Published: 00:40, April 17, 2024 | Updated: 10:21, April 17, 2024
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UK report on HK: Another exercise in fantasy politics
By Grenville Cross

“I absolutely adore working in the realms of fantasy,” said Richard O’Brien, the actor-musician who wrote (among other things) the crazy hit musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Many others in the United Kingdom share his passion, and have produced fantasy pieces of their own.

On April 15, the British foreign secretary, Lord (David) Cameron, stepped up to the plate. He issued a publication that would have delighted O’Brien. Titled the “Six-monthly report on Hong Kong: July to December 2023”, it is a mishmash of half-truths, distortions and imbecility.

Although Cameron’s “report” is the 54th the UK has produced since 1997, it ranks in the top five for crass stupidity (right up there with those of his discredited predecessors, Liz Truss and Dominic Raab).

As with O’Brien’s fantasies, Cameron’s production owes nothing to reality and everything to imagination. It will titillate everybody who loves fiction, and likes burying their head in the sand. Indeed, O’Brien may well feel that he has met his match in Cameron.

Although Cameron sought sensationalism, he resorted to plagiarism, rarely a good sign. He foolishly lifted lines straight out of the playbooks of Truss and Raab, both infamous Sinophobes, and the results, while farcical, are also sinister.

Cameron even bought into their long-since discredited line about the enactment of the National Security Law for Hong Kong (NSL), having breached the Sino-British Joint Declaration (JD) of 1984. If he had bothered to read the JD (which, in any event, was incorporated into the Basic Law in 1990), he would have known it said nothing about national security. As his officials should have told him, this was because national security, as in the UK, is entirely China’s concern. Whereas Margaret Thatcher never suggested otherwise in the 1980s, it is incredible that Cameron should, 30 years later, have come up with his fantastical claim.

Although unfamiliar with the JD, he must know the saying “Those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.” This, however, is exactly what he has done, while also spicing things up with a touch of hypocrisy.

In 2023, the UK introduced its National Security Act, which created a galaxy of tough offenses, gave the police sweeping new powers, and curbed suspects’ pretrial rights. Nonetheless, Cameron, presumably tongue-in-cheek, has maligned China for facilitating the passage of the NSL in 2020, even though it proved Hong Kong’s salvation.

If he were serious, he would have thanked Beijing for providing the city with the tools to thwart those who tried to wreck the “one country, two systems” (OCTS) policy. But he is not a serious player, hence his call for “China to repeal the National Security Law” (dream on, dreamer).

However, if people like Cameron, Truss and Raab continue to issue assessments of other places that are as deeply flawed as the latest “report” on Hong Kong, they must not be surprised if the countries that really matter refuse to take the UK seriously

Although the British endorsed OCTS in the JD, it was imperiled by the insurrection of 2019-20. Had China not intervened to protect OCTS in 2020 by enacting the NSL, it could have been wrecked, which presumably the UK would not have wanted to see. Instead of carping mindlessly, Cameron should have praised China for saving the day. His failure to do so is a sure sign that he does not expect his “report” to be taken seriously, and that it belongs to the world of fiction.

He should, moreover, have thanked President Xi Jinping for having indicated in 2022 that OCTS could endure after 2047. This should have delighted the UK, given that the JD only envisaged it lasting for 50 years. Instead, despite its significance, Cameron failed to explain its implications to his readers. Like many fantasists before him, he did not want to let the facts get in the way of the yarn he was spinning, and it gets worse.

Having mocked Hong Kong’s claims to be “Asia’s World City”, he disparaged the decision to apply its “national security laws extraterritorially”. As the UK, like Australia, Canada and the US, has done precisely the same thing, in, for example, its National Security Act 2023 and its Terrorism Act 2006, he is apparently unaware that national security regimes everywhere now have defensive mechanisms in place to deter malign actors from operating against them elsewhere. A charitable explanation might be that his officials have not briefed him properly, although he seemed happy enough to play along.

Although the UK has shamefully provided safe haven to criminals fleeing Hong Kong, including convicted offenders and those involved in the insurrection, Cameron went out of his way to assure them, “You are safe here.” If people from, say, Australia, France, or the US sought refuge in the UK, despite being wanted for criminal offenses in their home countries, Cameron would send them packing. If, moreover, they engaged in hostile activities targeting other countries, his government would clamp down on them very hard.

However, when undesirables from Hong Kong with criminal pedigrees use the UK as a base to destabilize China, Cameron could not be more accommodating. He assured them their presence was “valued”, and denounced the issuing of “arrest warrants and bounties” against them. He comforted them by highlighting the absence of operative extradition arrangements between the UK and China and Hong Kong (however grave their crimes). He even sought to justify their hostile activities against China on British soil as the exercise of “their right to freedom of expression”, which clearly owed more to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland than it did to Rocky Horror.

In another bizarre twist, Cameron took a swipe at “the use of colonial-era sedition laws” by the Hong Kong authorities. No context, however, was provided, and he failed to explain how the British introduced the sedition laws into Hong Kong in the 1930s. Nor did he describe how the British-controlled Hong Kong government used them liberally to prosecute journalists and others whenever it wanted, as in the 1960s, when it targeted local newspapers whose political views it disliked.

As if this was not bad enough, Cameron sought to interfere in Hong Kong’s criminal justice system as he did last December. Although the trial of the media magnate Jimmy Lai Chee-ying on national security charges is ongoing in the Court of First Instance, Cameron highlighted how he had “called for the Hong Kong authorities to end their prosecution (and) release Jimmy Lai”. As his lawyers should have explained, attempts like this to undermine an ongoing criminal trial can, as in the UK, amount to an attempt to pervert the course of public justice. Indeed, his contempt for legal norms made a mockery of the concern he expressed elsewhere in his “report” for “the rule of law”.

In a similar vein, Cameron also took a potshot at the Safeguarding National Security Ordinance (SNSO), gazetted on March 23, which provided Hong Kong with some of the national security laws the UK already has, including espionage, sabotage and foreign interference. Although he claimed the SNSO was “likely incompatible with international human rights law”, he ignored the inconvenient truth that all the rights contained in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), including the fair trial guarantees for suspects, are protected explicitly by the SNSO (and also by the NSL). This can only have been a propaganda move, and nobody should be surprised at his failure to mention that the UK’s National Security Act 2023 did not follow Hong Kong’s example by incorporating the ICCPR.

Once the UK left the European Union (EU) in 2020, many people hoped it would play a responsible role in world affairs, and take full advantage of the opportunities arising from its hard-won independence. Instead of which, it has alienated those who could have helped it, and become even more subservient to the US than it was before it joined the EU in 1973. Although it prostrated itself before Uncle Sam and eagerly did its bidding, Washington has refused to give it a free trade deal. Everybody who wants Britain to once again walk tall on the global stage and be a significant player, and there are many, will have been greatly saddened by its government’s myopia and the lack of visionary statesmen in its body politic.

However, if people like Cameron, Truss and Raab continue to issue assessments of other places that are as deeply flawed as the latest “report” on Hong Kong, they must not be surprised if the countries that really matter refuse to take the UK seriously.

The author is a senior counsel and law professor, and was previously the director of public prosecutions of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.