Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor

The Monitor Visits North America

From 25 October to 9 November Law Yuk Kai and I visited the United States and Canada on behalf of Human Rights Monitor. The purpose of the visit, which had been planned for a long time, was to warn people that the prospects for human rights in Hong Kong were bleak unless everybody woke up and did something.

Our message everywhere was roughly as follows:-

"The Provisional Legislature has no legal basis and will undermine our rule of law. Don't believe the British Government who says it's all going to be alright because it just wants to leave with dignity. Don't believe those rich businessmen who personally stand to gain from their connections with China and don't care about human rights anyhow. Look at the facts - China's plan to repeal the key parts of Hong Kong's Bill of Rights; the plan to restore draconian colonial laws which end free speech and the right to form societies without Government approval; the Hong Kong courts bound by the interpretation of the Basic Law given by the People's National Congress in Beijing; statements by China that criticism of Chinese Government leaders will not be permitted in Hong Kong, that advocating Taiwan independence will not be permitted, that the June 4 vigil in Victoria Park will not be permitted. Look at the anti-human rights attitudes of the judiciary already and the self-censorship in the media. Freedom in Hong Kong will not survive unless Hong Kong people and the world community put pressure on China to respect the Joint Declaration. It is in world's interest for Hong Kong to survive, as it is a major part of the trading economy of the world with huge investments. And do not imagine that you can have a successful economy continuing without political freedom. You can't run a financial centre without complete freedom of information, and businessmen won't want to stay in a place where there is no rule of law. Act now. If Hong Kong is destroyed it won't be possible to rebuild it."

We spoke to a team of 6 officials at the State Department; to the Congress Hong Kong Caucus, and to Vice President Gore's adviser on Asia at the White House. We met with the National Council for US - China Relations, the US China Business Council, and numerous "think tanks", media representatives and NGOs. We spoke at Harvard, Columbia and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver.

The large numbers who turned out to meet us were indicative of the great interest and concern. The subject is clearly of much more interest in the USA than it is in Britain. In a few quarters there was ignorant optimism, but generally people shared our assessment, but were at a loss to know what to do. The State Department particularly seemed to be without a policy. Since our return it seems that President Clinton has chosen a policy of warmly embracing China without any qualifications or reservations - a policy that if carried through, would mean abandoning Hong Kong to whatever fate is inflicted on it. That policy however, is fraught with many problems, and it is far from clear how or whether it will be sustained. Powerful forces in the US oppose it, and they are likely to grow stronger. We were particularly pleased that just after meeting us the New York Times printed an editorial which closely reflected our views. We know that our views are shared too by many senators and congressmen.

We came back with 2 lessons: Firstly, our international advocacy is enormously valuable for human rights in Hong Kong by keeping the eyes of the world on events here and ensuring that people are well informed. The Monitor is now planning more trips to other countries as a result. Secondly, no-one will help Hong Kong if it does not help itself. Despite the million strong demonstration here in 1989 in support of the student democratic movement in China, there is still a widespread perception around the world that Hong Kong people only care about money. Unless Hong Kong people in large numbers speak up on human rights issues - both here and when travelling overseas - the rest of the world will not speak up for them.

Paul Harris

1996/1997 (c) Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor