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Who is still safeguarding the core values of Hong Kong?

Editor's note: This is translated by the author from his original Chinese article: 香港的核心價值有人悍衞嗎?

By HUNG Wing-tat
What are the core values of Hong Kong? 

When Hong Kong reverted to China Mainland, debate on the core values of Hong Kong was heated up within and outside Government. The society of Hong Kong foresaw that the huge ideological differences in seeing and doing things between Hong Kong and the mainland might have immense impacts on the SAR. The People of Hong Kong hoped to consolidate our core values and tried to safeguard these values with all means. The debate was crystalized typically in the “Declaration of the core values of Hong Kong” co-signed by around 300 academics and professionals in 2004. The co-signers stipulated that these core values are: freedom, democracy, human rights, rule of law, equity, justice, peace, love, integrity, transparency, diversity, inclusiveness, mutual respect, and professionalism.

The co-signers spoke about the core values of Hong Kong in a press conference in June, 2004. Photo: Apple Daily

The Chief Executive elected in 2012, Mr. LEUNG Chun-ying, in responding to this call, at his campaign victory speech declared that rule of law, human rights, integrity, clean government, freedom of press, freedom of speech and freedom of gathering are core values of Hong Kong.  The wordings used by the Government news release was; “In the press interview right after his election, Mr. LEUNG Chun-ying expressed that safeguarding the core values of Hong Kong was his firm belief.  He described the rule of law, human rights, integrity, clean government, freedoms of press, speech and gathering are integral important elements for the “one country two system.  He assured the people of Hong Kong the rights and freedom that citizens enjoyed today would not change after he assumed office.” 

A snapshot of the Chinese press release carrying the interview of Leung Chun-Ying after the election of the Chief Executive. Photo: web.archive.org

Along with the people of Hong Kong, including the press, irrespective of their beliefs and political stand came to a consensus, in line with the social norms that the core values of Hong Kong were prioritize as follows: freedom (including freedom of movement in and out of Hong Kong as well as speech, gathering and press freedom), rule of law, human rights, democracy, transparency, equity, fair, integrity, clean government etc. People considered these the fundamental elements of the core values of Hong Kong and that they were fundamental to the success of Hong Kong. Observers, thereafter, monitored the change of these fundamental elements as an indicator to gauge whether the one country two system arrangement was allowing Hong Kong to continue to flourish. 

However, there was a clear turning point in 2019 when the Beijing Central Government appointed Mr. LUO Huining who was a high-ranking Communist cadre having served as a Provincial Party Secretary to head and re-align the Liaison Office. The Government’s stand in safeguarding the core values of Hong Kong had a subtle change. Patriotism and National Security became the policy spindle and prevail above all other considerations. The People of Hong Kong now wonder whether there remains any core values of Hong Kong and who are there to safeguard them.

The upmost important core value of Hong Kong is, no doubt, freedom. The Government’s attitude towards freedom has been worrying in the last two years. The Apple Daily became obviously the top media to be attacked, the Cable Television and the Radio Television of Hong Kong (RTHK) have been hampered in a black box operation. Reporters who are seen doing their jobs consciencely and responsibly by the public had their contracts terminated/not renewed, or left in solidarity of their co-workers, which, of course, upset the public tremendously.  In particular, the Government has not offered any explanation to the public for their actions on RTHK, which is funded by the tax payers. These actions affecting up to millions of listeners. 

Government officials not only undermine press freedom, they diminish the core values akin to giving them up all together. People are left heartbroken but are unable to take action. While press freedom is undermined, the freedom of speech is also suffering. The respectful critical commentators, Mr. LEE Yee and Professor Joseph LIAN Yi-zheng have been forced into retirement from traditional key newspaper media. The media are either scared to publish their critiques or commentators feel there is too much red-tape that is blurred and changing, resulting that they don’t feel like writing any more. The column of another renounced senior commentator Mr. LAM Hang-chi has been halted for weeks without announcement of a resumption date. I wish him good health and hope that he has not come to the stage that he has nothing to say. (Editor's note: Mr LAM has resumed the writing of his column at HKEJ on 11th May.) A glance at the traditional key newspapers can easily find that diversity of criticisms has been sharply faded after the implementation of the National Security Law. Not only have articles from distinguished figures of the pan-democratic camp disappeared, the reports on these figures and their related news are few and far between. The habitual writers who used to criticize the pan-democrats feel lonely due to the disappearance of their counterparts!

The freedom of gathering has nearly been totally forbidden; the annual June 4 candle light vigil in Victoria Park is of course not allowed and the demonstration gathering for workers’ right are not on the street any more.  Recently with the passing of the Immigration Law amendment bill, the freedom of Hong Kong people to go in or out of Hong Kong may be restricted from August 2021. 

File photo: CitizenNews

The rule of law is second in the priority list of core values of Hong Kong. People firmly believe that the rule of law is not only fair and just but that the results in court are right and inarguably correct.  A person who acts normally with integrity should not have any fear by the rule of law. People also firmly believe the presumption of innocent prior to be proved guilty.  The prosecution must bring up with trust-worthy evidence to prove guilt. Unless it involves serious crimes leading to possible long-term imprisonment, suspects should be allowed bail.  The implementation of the National Security Law overturned all these fundamental beliefs of the rule of law. The absolute normal Legislative Council primary election was first accused by Director LUO Huining as an illegal collective plot to seize power.  While people were puzzled at his accusation, all the candidates in the primary were arrested in a large-scale action under the National Security Law. They were presumed to be guilty without trial and not allowed bail; gone are their human rights! The application of Mr. WU Chi-wai, the former Democratic Party Chairman, wanting to attend his father’s funeral was initially turned down is totally ridiculous and inhumane!  Although the permission was given with the intervention of the Court and the public condemnation, the impression of unreasonable and inhumane authority has been deeply cast in the mind of the Hong Kong people. The large-scale arrests were not limited to the candidates of the primary election, distinguished figures in several demonstration walks without permits were arrested and sent to jail. People are not persuaded of the necessity of the unprecedently heavy penalty passed down in the Court. The verdict antagonizes tens of thousands who participated in the primary election and the walks.  Maybe some are also scared.

47-people arrested for participating in or organizing the primary election last year.

Democracy is no doubt a core value of Hong Kong.  The Basic Law promises the ultimate universal suffrage. However, it is apparent that Director LUO sees allowing election under the free will of the people of Hong Kong will lead to seize of power.  His understanding of democracy falls far short of that of the Hong Kong people.  His understanding of the one country two systems has an inevitably immense impacts on the core values of Hong Kong.
Who remains safeguarding the core values of Hong Kong? Is Mr. LEUNG Chun-ying, the former chief executive and current deputy chair of the Consultive Committee of PRC, did pledge firmly to stand by the core values of Hong Kong, embracing freedom of press, freedom of speech and freedom of gathering.  Will he boldly stand by his pledge and demonstrate his integrity as a leader to safeguard the core values of Hong Kong in 2021? Will the distinguished figures among the co-signers of the 2004 “Declaration of the core values of Hong Kong”, especially those still in influential positions like Mr. Ronny TONG, Professor CHEUNG Ping-leung and Mr. FUNG Wai-kwong, stand out to safeguard the core values of Hong Kong?  Sadly, a co-signer and a former Legislator, Mr. KWOK Ka-ki who insisted on safeguarding democracy and freedom stood out but was instantly arrested; bail application declined and locked up for a few months now prior to formal trial.  Under this rule by terror, the people of Hong Kong can do nothing. They watch from a distance as reporters and others without power boldly shout out strong and loud with the imagination of turning the tide. Unfortunately, all are fighting a losing battle. Maybe people of Hong Kong will eventually have to turn praying to the all-mighty emperor for mercy with the hope that the great leader may still treasure the one country two systems; leave some breathing space, resume the original good intention of the one country two systems and allow people to be free from terror as well as happy to live and work here.