On Oct 17, 2022, after an incident at China’s consulate in Manchester, England, the UK’s Sinophobes rubbed their hands in glee. Apart, perhaps, from former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith, nobody was more delighted than the serial fantasist, Benedict Rogers, who co-founded Hong Kong Watch (HKW), the London-based anti-China propaganda outfit, in 2017. He, like Duncan Smith, sensed a fresh opportunity to demonize China.
Although it is not known if HKW was involved, a man was apparently injured in a scuffle after black-clad provocateurs, including Hong Kong secessionists, staged an incident at the consulate’s main entrance. Video recordings show inflammatory and vulgar materials being displayed, including a poster insulting President Xi Jinping, and the intention appears to have been to provoke consular officials. Although, as in Hong Kong, free speech is protected in England, it is an offense, contrary to the Public Order Act 1986 (Sect.4), for a person to display to another person “any writing, sign or other visible representation” that is “abusive or insulting”, with intent to provoke unlawful violence by that person or another, which is exactly what appears to have happened in Manchester, and the Crown Prosecution Service will hopefully keep this in mind in due course.
As things stand, however, the facts are yet to be established, and a spokesman for the Greater Manchester Police said “enquiries are ongoing at this time to understand the full circumstances”. According to one report, a man was dragged into the consulate’s compound and assaulted, while another suggested the provocateurs entered the premises illegally, with at least one consulate official being injured in the melee.
As things stand, however, the facts are yet to be established, and a spokesman for the Greater Manchester Police said “enquiries are ongoing at this time to understand the full circumstances”. According to one report, a man was dragged into the consulate’s compound and assaulted, while another suggested the provocateurs entered the premises illegally, with at least one consulate official being injured in the melee
Although the British foreign office minister, Jesse Norman, has cautioned everyone to await the outcome of the police investigation, this has not deterred Rogers from rushing to judgment. Having deplored the “appalling scenes” at the consulate, he told the Center for Policy Studies (CAPX), a center-right think tank, that “Chinese diplomats must not be allowed to impose their barbaric, repressive rule on our streets”. Then, with the bit between his teeth, he even called on the government to consider “reviewing China’s plans for a new embassy next to Tower Bridge”, as this would let Beijing know that “we are no longer prepared to be cowed either by China’s money or its thuggery”.
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Quite clearly, Rogers imagines that this sort of grandstanding will help the sales of his new book on China, due to be released this month, and good luck to him with that.
The book, intriguingly, comes with a preface by Nathan Law Kwun-chung, whom Rogers, despite his criminal record for violence, calls his “hero”, and a foreword by Lord (David) Alton, a Hong Kong Watch patron, who acts as Rogers’ spokesman in Britain’s House of Lords. Indeed, Rogers mobilized Alton on Oct 18, and he duly told the parliamentarians, with a straight face, that there had been “grievous bodily harm” to a “peaceful protester” (the footage showed only minor cuts), and that the incident indicated that the Communist Party of China, which had imported its “brutality” to the UK, believed it was “above the law”. After a performance like this, the least that Rogers can do is to give Alton a share of his royalties, assuming there are any.
The last time Rogers tried to sensationalize a minor consular incident was in 2020, when he was left with egg all over his face. On Jan 11, the Hong Kong police arrested a female protester outside the UK’s consulate general, in Central district. She was found with a can of spray paint and was suspected of causing criminal damage. It transpired that she was part of a small group of people who had been mounting a static protest outside the consulate for several weeks, and the police said they had intervened after receiving a crime report from the consulate itself.
However, sensing an opportunity for mischief-making, Rogers immediately weighed in from London. He said he found it “extremely disturbing” that the police had acted as they did, and that their conduct was “unnecessary”. He even called on the British government “to issue an urgent statement both in defense of the right to peaceful protest and its own boundaries and diplomatic protocols”.
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His colleague, Luke de Pulford, who now sits on HKW’s Advisory Board, also tried to stir things up. He declared, “It seems clear from the primary documents that this was inviolable UK land, and that the police should not have been operating there at all, except at the invitation of the consul general.”
However, neither Rogers nor de Pulford had conducted elementary fact-checking, which was unsurprising, as all they wanted was cheap publicity, and the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office set the record straight on Jan 14. It confirmed that its consulate had advised the police “of a potential criminal act being committed outside the consulate”, as a result of which an individual had been arrested. It then added that the arrest had been made on land which “does not carry any special status under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations”.
Notwithstanding their blunders, neither Rogers nor de Pulford apologized, and simply resumed their hostile activities. It is, however, a little surprising that, having burned his fingers once, Rogers has again rushed in before the police investigations into the Manchester incident are complete. Quite clearly, those prospective book sales must be a powerful incentive for him to throw caution to the wind.
Over the past month, moreover, HKW has been involved in various efforts to harm Hong Kong, although all have little chance of success, at least for now.
On Sept 28, 2022, Hong Kong’s former chief justice, Geoffrey Ma Tao-li, delivered the Peter Taylor Memorial Address, at Grays Inn, London, and spoke on “Fearless Advocacy: More Relevant and Practical than Romantic”. He reportedly told the assembled judges and barristers that judges have to be impartial and impervious to political pressure, and can decide cases only on the basis of the facts and the law. He dismissed the idea that judges in Hong Kong are handpicked by Beijing to oversee national security trials, and opined that Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, and others accused under the National Security Law for Hong Kong would receive a fair trial.
Although HKW’s activities are undoubtedly being monitored by those responsible for safeguarding Hong Kong, it is incumbent upon everybody who loves the city to step up to the plate and be counted. However tempting it may be, simply sitting back cannot be an option, and citizens must rally around. As history has so often demonstrated, the wicked can only succeed when the righteous do nothing
Ma’s views were apparently well-received by his audience, although they did not go down so well with HKW. On Oct 7, Sam Goodman, its director of policy and advocacy, joined hands with disgraced former legislator Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, and accused Ma, in an opinion piece for The Diplomat, of having presented a “fictionalized version of Hong Kong”. Although Ma had explained to his audience that the legal system in Hong Kong is working well, Goodman and Kwok were determined to debunk his message, even condemning the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal for having “handed down the harshest interpretation for bail under the National Security Law”.
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What also irked the pair was a recent report in The Times which showed that, in 2021, the top 30 UK law firms by revenue had 304 partners in Hong Kong, and that at least 13 sets of barristers’ chambers had a presence in the city. They called on the British lawyers to reconsider their involvement in Hong Kong, warning that “Chinese Communist Party rule is ultimately incompatible with the running of a functioning legal system based on English common law”. What, therefore, HKW is hoping to achieve is the disengagement of Britain’s legal community from Hong Kong, thereby undermining its legal system. This effort, of course, complements its earlier campaign (and that of Duncan Smith) to pressurize the British judges into resigning from the Hong Kong Court of Final, which most have bravely ignored, with only two having buckled.
On Oct 12, 2022, moreover, it emerged that HKW was spearheading another assault on Hong Kong, this time designed to harm its economy. As Hong Kong has 14 Economic and Trade Offices around the world, it called for them to be stripped of their status and closed down. These offices are useful, as they promote global understanding of the city, advance its economic and trade interests, and support overseas enterprises wanting to expand their businesses in Hong Kong.
These, of course, are the very last things HKW wants to see, given its commitment to undermining China. Its research and policy adviser, Anouk Wear, who grew up in Hong Kong, declared that the 14 offices had to be shut as “they now indirectly represent the interests of the PRC”, which is a little strange, given that Hong Kong has been a special administrative region of the PRC since 1997. What, however, really upsets HKW is the good work the 14 offices are doing in terms of encouraging investment, tourism and connectivity, a point illustrated by yet another hostile initiative.
On Nov 2, 2022, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority is holding its Global Financial Leaders’ Investment Summit, at the Four Seasons Hotel. It was originally announced by the financial secretary, Paul Chan Mo-po, in his 2022-23 budget, and it will bring together global financial leaders from banks, securities companies, private equity and venture capital firms, hedge funds, asset managers and insurers. It will be an important opportunity for the guests not only to exchange ideas, but also to see for themselves what the HKMA chief executive, Eddie Yue Wai-man, calls “the resilience and vibrancy that define Hong Kong”, as well as the opportunities the “city offers to pivot their businesses to the burgeoning Asian markets”.
This summit, therefore, will clearly benefit Hong Kong and its people, and this is exactly why the city’s adversaries want to derail it. A US-based entity, “The Campaign for Hong Kong”, whose founder and president is Samuel Chu Muk-man, has circulated a draft letter for organizations and individuals to sign and forward to the potential attendees. It says their participation will be seen “as tacit approval of the ongoing brutal crackdown on Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement”, and even resorts to threats, suggesting that attendance “raises serious questions about potential violations” of US sanctions laws. It concludes with the advice that, if the addressees want to stand with Hong Kong, “you must not stand alongside John Lee”, a reference to the chief executive, John Lee Ka-chiu, who will be addressing the summit.
Samuel Chu is well-known in anti-China circles, and, until 2021, was the managing director of another US-based body, the Hong Kong Democracy Council (HKDC). In that capacity, he campaigned in the US for laws that would harm both Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland. He urged the US Congress to enact the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act and the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, and these resulted in punitive sanctions. On July 14, 2020, after the then-US president, Donald Trump, signed into law harsher sanctions, and revoked the special status Hong Kong enjoyed under the Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992, Chu’s response was to “urge Congress and the administration to look into additional sanctions and regulations that would target China’s economy and US-based businesses complicit in the CCP’s global aggression”.
Although Chu resigned as managing director of the HKDC last year, he will undoubtedly have maintained his links with it, not least because it can provide him with ready access to HKW. Indeed, the two bodies maintain close links, and, for example, the convicted felon and fugitive offender Ted Hui Chi-fung sits on the advisory boards of both, and is well-placed to provide liaison between Chu and Rogers. So also is Nathan Law, who, as a UK-based Rogers stooge, sits on HKDC’s advisory board.
It does not, therefore, require a genius to work out that Rogers will, in all likelihood, have been privy to Chu’s letter, and may actually have had a hand in its drafting. After all, HKW has shown repeatedly that it is capable of any type of skullduggery, and it would like nothing better than to scupper a summit designed to enhance Hong Kong’s economic fortunes and improve the livelihoods of its people.
Although HKW’s activities are undoubtedly being monitored by those responsible for safeguarding Hong Kong, it is incumbent upon everybody who loves the city to step up to the plate and be counted. However tempting it may be, simply sitting back cannot be an option, and citizens must rally around. As history has so often demonstrated, the wicked can only succeed when the righteous do nothing.
The author is a senior counsel and law professor, and was previously the director of public prosecutions of the Hong Kong SAR.
The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.