What does the Hong Kong government have in common with the mullahs who rule Iran, Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela and the increasingly authoritarian Erdogan regime in Turkey?

They all believe that questioning of their policies comes from a small politically motivated and, yes, foreign-influenced elite. They have more or less given up attempts to justify their unpopular policies; instead they flail around attacking their critics and questioning their motives.

Photo: HKFP remix.

There is nothing original in this pathetic response to criticism; it is indeed entirely characteristic of authoritarian governments ranging from the fatal xenophobia of Nazi Germany to the bloody purges of Stalin’s Soviet regime.

And let’s not forget that some of the worst excesses of the murderous Cultural Revolution were carried out in the name of purging the nation of elitist thought.

The attempts by the Lam administration to join this gallery of horrors are on a rather Mickey Mouse scale and, let’s be thankful, are not accompanied by the bloodshed caused by those they seek to emulate. However the mindset remains more than troubling.

Carrie Lam says that some members of the legal profession are elitist because they seek to assert the integrity of Hong Kong’s legal system and have pointed out how it has been undermined by the decision to cede part of the SAR’s territory to rule by Mainland laws.

Hong Kong’s senior officials answered the media’s questions on the joint checkpoint plan on December 27, 2017. Photo: HKGov.

They stand accused of asserting that Hong Kong’s legal system is superior to that of the Mainland. As it happens the Bar Council and other legal critics have based their argument on entirely different grounds but in a world where governments prefer personal attacks on their critics, rather than tackling their views, mere facts are not important.

However, just for the record, the criticisms of the Bar Council et al are that the co-location arrangement for the West Kowloon rail terminal severely undermines the Basic Law, a law that they are not seeking to challenge. On the contrary they assert that the government has a responsibility to uphold Hong Kong’s mini-constitution and thus safeguard the rule of law.

They are equally alarmed by the fact that the SAR government has willingly conceded this authority without local legislation and in the confidence that the courts can be rendered powerless if national state powers are invoked.

Had these lawyers gone further and asserted the superiority of Hong Kong’s legal system they would most definitely have a point. Unlike the legal system in the Mainland, Hong Kong’s system is transparent and impartial. Every defendant appearing in a court of law is not automatically deemed to be guilty as is the case across the border. Lawyers are not arrested for defending their clients and so on.

Photo: HKFP.

Those of us outside the legal profession, who are perhaps less constrained by niceties, should not have the slightest hesitation in saying that we prefer the Hong Kong system to that which prevails on the Mainland.

However this is not the issue here, because the current concern is over Ms Lam’s attitude to her critics, whom she prefers to demonize rather than engage in dialogue.

She has however not gone quite so far as her predecessor Leung Chun-ying, who decided that the best way to address the Umbrella protest movement was to assert that he had ‘irrefutable evidence’ that it was being manipulated by foreign forces.

As everyone knows this ‘irrefutable evidence’ has never been produced, and is highly unlikely to be produced, for the simple reason that is does not exist.

Both Mr Leung and Ms Lam are evidently looking northwards when they make these accusations because they know they will be warmly received in Beijing, where no form of opposition is regarded as legitimate, and all explanations of discontent are couched in terms of foreign intervention and what the Maoists like to call ‘old thinking’.

Undermining Hong Kong’s rule of law is quite bad enough; denying the right of citizens to express a view in defence of the legal system by throwing mud in the eyes of critics is equally worrying.

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