Following is the transcript of a recent ChinaFile Breakfast with Margaret Ng, the former Hong Kong legislator in discussion with Ira Belkin of New York University Law School and Orville Schell, ChinaFile Publisher and Arthur Ross Director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at Asia Society. Full-length video of the discussion at Asia Society in New York is available below.
Orville Schell: Okay, I think we’ll begin. It’s great to have you all here on this beautiful but very cold morning. We’re very pleased to be able to cosponsor this with NYU’s Asian Law Center and to welcome Margaret Ng here. She was educated at Cambridge and University of Hong Kong in both Law and Philosophy, was a legislator and editor, publisher at Ming Pao, and I think is a wonderful person to mark this sort of inflection moment in Hong Kong’s passage, both in terms of issues of rule of law, freedom of the press, one country-two systems, etc. So we’re very pleased to have her here, to have all of you here. And I thought maybe we’d start with Margaret saying a few words, but first, Ira, maybe do you want to just throw out a thought or two to give a little guidance to Margaret in terms of what’s on your mind?
Ira Belkin: Well, thanks Orville, and good morning to everybody. It’s a pleasure to be here and I appreciate the opportunity to come and hear Margaret speak. It’s a real honor to share the podium with her and Orville. Of course we in the U.S. have been paying close attention to what’s going on in Hong Kong, but sometimes it’s easy for us to get lost in the complex of facts, and I hope that this morning we’ll get some clarity. I wanted to ask Margaret if you could in your comments try and put the situation in Hong Kong in a broader context, maybe also including what’s going on in Taiwan with the Sunflower Movement, how that relates to the Umbrella Movement in Hong Kong and as Hong Kong is struggling with preserving its way of life, freedom of speech, rule of law, and striving for democracy, how that plays into developments in the mainland as well.
Margaret Ng: Thank you very much for having me this morning. This is a very exciting time to be in New York, a very exciting time coming from Hong Kong. The Umbrella Protest has finished one chapter, the Occupy chapter, but is starting on a new journey. In a way, you can look at the Umbrella Protest or the Umbrella Revolution or, as we prefer to call it, the Umbrella Movement, or whatever you call it, this is the new and most recent chapter in Hong Kong’s fight for real democracy. And democracy is necessary for Hong Kong because without democracy the kind of rule of law we are used to in Hong Kong will not long endure. And all our rights, all our ways of life, are preserved and protected by law, so the rule of law is at the center of all this. When you look at the Umbrella Movement, I belong to the older generation, taking as a starting point the Joint Declaration which was signed in 1984 as an international treaty protecting one country, two systems and Hong Kong’s way of life. So, from then on, we have been working on the basis of the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law as an embodiment of China’s policy promise under the Basic Law. But the new generation in the protest movement looks at things in a much broader way.
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They are not looking for someone else to bring into implementation those promises. They are saying “we are the generation which has grown up after the handover in 1997.” Some of them were only a few years old, but they are looking to a future and they say, “the future belongs to us. Things have not been going very well, democracy has been put off again and again, and we are now going to fight for our future and our own way.” So, for me, it is a very exciting thing, the old generation going out and the new generation coming in with a very strong sense of a Hong Kong identity, with a sense that Hong Kong has core values, which need to be preserved so that they can have the kind of future they want in that community. And I see them in the Umbrella Movement itself trying to practice group discussion, taking into account different points of view, informal discussions, and reaching decisions. Their decisions are not always correct and sometimes they make mistakes, but I see the resilience in them when they can look at their mistakes, call it a mistake, and say “let’s move on” from that point. So after the Occupy part of the Umbrella Movement, they are now thinking about going into the community to deepen the movement, to engage the community, and to see how they can find a new kind of organization which would bring Hong Kong to the next stage of the fight for democracy. What triggered it off was the NPC Standing Committee’s decision on the 31st of August to say that Hong Kong could have one-person, one-vote for the election of the chief executive, but that has to be under China’s control, and the nomination committee, which would be dominated by Beijing loyalists, would get to choose the candidates. I don’t think that is real universal suffrage, I think that the current generation doesn’t buy this, and that they prefer not to have phony democracy, and I think they’re right. But they are on a very difficult journey, and I think that everyone should pay attention and give them the kind of concern that they deserve.
Now, Ira asked about Taiwan. I think that it is very interesting to watch the interaction between Taiwan and Hong Kong and how they learn from each other. Unfortunately, I’m sad to say that Taiwan basically looks at Hong Kong as a very valuable cautionary tale of what not to do. For example, they say “one country, two systems doesn’t work.” And with economic integration with China, you become dependent on China and that would take away your identity. So they are closely interested in Hong Kong as a negative message. But Hong Kong looks to Taiwan very much in terms of a positive message. The way Hong Kong people, particularly the young people, fight for their future, look to the Sunflower Movement, they learn from the Taiwanese elections. So there is a very interesting interaction between the two places that I think will prove to be a very fertile relationship. Perhaps I should just stop here—I hoped that people would come with a lot of questions and different points of view so that we can have a really lively discussion this morning. Thank you very much.
Orville Schell: [to audience] One observation while you’re thinking up your questions: it strikes me in listening to you, Margaret, that this idea of whatever happens next in Hong Kong is actually very similar to how the Chinese Communist Party got its start in the May Fourth Movement. You know, go to the streets, democracy, a certain sense of opposition, nationalism against outside forces, and it’s very easy for this younger generation to see China that way. Now going into the hinterlands, the new territories and what have you, and into society to build a movement.
Margaret Ng: Yes, I think you’re perfectly right. In a way, even though the Chief Executive in Hong Kong used the first part of his policy address to attack undergraduates for discussing Hong Kong’s nationhood, of having a separate identity and so on, as if coming to the edge of a splittist movement, and that is something to be crushed in very firm terms. But I think that the whole awareness, new awareness of a Hong Kong identity and a cultural separate identity which entitles them to self-government and shaping the society that they want and have control over their government is very much reactive. That is, they feel that their identity is being threatened in very many ways, particularly most visibly by the stalling of democracy, the white paper, the influx of shoppers from the mainland, the fight for resources, and so on. But I think it is basically reacting to the situation. It’s also feeling that they have to defend their identity, they have to defend the core value of Hong Kong by defining it. It’s also a sense of urgency that comes from the sense of their survival, Hong Kong as a community and Hong Kong people as a particular group, their survival is under threat. And that students are prepared to make sacrifice, they know what they are doing, they know that they are going to have to pay for this act of civil disobedience because Beijing is not going to take kindly to that kind of thing. But they say “yes, we’re making sacrifices, but we’re fighting for our lives. If we are now 20, if we live to 80, there’s 60 years in this community, and I want to participate, I want to shape this community.” I think that you’re right, I see a lot of especially students leading the May Fourth movement, very much students leading, never mind your discussion of what Chinese can learn from the west, we have to move forward. I think students have that kind of directness which a lot of our very, should we say, people who have too much to lose, don’t have. So we see that, but we also see the student movement in Hong Kong is supported by a lot of people who are quite elderly. In the Occupy side, for example, you have carpenters who are 80 years old who have retired and who say, “I stay with the students, I stay there to protect them,” but the students are actually protecting these grannies. So yes, I think that there’s a lot of similarities, but I hope that it will not end in the same way.
Orville Schell: Alright, let’s open it up to you all for questions. Please introduce yourself.
Matt Pottinger: Hi, I’m Matt Pottinger for Davidson Kempner Capital Management. I used to cover Hong Kong for The Wall Street Journal years ago. I wanted to ask you a question about the press in Hong Kong. The quality of the coverage in the Chinese language media of the Umbrella Movement and the coverage since then—what’s your assessment, and can you talk just more generally about how the press is doing in recent years?
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Margaret Ng: I’m sure you’re aware of a recent report by PEN-America which was published at the end of January. They actually made a tour of Hong Kong to assess the degree of interference, the health of media freedom in Hong Kong. They are quite alarmed by a lot of intervention, maltreatment of journalists, and self-censorship. Last year, the International Federation of Journalists also gave a downgrade to Hong Kong’s press freedom. I think that what you are looking at is that with a more confident China, the intervention in the local press is more open, more systematic, and more direct. And journalists feel intimidated. But I think also because of this, there is a sense of alarm. When you look at the coverage of the Umbrella Movement, you find that the coverage is very, very split and certain newspapers are inhibited from giving positive coverage of the Umbrella Movement, with a result that the Apple Daily is probably the only paper which is blatantly in support of the movement. But I think another part of it which you have to look at is the rise of the social media and online media, because although you can easily interfere and suppress the print media, the traditional media like television, you cannot suppress people from taking photographs of what actually happens at the scene, and to circulate it. So many of the pictures, for example of police brutality, are shown through social media. So I think we’re looking at a time when the traditional, formal media are very much facing challenges but they are supported by informal media and informal circulation of information, of views, and I think it is very difficult to really suppress the information altogether in Hong Kong.
Ambassador Winston Lord: Hi, I’m Winston Lord, now with the International Rescue Committee. I’ve long admired your efforts on behalf of the rule of law and press freedom in Hong Kong. My question has to do with the impact of the tens of millions of mainlanders who come to Hong Kong—when they come do they intermingle much with Hong Kong citizens? What’s the dialogue like? Sometimes there’s resentment of them coming in for economic and other reasons, and when the mainlanders go back home, what kind of message are they conveying and what kind of impression has been made upon them?
Margaret Ng: Thank you very much, that is a very telling question. I think that when you have massive interaction of two peoples, lots of people in Hong Kong together with many tens of thousands…last year, 40,000 people emigrated from the mainland into Hong Kong and that is a constant figure, so every year 40,000, that is the immigration figure. That is on top of the exchange of students, the tourists, and so on. And so the interactions between the two places are very broad and very intense. So to answer your question, of course the interaction is different. For example, in the universities, when you have so many university students from the mainland, do they interact? I think the general observation is that the interaction is not adequate, is not a very full interaction, and that needs to be looked into. Why is it that they still are very separate communities? But what mainland students are picking up from Hong Kong is something which we should look at with a great deal more attention. I think that someone should interview them and get the story out of what their impression of Hong Kong is. And it is not all one way. It is not all one way of “I admire you for your freedom of expression, I admire you for your democracy.” It’s not always that, sometimes they say “I think Hong Kong people are ungrateful because you are receiving so much from the mainland and yet you want to break free.” So there are different views.
Now, on the most superficial level, when you have hordes of shoppers coming to Hong Kong, they’re not real tourists, they come to Hong Kong to buy up goods in order to resell them in the mainland to make a profit. Of course they’ve created a lot of ill feelings between the local people and the shoppers from the mainland. I think that this is a mistake for Hong Kong people to go organize a protest against them and direct their hostility against them, because what you are seeing is an abdication of the local government, of the Hong Kong government from maintaining order. Because as a kind of shopper’s paradise in Hong Kong, why should we be turning away shoppers? It is because we think that this particular group of shoppers are disrupting the order of the streets and so on. And the government had a particular responsibility and they have the main responsibility of maintaining order. For example you can get people off the pavement—there is such a demand for baby formula, such a demand for all kinds of commodities, why is it that this cannot all be organized so that the shopper’s needs are satisfied without disruption in the community? So to answer your question, there are all levels of interaction, some are good for Hong Kong, good for the Mainland. The June 4th vigil, mainland people come to join that vigil particularly so that they can express their aspiration for freedom. Then you have marriages and so on, then you have this superficial level—there are all sorts of interactions that are making changes in Hong Kong. Some of the changes are felt to be threatening, but in my view all these interactions can be turned to a positive future for Hong Kong and its service to the mainland. By remaining the kind of people we are, I think we make the greatest contribution to the future of China.
Barbara Demick: Hi, I’m Barbara Demick, I was the Beijing Bureau Chief for the L.A. Times until August when I moved here. This is really a follow-up question—how does the intellectual pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong deal with some of these anti-mainland protesters who really look kind of ugly and xenophobic? You know, you see young protesters calling mainlanders locusts, and I think there was one really nasty protest when they were carrying around plastic feces and making fun of people’s children defecating on the street, and it really looks racist and awful. I see people on the mainland like Kaiser Kuo kind of using this to say “these Hong Kong protestors are just racist uppity Chinese.” You obviously, I’m sure, see the ugly side of those anti-mainland protests. How do you deal with it and how do you bring that anger into your own movement, because it’s obviously tarnishing the image?
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Margaret Ng: Thank you very much. But I think that it is wrong for anybody to say that we have just one movement and anybody who detracts from that movement betrays that movement. Rather, we look at the actions of different groups of people and we ask how they contribute positively or negatively to the movement, and I think this kind of protest calling people names definitely from my point of view is a negative effect on the movement. It is a very small minority of people and it is very isolated incidents, and yet that dominates the picture and I think that is very unfortunate. But if you go to the depths of why these protesters are doing this, I think you will immediately see that they feel their identity, their livelihood, their kind of community life is being disrupted and being threatened, and that is why they act in this manner. There is no doubt that there is great disruption to their lives, and also some people take this kind of action in order to emphasize the Hong Kong identity they think should come forward. As I said, this is the wrong kind of stratagem. The reason why it is allowed to be there shows that our government is not functioning properly. So we who believe that democracy and interaction with the mainland is not going to be achieved by this kind of protest will have to talk to the other people who prefer this kind of very violent action. I don’t condone them, I understand what the basis is, and I think the real solution is the government taking up its duty of maintaining order in the community. If you take the position of a Hong Kong person whose life is disrupted by these shoppers, I think that you will feel that your community is being threatened. The question is not whether your community life is being threatened, the question is what is the best way of dealing with it, and how are you going to deal with it if the government chooses not only to abdicate but to say “these mainland shoppers are superior people and we must not offend them.” You know, that will make you feel even worse. So you have to struggle—our movement has to struggle against a lot of factors which go against it. But that only means you have to be cleverer.
Jan Berris: Hi, I’m Jan Berris with the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations. Good to see you again after many years. Could you just be a little more explicit? Because you’ve said a couple times now how the government is abdicating its role in terms of, say, the shoppers or people being unhappy about milk being sold. What is it that you would like to do in order to ameliorate that relationship or make it better? I’m not clear as to how they’re abdicating when it comes to the shoppers issue, let’s say.
Margaret Ng: It’s very simple. People come to buy things. That’s a good thing! You have business. People buying things are cluttering up the sidewalk, by taking a lot of these roller suitcases, and roll over everybody’s feet. That is disruptive, right? Now forget whether these shoppers are from the mainland or from anywhere. The government has a duty to maintain order in the streets, and if you complain the policemen should say “Please keep to the pavement, please do not spill into the carriageways, please keep the noise down.” Now if you go into a theater with your ticket—oh, sorry I don’t know in the United States if you have reserved seats, but if you do, you go to your seat, and someone is taking your seat. Now, are you left to argue with the person who’s occupying your seat as to who is right? No, you call the usher, and you say that “it seems I have a ticket for this seat and it seems that this person is sitting in my seat.” So if the usher takes up the responsibility of clearing up this matter, you will never have to confront directly with the person in your seat. Because the person in your seat will then say “well I have a right here.” If the two of you are left arguing that, it’s going to be fisticuffs. So if the government can clear up Hong Kong hawkers from the streets in the Chinese New Year for operating without a license, surely they can maintain order in the shopping districts. They are not doing this, so they force people to confront each other directly. Both sides feel aggrieved, and I think not without reason. So they find the resolution, the resolution is far from ideal. Now, that is the reality we are looking at. We have said many times that the government should maintain order. The government refuses to do so, so if you are a Hong Kong person you are going to think “Okay, how are we going to resolve this?” Some people feel that the thing to do is to organize protests and make the shoppers feel bad. I personally think that is a very counterproductive tactic, but if I’m going to tell my friends who are doing these un-useful tactics, if I’m going to speak to them, how am I going to persuade them that this is not the right thing to do? Do I tell them that these mainlanders are rice bowls, and please be respectful towards them? Or do I persuade them that I know what you are trying to do and the position that you are trying to assert, but this is not the right way to go about it? And they will say “Well, you do it, you show me that you can manage!” And I think that the ball is very much in our court. It’s not a matter of fairness, it’s a matter of effect, and what you can achieve for Hong Kong. And we all have to try a little harder.
Susan Jakes: Hi, I’m Susie Jakes from ChinaFile and the Asia Society. My question relates to the sort of broad question of where you see the political side of things developing in the coming months and years. Particularly, I wonder if you can help me resolve two sort of conflicting pictures I have of Hong Kong just from reading the press over the past few months. One is of this rising sense of Hong Kong identity, which the polls that I’ve seen show to be gaining in strength, and the sort of images of unity that you described, of carpenters coming out to support the students. And on the other hand, a picture of a society that seems increasingly highly polarized, economically, politically—and what I wonder is, are there any groups in society right now that can play any kind of bridging role between the pro-democracy student camp and the pro-Beijing business and government camp, however you would draw those lines? Or is the image of polarization inaccurate? I know you served in the legal functional constituency and I wonder, particularly, can lawyers play that role, are there any groups that can move between the establishment and the people that are pushing for greater change?
Margaret Ng: Thank you very much, I think that is a very serious question and I think it is a very central question for the Umbrella Protest people, the way forward. What is politics going to look like after the Umbrella Protests? All that we can say is that there is a generational change. The old form of politics is shown to be ineffectual. So the ball is in our court. This is the second time I’ve said this this morning. It’s not a matter of right and wrong. You have a new generation, the new generation is going to show how they can come up with a solution in that they are not only the problem, they are the solution for the future. I see many positive developments. For example, you don’t find these protester sets saying, “We’ve got nothing out of this Umbrella Movement, we are disillusioned and we give up.” You find them saying that the Movement must continue. That is, “we will be back.” It is not “We will be back,”—we have never left. So they go to the community, they prepare to stand for election, they are prepared to look for a new way of engagement. I don’t think it is a matter of bridging gaps, because in fact, what the Umbrella Movement has shown is that traditional organizations like the Bar Association, like political parties, are not able to deal with the situation in Hong Kong. But you have young groups now saying supplementing without actually saying “we’ll throw over the Bar Association.” They developed a new progressive lawyers group, which tries to plot the gap. And this is just an example—they say, “the Bar feels they can speak on legal issues. But not on political issues.” When you have something like constitutional issues, when is this a matter of constitutional law, which is legal, and when is it a matter of constitutionalism, which is political? So they say, “we understand the Bar’s difficulty, but we are a different group, and we do not give us this kind of restriction. We speak whether it is legal or political, but if it concerns the community, we will speak up.” So they are trying to form groups. They feel that political parties are not doing the right thing. But they are trying to look for organizations which are more bottom-up, which are more inclusive of people of different views and finding resolutions in a different way. So to answer your question most directly, this is a crucial point: How does the new generation come out? How are we going to groom them? I don’t put myself in a superior position of grooming the next generation, but how can we assist them? And I think the first thing is that you have to listen very carefully to what they have to say, and very often what they have to say is extremely sensible. And then for us who are the outgoing generation to say, “in what way can my experience and my vision be of assistance, so as to make the young movement stronger?” But they don’t have a lot of time, they’re going to have to show that they are coming up with a solution within a very short period, and I think the deadline is 2016, when you see the next Legislative Council election. So stay in your chair and watch what’s going to happen next. It’s a difficult question for me to answer in a few minutes.
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Alvin Cheung: I’m Alvin Cheung, U.S.-Asia Law Institute. Somebody else earlier asked about an influx of people from the mainland. I want to ask about a different type of import, which is mainland methods of political speech and political struggle. So what we saw in the opening of the legal year with the Chief Executive’s policy address was very much an attempt to confuse rule of law and rule by law, and we saw this very clearly in the policy address where we saw C.Y. Leung say, “Hong Kong is a city that abides by the rule of law, as long as we follow the law we can achieve democracy.” We’re also seeing now very mainland forms of political struggle. For instance with the anti-Occupy movement, which was beset by astroturfing. And now the campaign against Johannes Chan who was the Dean of HKU’s law school and is now the subject of a complaint to the ICAC. So now my question is really, how should the Movement react to that? How should the Movement try to win over Hong Kong people when there is this sort of importation of mainland-style political discourse?
Margaret Ng: You have asked a range of questions. I think I will answer the most fundamental question, which is that you have to look at China trying to redefine fundamental concepts that have very established meaning in the West. For example, what is universal suffrage? To us it is very clearly defined in Article 25 of the ICCPR, and that is universal and equal suffrage. And the right to vote includes the right to stand for election and the right to nominate. Now, what China is trying to do is to tell you that universal suffrage according to the Basic Law is a different thing. It can be a one-person, one-vote, with the whole process being guided by the Party. And the right to nomination and the right to vote, and the right to stand for election are three different things and can be given to different groups under a constitutional document. So they are trying to redefine universal suffrage. Are you going to accept that? They are also trying to redefine the rule of law as ruling according to the law, and the law is laid down by me, and you are … there is a very clever person who did a review of a biography of Putin. He said the rule of law is like this: “For my friends, anything. For my enemies, the law.” Now is the rule of law going to be defined like this? The government will control who will be subjected to the machinery of the law. So again, you are seeing a very strong power, a rising economic power, trying to redefine fundamental concepts. So do we accept their redefinition or not? I think this is a battle of concepts which we cannot lose. We must not allow ourselves to lose in this battle. And how would the movement, the people in the protest movement do? When I go to the protest square to give classes on the rule of law, on injunction, what is a temporary injunction, what is a permanent injunction, and what is criminal contempt of court, why am I doing this? Because the rule of law can only be maintained if people have a very clear and very strong sense of what the rule of law really is. That it is something the government must be under the law, the law must protect individual rights, rights reside in the individual, and not in the collective, that a judgement is as good as the legal reasoning which is backing it, and not because the courts are in the position of authority. And the rule of law means that you have to actively participate, you cannot go to court and say, “I have been wrong, please right my wrong.” You have to bring the case, you have to define your course of action, you have to bring the evidence—all these are new to a lot of Hong Kong people. And we must educate, we must help people to have this very strong sense, not only to have this strong sense, but also to have a strong sense of confidence that they know how to do this. That there will be people to assist them to do this. And the same thing for democracy, but we need less effort there because the concept of universal suffrage is very deeply understood and correctly understood by the community, whether it is the protest movement or outside the protest movement. There are only very few people who try to purposely fudge what universal suffrage is all about.
Orville Schell: Margaret, let me just tease that out a bit. You say, “this is a struggle that Hong Kong cannot afford to lose,” and yet you suggest that there’s a fundamental difference of view over the notion of what suffrage means, constitutionalism means. Let’s be a little bit realistic here. Hong Kong is very small. You may not feel that you can afford to lose this one, but let me ask you what you think the prospects are, given the realities of the situation in terms of flexibility on the mainland side—that some accommodation can be reached. We all remember what happened in 1989, and it was the end of political reform in China. That, we hope, will not happen in Hong Kong. So do you see anything, any prospect of working this out, apart from the kind of confrontations you’re describing?
Margaret Ng: Prospect … grim. But when the prospect is grim, it doesn’t mean you don’t put everything into the fight. And the fight is not just going to be confrontational, it’s going to have to be very strategic. Now, I don’t believe that Hong Kong is alone in the understanding of the rule of law. In fact, you look across the border—the lawyers for rights are paying much more deeply for their defense of the rule of law. They are paying for it with their safety, their personal interest, they’re languishing in jails, their lives are being threatened, they have their lawyer’s license taken away from them. Why are they doing this? Because they are convinced this is the right thing for China, not just the right thing for Hong Kong. Of course we can accommodate, we can say “yes, I’m not completely right and you’re not completely wrong, let’s somehow find a way to live with each other.” There are things which we should accommodate. For example, shoppers, we should find a way of accommodating. But when it comes to concepts like the rule of law and protection of the rights of the individual, that is where the line is drawn, that is where our principle is. Because if you compromise on the rule of law, you compromise the future of the Chinese people, and not just the future of the people of Hong Kong. So how do we do it? I think there are many ways, and I take the wisdom from a student. I said, “what are you going to do?” They said, “We’re going to continue to communicate, continue to discuss, to educate ourselves. The times are against us now. The situation is against us. But it is not going to be so forever. And if we are ready when the time comes, when the situation changes, we will be able to achieve something.” So a grim thing, but very important, and I think we need to exercise a lot of patience and understanding. But the future does not lie in compromising our principles. Because this is really the future, not only of Hong Kong, not only with China, but the whole world—we believe in the rule of law not because it’s a western value, but because it is universal. So I don’t underestimate the difficulties, I believe that the younger generation has to be a lot cleverer than we are. You know, we protest. They have to find a way of resolving the difference and getting their views across. So they have a harder task, but they are younger.
Ira Belkin: So, Orville, if I can interrupt the queue just to follow up on this point. A question I’ve had about Hong Kong: Hong Kong has such rich intellectual resources, especially in the legal community. But it seems to be terribly focused on Hong Kong. The ideological struggle, as you said, is much more vibrant on the mainland, where the Party’s view of rule of law is so dominating. Are Hong Kong lawyers and legal professionals doing enough to engage in these debates on the mainland? There’s a raging debate in China about constitutionalism. Have Hong Kong intellectuals weighed in? Is there space for them to weigh in? In other words, you don’t want to lose in Hong Kong but maybe you can go on the offensive. And just to follow up, as you said, China is constantly waging this ideological battle, trying to pitch it as West vs. China, or China vs. Outsiders. Here you have Hong Kong, a Chinese society, Taiwan also a Chinese society. So is there more that you can do?
Margaret Ng: You’re perfectly right to put your finger on the weakness of Hong Kong as being navel-gazing. We are almost exclusively interested in Hong Kong, and when we go abroad and explain things about Hong Kong, we are shocked that everybody is not immediately enthusiastic about Hong Kong. I think that has got to change. And before, in the last say ten years or fifteen years, we have been able to do this because, basically, especially the first five years of the Hong Kong S.A.R., Beijing had been very careful to draw a line between the mainland and Hong Kong so that Hong Kong is by and large left alone. But now, things are changing because we are now feeling threatened, and when you are threatened, your senses are sharpened. Why are people making sacrifices in the mainland that Hong Kong people are not making in Hong Kong? It’s because their rights are much more deeply and immediately threatened in the mainland. Now the S.A.R. government is turning its guns onto its own people in Hong Kong. We feel the threat immediately. We feel that if we don’t stand up and do something, we are going to be flattened out. So I think you’re going to see a change, and the change is not going to come from specific organizations like the Bar Association. Traditionally, we turn to the academy, we turn to the legislative council, we turn to the Bar Association, all these bodies to speak for us. But I think after the Umbrella Movement, we realize that each person has to speak for himself. And so I think that you will see a much greater energy in engaging in these things. And you see also that the engagement with the intellectuals in Taiwan…in fact, there is—sorry, I don’t mean to belittle Hong Kong, but there is very little intellectual life in Hong Kong. Because you have professional life, you have economic life, you have all sorts of discussions, you even have a very vibrant media community. But you don’t have intellectual life in Hong Kong. If you go beyond anything which is very practical, people switch off. But now with the Occupy Central Movement, because of all these slightly naive ideas of deliberation and that sort of thing, people start to discuss, we start to have an intellectual life. Intellectual life is in the tea shops, is in the coffee shops. And it’s going to change. So for this alone, I think the Umbrella Movement made a great contribution. When I talk about the rule of law, say to the club in Hong Kong, people are not very interested. When I go to the square and everybody sits on the floor, and I talk about the legal provisions of the functional constituencies and what is wrong with them, people listen with rapt attention. It is because when your interests are immediately affected, you engage in a different way. And I think that Hong Kong people need to learn that they have to tell their story all over the world, not to ask other people to put away their own interests to join in Hong Kong, but so that we understand each other. And you can’t expect people to be only interested in you, we have to engage with the world. For a long time, we have been under the curse that China says the ultimate sin is to internationalize the problem of Hong Kong. Have you heard of that? I’m sure you have. But it is fading. You are the foreign forces behind the Umbrella Movement. And the Chinese pride, we Chinese people don’t go crying or begging to foreigners. All these things are working against you. There is total difference between communication between different communities, and going asking for foreign assistance. We just help each other because the world is one community. If the Hong Kong government can go and tell their stories in America, in Europe, why cannot the Umbrella protesters go and tell their story? It is up to the audience to decide which story they prefer. I think things are going to change. Sit tight.
Minky Worden: Thank you, Margaret. I’m Minky Worden from Human Rights Watch, but I’m an old Hong Kong person. You’ve referred several times to the younger generation and the older generation needing to step aside. I want to go ahead and say I’m sorry, you can’t step aside, and the fabric in Hong Kong is so strong because of the multi-generational efforts to defend the rule of law, press freedom, and basic human rights. So I'm sorry, you can’t step aside. I wanted to ask you—the world focused on the Umbrella Movement last September and August and through the fall, but it was preceded by a number of things that happened in the course of the spring, the vicious attack on Kevin Lau, the white paper, the referendum. Can you give us your crystal ball of what will happen next in Hong Kong? Things that may be flash points on the horizon that we as people who are concerned about Hong Kong and China should be aware of?
Margaret Ng: I think one very immediate threat is the revival of Article 23 legislation. I know I’m talking to a room of experts, so you know Article 23 of the Basic Law which says that Hong Kong should enact on its own laws against seven types of threats to national security. Already immediately after the Umbrella Movement, the present Chief Executive already picked on The Undergrad, which is an undergraduate newspaper, as spreading and encouraging a splittist philosophy in Hong Kong. I believe that he is making preparations for Article 23 legislation to come back. And that legislation, the central idea is to turn dissent into criminal offenses. So that whereas now, you can express views, you can promote your views, provided you do so without violence and without committing a crime, you are permitted to do that. That is the nature of civil society. But Article 23 will make such things as the undergraduate discussions on the future of Hong Kong seditious literature. And possession and publication of seditious literature will be a crime. You may be guilty of inciting people for secession against a central government, and that is a very serious crime which can put you away for a long time. I think this is madness, but I suspect that this present government in the S.A.R. is quite mad. Now, C.Y. Leung, the present Chief Executive, was in the executive council when Mr. C.H. Tung was the Chief Executive. And you know that in 2003, Mr. Tung tried to introduce Article 23, sort of imposing it on the community, and the community would not have it. And that sparked off, that was one of the major reasons for sparking off the 2003 march on 1st of July, the half a million people in the streets. And so they finally withdrew that proposed legislation. C.Y. Leung believes that C.H. Tung was too soft and he should come with a more forceful hand. So we very much expect that this is the next thing that he will try to do. That is a threat to freedom of speech, to freedom of the media, freedom of information, the most fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong. But worst of all, because Hong Kong had a great respect for law, even a law which is defective, a law which is ridiculous, they will have respect for that. So that will have an effect of clamping down on the spirit of the community. That is the next thing that we have to pay attention to, and we must not let that happen.
Now Minky, you mentioned that I must not retire. I think that if you look at an image in the Umbrella village, you have these youngsters being given a quiet corner so they can do their homework because the Occupy was going to take time and they must hand in their homework regularly, and there were voluntary tutors. Now where was the older generation? The older generation is to keep that space quiet for them, to provide them with tables and chairs, to provide them with coaches, to provide them with food and drink so that they don’t have to worry about these daily life matters. That’s how I see my role in the future. How can I make more space for them? How can I serve them so that they can have the kind of quiet corner to develop their thoughts and develop their strategy? We must retreat, the older generation must make room for the new generation.
Allen Clayton-Greene: Hi Margaret, thanks very much for speaking today. My name is Allen Clayton-Greene and I’m at the U.S.-Asia Law institute and also at Human Rights in China. It was hard not to notice that before the Umbrella Movement came the Sunflower Movement, and you’ve touched on “the T word” a couple of times already. I wondered if you could speak to some of the connections and perhaps also disconnects between the two movements. It struck me in talking about the generational gap and also in terms of some of the tactics that were used, that those were things that tend to appear in both movements.
Margaret Ng: Thank you very much. That gives me the opportunity of addressing how much is the generation gap. You look at a number of surveys, for example the decision of the NPC about the election of a chief executive in 2017. The community, 43% of the community objects to the legislative council accepting this proposal. But if you look at the age group between 18 and 29, it is 74%. If you look at the popularity of the police after the protest movement, you see that generally it really dipped very seriously. And if you analyze the figures again, you find that the figure for the general population may be something like 50, I don’t remember. But for the younger generation, 18 to 29, it is 90 something percent. Again, if you look at the proposal of the NPC, whether you consider this to be a phony democracy, there are surveys among medical students, there are surveys among medical practitioners. Among medical practitioners the percentage is something like 55% that you should reject the package, for the medical students it is something like 86%. So you definitely have a generation which has very, very strong and clear views about democracy and the rule of law and what should work Hong Kong and what should be rejected for Hong Kong. Now you asked the question of Taiwan. What we learned from Taiwan is basically the form of protest, because Hong Kong people had been marching for democracy for years and nothing happened. So we said, “this is not working, where can we find a more active way of doing this?” The Hong Kong protesters took a lesson from Taiwan. But of course the form is also the substance, so the way you protest also shows that you’re no longer content with expressing your view, hoping that the government will hear your view. You are going into a civil disobedience movement, which is a much stronger way of saying “I will not accept.” It is a resistance movement. You’re going into Occupy which basically says “I am engaged, I have a right here to manage the affairs of this community.”
So you see that we are learning from Taiwan in terms of form so that it affects our substance. But there are also deep differences between Taiwan and Hong Kong. And the deep differences lie in reality. First of all in terms of support, we talk about an intellectual life. We have no intellectual life in Hong Kong (sorry). I always go too far and people are upset about what I say, but there is relatively little intellectual life in Hong Kong. When the Taiwanese students went into their protest, they were supported by a very thick layer of academic intellectual support. The universities spoke out, university teachers spoke out for the students. You look at Hong Kong, how many of our university lecturers are saying anything? It is the law school, a few people in the law school, and the law school was immediately targeted. But the target of the protests in Taiwan is also different. They were protesting against a particular piece of legislation, which gives effect to economic cooperation between Taiwan and the mainland. And so it is much more focused, it is a protest against something. It is always easier than the protest to demand something. “Give us democracy” is much more difficult to say than “we don’t want this particular piece of legislation.” So the focus is different. And also ultimately the reality of Taiwan is different. Taiwan to all intents and purposes, from the practical point of view, is a nation state. They have their army, their government, their own economy, their foreign relationship, and so on. Hong Kong is not in the same kind of ballpark. We have a basic law, a basic law based on the joint declaration that we have a high degree of autonomy. We can manage affairs so long as it is within the four corners of the basic law. So we take from each other but we are different from each other. I think that the communication will be more frequent, and I think that we will try to learn that Taiwanese protests, which are getting somewhere, is not just about the form of protest but about engaging the community. I don’t know whether our intelligentsia is going to wake up, if we have such an intelligentsia in Hong Kong. But we need a thicker and wider support that Taiwan can take for granted, but which is yet to be developed in Hong Kong. I hope that answers your question.
Orville Schell: I think we have time for maybe one, possibly two more questions.
Qian Jing: Thank you very much. I basically have a short comment and a question. As a student of Chinese law for more than one decade, I still have very limited faith in the Chinese law system, let alone the rule of law. Therefore, I just want to ask your opinion about the current Chinese legal systems operating on political logic or market logic instead of legal logic. If we’re going to fight this war for the rule of law in Hong Kong via legal logic, I don’t think the prospect is quite … optimistic. So, have you thought about trying different logics to follow the Western “Art of War”? Like you’re saying A, but doing B. Can we just try to use more established channels for changing China, such as the market? Logic of the market, the force of the business sector has been much stronger and is getting more and more stronger in the coming years, and they have been altering the political decision making in a different logic. So have we thought about moving the battlefield to a different venue? Because if we’re going to fight in this traditional, somehow Westernized way, it will be so easy to invoke nationalism and many other political maneuvers that the Party has so developed. So I just want to hear your opinion on alternative channels to fight the war.
Margaret Ng: Thank you. The battle is so unequal that you should use every way that you know: the soft way, the hard way, the slightly dishonest way, the slightly mollifying way, and all sorts of things. But I think that at the end of the day, you have to have a line, a principle that you stand on. And the rule of law is about that. If we start to say “the rule of law is a Western concept, please no rule of law because we are Chinese,” I think we are conceding the defeat of the battle before it even begins. Our language, our tone may be different, but the principles that we fight for must remain the same. And if you think about a successful trade relationship, you think about the financial market success in Hong Kong. Why are there so many court cases involving mainland entities being fought in Hong Kong? It is fundamentally because we still have the system of law. And the mainland in a way … we do not say that “we Hong Kong are superior and we can teach you about the rule of law.” We cannot do that, because the development of China has followed a different line, a different logic, and they have to fight out that battle. We can give the support, we can show our sympathy, we can show our understanding, but we cannot fight the battle which is in the mainland. But we can fight the battle which is in Hong Kong. And if we fight the Hong Kong battle using the mainland language, we’re going to lose from the start. So the bridges have to be built, the communications have to be attempted. But at the end of the day, we only have honesty on our side, that we explain clearly what it is that we really believe in. So yes, engage on many fronts and if possible, try not to raise our voice. That’s a good thing. I break this rule all the time, but I think it is a good rule. I think it is more effective to try to explain than to protest. But every now and then you have to protest; the protest is not only a communication with the powers that be. It’s also a communication within the community. You see, one of the most encouraging things in the 2003 demonstration when we had half a million people in the street was that suddenly we realized that the whole of Hong Kong is of one mind and one heart. And that gave us tremendous confidence. So protest is not always directed at other people, it is also directed at ourselves. Thank you.
Orville Schell: So Ira, we began with law, we are ending with law, and you representing the Asian law center may have some final comment.
Ira Belkin: Well, thanks, this has been a great discussion ranging from social issues in Hong Kong, the conflict between mainlanders and Hong Kong people and how to solve those, and also the ultimate questions about the future. You’ve given us some cause for optimism in terms of your faith in the young people of Hong Kong and bringing new ideas and a new energy. Certainly one thing the Occupy Movement has accomplished is that I don’t think anyone will say Hong Kong people are apathetic anymore. You know, that was an old way of looking at Hong Kong. But the challenges are formidable and you’ve helped us clarify some of the issues and some of the challenges. My own view is that not only do Hong Kong people need to tell their story to the rest of the world, but I think they need to engage more with the intellectuals on the mainland as well as in Taiwan. And as you said, how some of these debates get resolved will not just affect China and Hong Kong and Taiwan, but the rest of the world. What does rule of law mean? What does universal suffrage mean? These are concepts that people are struggling with in a lot of places. So I encourage you to encourage your young people to engage with people in China as well as other places, and clarify some of these legal issues. One of the things the Communist Party has always been really good at is confusing issues, and the use of concepts like rule of law and universal suffrage … I said to you before I’m always reminded of George Orwell and Animal Farm. “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.” Which really goes back to a Confucian saying: “ming buzheng yan bu shun.” You know, if you don’t call things by their proper names, then your arguments can’t be rational or smooth. So I applaud you for continuing to teach students about the rule of law, but I would say engage even a broader audience. Thank you Orville for hosting, and thanks to the Asia Society and everybody for coming.
Orville Schell: Well, thank you all for coming and let’s thank Margaret Ng for joining us today.
Margaret Ng: Thank you very much, thank you. I have enjoyed the discussion myself, thank you very much.
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