Appeasing dictators and half-baked dictators is an act of supreme folly because once they have inhaled the putrid air of appeasement they always want more.  This is a simple lesson that surely must have been learned in Hong Kong by now.

Yet has it? As I write even one of Hong Kong’s most powerful appeasers, the tycoon Li Ka-shing, has discovered that decades of being an apologist for China’s one party regime is not enough. He is now under fire from the mainland for, to put it bluntly, not jumping high enough. Unlike other tycoons he leaves his sons to undertake the tedious business of shuffling up and down to the kind of mainland events that require routine attendance by Hong Kong’s prosperous flag waving class. He is, of course, somewhat arrogant in the way he does things and although this is perfectly acceptable for dealing with the hoi polloi, he needs to be taught a lesson about his bowing and scraping shortcomings when in the company of Party officials.

Li Ka-shing. Photo: StandNews.

So even Mr Li has to be taken down a peg or two. But the same thing even applies to real party loyalists, such as the sacked government minister Tsang Tak-sing, who presumably believed that his Party membership (which he has never publicly confirmed) was a sufficient shield to protect him from the consequences of arguing with the bosses.

Then there was the illusion that the best way to flourish in Hong Kong’s half-baked dictatorship-lite system was to keep your head down and somehow avoid having to be a front line appeaser. But this too no longer works as was seen in the case of the Hong Kong University law professor Johannes Chan who has infamously been denied promotion for failing to be stern enough with colleagues who openly criticize the regime. Professor Chan himself has never been more than a mild critic but his real sin lies in not joining the hounding of more aggressive critics, and worse still, being friendly with them.

Johannes Chan. Photo: StandNews.

The appeasers have now punished the good Professor but do you really think this will satisfy them? Of course not, they are now gunning for the University’s Vice-Chancellor, and for the same reasons, not that he is an outspoken critic but for failures to join the anti-democratic pack.

All this brings to mind one of the most famous quotations to emerge from the resistance to the rise of Nazism in Germany. It came from the Protestant pastor Martin Niemöller who spent seven years in one of Hitler’s concentration camps:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Xi Jinping.

Niemoller’s words only need a little tweaking to apply to current circumstances in Hong Kong:

[mks_tabs nav=”horizontal”]
[mks_tab_item title=”English”]
First they came for the democrats, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a democrat.

Then they came for the academics, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not an academic.

Then they came for the lawyers, and I did not speak out— 
Because I was not a lawyer.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
[mks_tab_item title=”Chinese translation”]





We are, thankfully, some considerable way from where Pastor Niemoller was when he wrote these words; there is still time to halt the advance in this direction.

Stephen Vines

Stephen Vines is a journalist, writer and broadcaster and ran companies in the food sector. He left Hong Kong with great reluctance in July 2021 following the crackdown on freedom of expression. Prior to departure he had been the host of the RTHK television current affairs programme ‘The Pulse’, a columnist for ‘Apple Daily’ and a contributor to other outlets. He continues to be a columnist for ‘HKFP’. Vines was the founding editor of 'Eastern Express' and founding publisher of 'Spike'. In London he was an editor at The Observer and in Asia has worked for international publications including, the Guardian, Daily Telegraph, BBC, Asia Times and The Independent and, during Hong Kong’s 2019/20 protests, for the Sunday Times. Vines is the author of several books, the latest being Defying the Dragon – Hong Kong and Worlds’ Biggest Dictatorship