’s supposed ‘independence movement’.

Thanks to Beijing’s cumulative mishandling of Hong Kong, the previously unthinkable and, in purely constitutional terms, laughable concept of separatism has gained traction, especially among younger people. Some may be idealistic and sincere. But in effect this is protest by trolling – the young localists have found one of Beijing’s hyper-sensitive nerves, and they are mercilessly needling it for all it’s worth.

Chinese official spokesmen predictably take the bait and sternly warn that calls for independence are illegal. Hong Kong’s local officials awkwardly respond using ambiguous wording – saying independence is ‘contrary to’ the law, as in ‘disagrees with’ rather than ‘breaches’ it. State media spot this ruse and accuse the Hong Kong government of doing nothing. Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen whines that he is indeed examining the law to see whether some part of it might apply to independence advocates.

Now, Hong Kong’s former top public prosecutor declares that peaceful expression of an opinion is no crime – as everyone has assumed all along. Pro-Beijing politicians lusting for approval from the central government start talking blatant crap in their attempts to shoe-shine…


Regina Ip suggests that pro-independence groups might be committing sedition by recruiting more members. And the even-more embarrassing Priscilla Leung maintains that expressing an opinion can become illegal when more than a certain number of people do it (the Wang Zhenmin ‘dinner table’ test).

Other top officials, notably the Constitutional Affairs and Security ministers, waffle helplessly as the local press demand an answer to the quandary: do you round up dissidents in line with Communist Party instructions, or do you maintain freedom of speech in line with our status as a civilized international financial centre? (‘Rimsky has answered this already’ they splutter.)

If the Hong Kong government states that no law exists against expression of the idea of independence, it will invite pressure from Beijing to outlaw thoughts. Should the local administration try to comply – it will have no choice – it will invite widespread 2003-style resistance, more trolls calling for independence (or jokily turning themselves in to the cops), and international concerns about rule of law.

If the local government tries to prosecute localists for expressing ideas about separatism, the same thing will happen. If the courts reject the cases, you go back to the ‘pressure from Beijing to outlaw thoughts’ scenario. If the government somehow gets convictions, you still go back to the ‘widespread 2003-style resistance’ scenario, complete with martyrs.

Whatever happens from here, it looks like a mess.

The only way out is for Beijing’s officials to grow up and learn how to handle a pluralistic society – which means putting the gloves back on and letting the local officials run the city as distinct from the motherland again. How likely does that sound?


This entry was posted in Blog. Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Thought-crimes here we come?

  1. Cassowary says:

    Here’s the thing. They arguably might decide that it is preferable to provoke another round of backlash than to sit by and let these uppity snits humiliate them by openly calling for independence. They survived 2003. They survived the Umbrella Movement. It may have only emboldened them.

    Because they learned that the big multinational banks will not flee because of mass protests or months-long sit-ins. They will not even flee because of the deterioration of the rule of law or freedom of the press. There is too much goddamn money to be made. Short of a full-scale massacre, their money laundering base will be safe. Angry citizens? Whatever. You have a picnic, you get ants.

  2. The Chinese should treat its colonies the way the USA treats its sixteen colonies in Puerto Rico, Samoa, Guam and so on – with lavish supplies of cheese balls and subsisdised McDonalds and lots of spin-offs like CIA dungeons, secret airfields and spy satellite tracking stations which bring wealth to the community. Instead all we get is angry rhetoric.

    Test of today: where is Diego Garcia and why should Britons hang their heads in shame? It wasn’t deportation, it was resettlement. Oh yes.

    China is pretty new to colonialism. Give them a chance.

  3. reductio says:

    The comments section in the Post went into hyper drive following G. Cross’s comments. Including this considered response: “this guy needs a good old fashioned beating.” Meanwhile the government once again does its level best to fan the flames: $52 million in unpaid bills from mainland mothers doing a runner after birth (holding the birth certificate of course.)

  4. PCC says:

    Hong Kong independence is an absurd idea but the CCP takes advocacy of any form of splittism very seriously indeed. The pro-independence agitators are writing cheques that the rest of us may have to cash.

  5. Stephen says:

    Since that fateful day four years ago when CY scraped his way to 689 votes to beat, the woeful establishment candidate, Henry Tang the CCP has managed to lose the next generation. Worse still (for the CCP) is that the next generation seem and a lot more radical and politically savvy than the current crop. So what’s the plan ? A September triumphant United Front victory in Legco, a funky new Article 23 complete with thought crime and five more glorious years of CY ? I hope in five years’ time Carrie, in Chipping Norton and John, in Paris ponder their not too insignificant part in speeding up HK’s death spiral. Thirty pieces of silver …

  6. Walter De Havilland says:

    Old Grenville is no slouch in the ‘twisting the law’ department. The Sally Aw case tells a story.

  7. Quick Silver says:

    Hasn’t Hong Kong retained the death penalty for the crimes of treason and sedition (only)?

  8. Maugrim says:

    It’s not often you see the words Priscilla Leung and scholar in the same sentence.

  9. dimuendo says:

    How come Greville, as the longest serving DPP, was (thankfully) not offered a High Court judgeship?

  10. dimuendo says:

    Should add that his comments, on this occasion as reported, seem eminently sensible.

  11. Qian Jin says:

    @” Quick Silver : Hasn’t Hong Kong retained the death penalty for the crimes of treason and sedition ?
    Your confusing us with USA where you can get the death penalty for merely “giving comfort to the enemy”

  12. Headache says:

    Adding a couple more layers of irony: Xi calls for greater tolerance of “well-intentioned” online criticism of China’s governance; comments in response are promptly censored. Mini-Mao’s own 1000 flowers or just the usual bullshit and back-asswards management?

  13. Headache says:

    @QJ (yes, I know, I shouldn’t…)

    Interesting. When was the last such death sentence? As compared to China, where someone got the death penalty just a few days ago for leaking state secrets.

  14. dimuendo says:

    Qain Jie

    “Your confusing…”! Surely “you are confusing….”. You would not happen to be from the USA , would you?

  15. Walter De Havilland says:

    @dimuendo – Grenville was apparently offered a position as a judge, but declined. I believe it’s difficult to snipe at your old bosses when constrained by court etiquette.

  16. dimuendo says:


    Thanks. If your info is correct then, sadly, GC goes up (v slightly) in my estimation.

  17. LRE says:

    Mmmmmm Mini-Mao is splendid. But might I suggest you always use his full title: Mini-Mao Xi?

Comments are closed.