Saturday, 27 August 2011

On the (Weak) Defensive

Is Hong Kong really One Country, Two Systems? Because we think it's more like Two Countries, One system.

It's been over a week since Chinese Vice Premier Li Keqiang was in town, but questions are still unanswered and anger still simmering as to how the Hong Kong government dealt with the senior leader's visit.

Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen did not believe security measures in place violated press freedom. "I think that is complete rubbish [when people say] that we have violated civil rights. Nor have we violated freedom of speech, because every single activity of the Vice Premier has been covered by the media."

His last statement is false.

The media did not cover every single activity Li went to -- because they were not allowed to.

Last Saturday more than 300 journalists protested that photographers were obstructed from doing their job, journalists underwent stringent security checks and press areas were far away from the actual event. Also, only edited videos and articles were offered at some of the events Li attended.

During his three-day visit, Li participated in at least 22 events, but the media were only invited to 10. Information on other events including his visit to local families and a home for the elderly and meetings with other senior leaders were released through the government's Information Services Department or Xinhua.

Journalists were not allowed to ask Li any questions either.

The public was also upset by the vice premier's visit, either because security measures created a great inconvenience to them or because they were roughly handled by police. One man wore a June 4 T-shirt and was hardly near Li at all and yet the police overreacted to his apparel by trying to sequester him from Li's sight line.

The police didn't think the man should have been wearing the T-shirt, but he asks what the problem is -- can't he wear any T-shirt he wants whenever he wants?

There were also complaints of men in black suits who had no clear identification but seemed to be part of the security detail at the Grand Hyatt Hotel where Li was staying. Apparently they were the ones who stopped all guests and visitors to the hotel from literally moving until Li got into a car and left the premises. Who were these men and did they have the authority to order people around?

Whenever visits with senior leaders happen of course there are concerns about security. But is it really necessary to have Central crawling with police when Li is actually in Wan Chai?

It's also understandable the Hong Kong government doesn't want its guest of honour to see residents protesting against the Chinese government, but the city is also run by rule of law which means freedom of expression and the press.

If Hong Kong is supposed to be Asia's World City then show it -- prove to Beijing these freedoms are what make Hong Kong what it is today and still has the edge over its Chinese sister cities.

Demonstrate that Hong Kong is a healthy vibrant city that makes it competitive on a world stage because of its unique characteristics.

Also if the Hong Kong government had more foresight and pragmatism in dealing with the city's issues like the income gap, housing, and inflation then maybe it wouldn't be so embarrassed trying to hide so many unsightly problems.

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