Benedict Rogers delivered Keynote Speech at the Victims of Communism Captive Nations Summit
Today at the Victims of Communism Captive Nations Summit in Washington D.C., Hong Kong Watch’s Chairman and co-founder Benedict Rogers, gave the Keynote Speech addressing the situation in Hong Kong.
Read the speech in full below:
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a very great honour and privilege to have this opportunity to address the Captive Nations Summit, and I want to salute the work of the Victims of Communism Foundation and everyone involved in this event today.
I have spent all my adult life working for the freedom of those living in captive nations – whether under Communism, in countries like China and North Korea, or under other forms of authoritarianism, such as in Burma, or those facing religious extremism in places such as Pakistan and Indonesia. I believe passionately that those of us who enjoy freedom have the responsibility to use our freedoms to speak out for those who are denied them.
My only regret today is that I can’t be with you for the whole event. I came here from speaking at a previous event and I must leave shortly to speak at another event. But that’s the great thing about this city, and about our freedoms – that we have the freedom to speak on behalf of those who can not, and so this week I am exercising that freedom fully!
I have been asked to address the situation in Hong Kong, a city that could not until recent years be described as “captive”, a city that has long been based on basic freedoms and the rule of law, a city that was one of the freest in Asia, yet a city that now finds itself on the very frontline of the battle between freedom and repression. A city that is becoming ever more a captive part of a captive nation.
But before I speak about Hong Kong itself, let me just put it in context, especially as I know you are about to have a panel on China and North Korea.
China today under Xi Jinping is facing the most severe crackdown on human rights – across the board – since the Tiananmen massacre thirty years ago and, some would say, since the Cultural Revolution. The incarceration of over a million Uyghurs in Xinjiang, an unprecedented assault on Christianity, continuing persecution of Tibetans and Falun Gong practitioners, allegations of forced organ harvesting, absolute intolerance of any form of dissent, severe violations of freedom of expression, the extinction of space that had previously begun to develop for civil society, media, human rights lawyers, abductions and disappearances of people such as bookseller Gui Minhai and lawyer Gao Zhisheng, the imprisonment of Christian pastors such as Wang Yi. It is in that context that Xi Jinping’s repression has spread to Hong Kong, a city that was handed over to Chinese rule 22 years ago with the promise that basic freedoms, the rule of law and autonomy would be protected under the “one country, two systems” principle.
I lived in Hong Kong for the first five years after the handover. I worked as a journalist. During that time, “one country, two systems” was working reasonably well. Yes, I could see some subtle threats, some small causes for concern, but overall when I left in 2002 I felt that Hong Kong’s freedoms were strong and that “one country, two systems” would continue.
I never expected to see police firing rubber bullets at close-range into the faces of peaceful protesters in the streets of Hong Kong, or firing teargas and pepper-spray into the eyes of peaceful protesters, or wielding their batons to beat peaceful protesters already on the ground, as we have seen in recent days and weeks.
I never expected to see pro-democracy legislators and candidates disqualified, booksellers abducted, peaceful pro-democracy demonstrators sentenced to completely disproportionate prison terms, press freedom and academic freedom threatened, as we have seen in the past five years.
I never expected to see the Financial Times Asia News Editor expelled from Hong Kong.
I never expected to see mainland Chinese law applied in Hong Kong territory, as we have seen with the co-location principle at the high-speed rail terminus.
Or a law that would make it a criminal offence to ‘insult’ the national anthem, even though the definition of ‘insult’ is vague and undefined.
Or a law proposed that would allow for the extradition from Hong Kong to the mainland of those whom Beijing suspects of committing an offence – the extradition from a city that is ranked 16th in the world for the rule of law, that prides itself as an international financial centre known and trusted for its tradition of the rule of law, into a judicial system that has no rule of law, only rule by law, a system where torture and forced televised confessions are widespread, where there is no such idea of a fair trial, a system which executes more people than any other in the world. A bill that would tear apart the firewall that had been deliberately created prior to the handover to protect Hong Kong’s autonomy and judicial independence. A bill which Lam Wing-kee, one of the booksellers who had been detained in China, told me when we met in Taiwan recently amounted to a “death sentence for Hong Kong”. He said: "Beijing will use this law to control Hong Kong completely. Freedom of speech will be lost. In the past, the regime kidnapped its critics, like me, illegally. With this law, they will abduct their critics legally."
When he was first arrested, Lam was forced to sign two statements: surrendering his right to inform his family of his whereabouts and his right to a lawyer. Over the eight months he was held in China, he was forced to write confessions more than 20 times. Several times he was filmed, with an interrogator behind him whom he could not see, and these were then broadcast on national television — one of many forced televised confessions that have become a feature of Xi Jinping's regime. "If I didn't write what they wanted me to write, they would write it for me," Lam said. "If my confession was not satisfactory, they would tell me what to write." When he asked what crimes he had committed, his interrogators told him simply: "If we say you have committed a crime, you have committed a crime." So much for the rule of law. "I never went to court, I never saw a judge," he told me. He was accused of being a counter-revolutionary, damaging the Chinese Communist Party and attempting to split the nation.
Nor did I ever expect the Chief Executive of Hong Kong – one of the world’s major financial and trading centres – to press ahead with such a bill despite opposition from the legal sector, from the business sector, from the International Chamber of Commerce and the American Chamber of Commerce, from the European Union, the British and Canadian Foreign Ministers, the United States Secretary of State. It took more than a million Hong Kong people marching on June 9th, and thousands facing police brutality in the form of tear gas and rubber bullets on June 12th, for the bill to be suspended. Only after two million people – over a third of the population – marched and thousands more followed was the bill declared ‘dead’. Yet even now, it has not yet been withdrawn. If it is ‘dead’, as Hong Kong’s Chief Executive has said, then why not withdraw it? Hong Kong people have lost all trust in their government and will never believe Carrie Lam’s assurances until the bill is formally, completely and unreservedly withdrawn.
On a more personal note, I never expected to arrive in Hong Kong, as I did in October 2017, and find that I was denied entry to the city that had once been my home, where I had begun my working life. The order had come from Beijing, and it was yet another example of the flagrant erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy, a blatant intrusion by the central government into the affairs of Hong Kong, and a clear undermining of Hong Kong’s basic freedoms.
Nor did I ever expect to be the recipient of numerous anonymous letters sent from Hong Kong to me, my neighbours and even my mother in Britain – an attempt to threaten and intimidate me. A tactic that is deployed every day against dissidents in China and increasingly in Hong Kong, and a tactic now designed to expand the Captive Nation of China into the streets of the free world.
I never expected to be told by three different British Members of Parliament on three different occasions that the Chinese Embassy was lobbying them, in telephone calls and meetings, to put pressure on me to stop speaking out.
Two weeks ago today marked the 22nd anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong to China. That day, hundreds of thousands of people marched yet again. The vast majority were entirely and commendably peaceful. A small minority, however, smashed the doors of the legislature and occupied the chamber. I don’t condone such acts. But I believe that we must all go beyond simply condemning and must exercise understanding.
For these were not rioters or looters, thugs or hooligans. They were students, highly intelligent, educated, thoughtful. They put up signs around the bookcases saying “Don’t destroy the books”, and around antiques saying “protect the valuables”. They left money to pay for the drinks they took. Their protest was dramatic, but it was targeted. They did not aim to hurt anyone, or to destroy property indiscriminately. They wanted to make a point. And the point was this: a cry of desperation.
A cry that said we have tried to engage the political process and our candidates and legislators have been excluded from it. A cry that said they do not see the Legislative Council as representing the people. A cry that said we have tried to protest through the media and media space is shrinking. A cry that said we have tried to protest peacefully, as in the Umbrella Movement in 2014, but while peaceful protest has inspired the world it has not led to any change. For this small minority of protesters, writing graffiti on the wall of the legislative chamber was a desperate cry, a last resort, to make their voice heard. Placing the British colonial flag in the legislative chamber was not so much an act of love for Britain – the protestors had mostly not been born when Britain left. It was much more about what they thought that flag stood for, the values it represents. Freedom, the rule of law, individual human rights.
Hong Kong is at a crossroads. If the regime behaves according to type, and continues arresting and jailing people, we will see further mass protests and, though I do not condone it, perhaps further violent acts. We have already seen several suicides in recent weeks, further acts of desperation. If the regime wishes to avoid further tragedy, it should consider a different path: democratic reform for Hong Kong. If Hong Kong people feel they have a say in the way they are governed, they will engage with that process, not take to the streets. They are a pragmatic, sensible people. But if they continue to feel they have no voice, then Hong Kong is heading for tragedy.
So it is in all our interests to stand up and speak up for Hong Kong. Not only is it morally right, but it is an act of self-interest too. If Hong Kong is to remain a viable, credible international financial centre, then its rule of law must be protected, its freedoms defended and its autonomy strengthened. Failure to defend Hong Kong will give Xi Jinping’s regime in China yet another green light to continue to expand his Captive Nation well beyond China’s borders. Failure to stand up for Hong Kong will tell Xi Jinping that he can breach international treaties – such as the Sino-British Joint Declaration that enshrines the promises to the people of Hong Kong – with impunity. Failure to stand up for Hong Kong will mean not only the freedoms of the people of Hong Kong will be lost, but our own freedoms will be threatened too.
I know you will be considering North Korea as well as China, and so I leave you with the words of the former South Korean ambassador for human rights, Jung-Hoon Lee, who is one of Hong Kong Watch’s International Patrons, who said in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal earlier this year: “For most of my life I have advocated change in the world’s most closed, repressive nation: North Korea. As a South Korean, my priority has been peace and freedom on the peninsula I call home. But I cannot ignore the erosion of freedom in what was once one of Asia’s freest cities: Hong Kong. … As a citizen of a relatively young East Asian democracy—with the other half of our peninsula living under a barbaric totalitarian regime—I believe it is time to defend Asia’s world city, and make sure it continues to be worthy of that name.”
Or, as Henry Scoop Jackson put it, "If you believe in the cause of freedom, then proclaim it, live it and protect it, for humanity's future depends on it".
Nowhere is that more true today than Hong Kong, the new frontline in the battle for freedom, and so I hope you will all join me in speaking up for Hong Kong.