Hong Kong / China (5/4). On March 19, the South China Morning Post published a letter by an obscure politician from the United Kingdom’s Green Party, Natalie Bennett, who portentously (if incorrectly) described herself as “Baroness of Manor Castle”. She also identified herself as the “Co-chair, All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong” (APPG), and then indulged in some crude smears against the Hong Kong Police Force. Having denounced what she called “the excessive force used by the Hong Kong police”, she fatuously lauded protesters who were “risking life and liberty, defending Hong Kong”.
Bennett reiterated the announcement she had made in London, on March 10, that the APPG would be holding a “limited official inquiry” into the police handling of medical workers and activists, with its report being submitted to the British government.
On Thursday, the secretary for security, John Lee Ka-chiu, provided an effective antidote to Bennett’s poison. He explained that, far from defending democracy, the rioters were “using force to silence others”, and instanced the man they set on fire and the man they killed with a brick. He pointed out that they had “indiscriminately” blocked roads and traffic, “viciously” damaged property, “recklessly” thrown petrol bombs, and “ferociously” attacked citizens with different views. He also explained how the police, who exercised “restraint in the use of force”, were “duty-bound to take actions to restore public order and ensure public safety”.
The APPG inquiry is, therefore, a farce, paid for, at least partially, by the very protest movement it should be investigating. It is a travesty of justice, which all fair-minded people should shun, and its findings would be thrown out by any court of law as manifestly biased. The UK consul general in Hong Kong, Andrew Heyn, no friend of hypocrisy, will hopefully now alert his government to what is going on
Although the protesters’ violence was ignored by Bennett, nobody should be surprised. In its short life, the APPG has devoted itself, for reasons that are now clear, to spreading fake news about Hong Kong, and to glorifying the protest movement.
The APPG was established in London on Nov 6, with the professed aims of promoting democracy, the rule of law, and human rights in Hong Kong. It also seeks to “protect Hongkongers”, as well, even more absurdly, as “the 33,733 UK nationals in the city”. The APPG’s launch was attended by assorted protest movement backers, as well as by anti-police elements. They included activists from Democracy for Hong Kong (D4HK), a fringe body which whips up anti-China sentiment in the UK, and from Stand with Hong Kong (SHK), the infamous crowdfunding group. Under its slogan “fight for freedom”, SHK whitewashes the protesters’ outrages, advocates their “five demands”, urges foreign governments to involve themselves in Hong Kong’s internal affairs, and has even asked the UK government to revoke the citizenship of British police officers serving in the Hong Kong Police Force.
Bennett’s co-chair is Alistair Carmichael, a Liberal Democrat lawmaker, who shares political platforms with the likes of the former governor, Chris Patten. He was recently made a patron of Hong Kong Watch, the sinister London-based think tank operated by the serial fantasist Benedict Rogers, whose lies about the police force produced a rare rebuttal from the UK foreign office in January, and whose activities led to his exclusion from Hong Kong in 2017.
The APPG’s vice-chair, moreover, is David Alton, a vaguely comical figure from the House of Lords, who is also a patron of Hong Kong Watch. Alton turned up for last November’s District Council elections in Hong Kong, grandly describing himself as an “election observer”. Ever since, he has taken to lecturing the Hong Kong government on what it should and should not do, and he takes himself very seriously. He may, however, have overstepped the mark with his latest call to the British government and “others in the international community” to urge the authorities in Hong Kong “to drop” the charges against criminal suspects with whom he sympathizes, as this could amount to an attempt to pervert the course of public justice.
On Jan 27, moreover, Carmichael tabled a motion in the UK House of Commons. It claimed that “police brutality” demonstrated that, in its handling of civil disorder, the Hong Kong Police Force was failing to observe international standards, and it called on the British government to raise the matter with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Like Bennett, Carmichael ignored the terrorist campaign mounted over many months by subversive forces, and against which the police force, without inflicting any fatalities, has so courageously defended Hong Kong.
Since Bennett, Carmichael and Alton have already, in advance of the APPG’s inquiry, manifested naked bias toward the police force, and disregarded the protest movement’s depredations, any report they produce will not be worth the paper it is written on. It will be a mockery of fair reporting, and the UK government will hopefully give it short shrift. British parliamentary standards must not be trashed by a group of China bashers, bent on undermining one of the most professional police forces in Asia.
As for Bennett’s claim that the APPG is planning a “limited official inquiry”, this is fanciful, and designed to impress people unfamiliar with how things work. As the UK Parliament’s own website makes clear, “All-Party Parliamentary Groups are informal cross-party groups that have no official status within Parliament”. Since neither the APPG nor its inquiry is official, the question therefore arises as to who is financing its work, and the answer is extraordinary.
When, as required, the APPG was registered, on Nov 5, with the UK Parliament’s Register of All-Party Parliamentary Groups, it was obliged, amongst other things, to indicate its secretariat, and it provided the name of “The Whitehouse Consultancy Ltd”. On its website, this consultancy describes itself as “an award-winning, issues-led communications agency with decades of experience in public affairs”, and its services clearly come at a price.
Although most people are unaware of the Register’s existence, close scrutiny yields a remarkable discovery. Under the subheading “Benefits in Kind”, toward the end of the declaration, it is revealed that “The Whitehouse Consultancy Ltd is funded by Stand with Hong Kong to act as the group’s secretariat”, and that, as of Nov 5, Stand with Hong Kong had committed approximately 36,000 pounds (US$44,700), which is mind-boggling. What this means, therefore, is that the APPG, via its consultancy, is being funded by a political grouping in Hong Kong with direct ties to the protest movement, and notorious for its anti-police sentiments. How much extra money is now being pumped into the APPG by SHK, given the additional costs of the inquiry, is anybody’s guess, but they obviously feel the investment is worth their while.
Indeed, when Bennett first announced the APPG inquiry on March 10, SHK cynically declared, without disclosing their involvement, that “this inquiry is welcomed by many campaigners, including ‘Stand with Hong Kong’”. They then expressed the hope that the British government would take the inquiry’s “findings seriously, and hold perpetrators of human rights abuses accountable”. Judging by the language, SHK already knew what those findings would be, and everybody can now see why.
The APPG inquiry is, therefore, a farce, paid for, at least partially, by the very protest movement it should be investigating. It is a travesty of justice, which all fair-minded people should shun, and its findings would be thrown out by any court of law as manifestly biased. The UK consul general in Hong Kong, Andrew Heyn, no friend of hypocrisy, will hopefully now alert his government to what is going on.
Whether the UK parliamentary authorities realize that one of their all-party groups is being funded by a foreign political interest group is unclear, but, given the ethical concerns, they must now put their house in order. The British police may also wish to take a look at things, as there could well be a criminal dimension. In many places, including the US, the covert involvement of foreign political entities, with interests of their own to serve, in the activities of parliamentary bodies, is taken very seriously indeed, particularly when, as here, money has changed hands.
The author is a senior counsel, law professor and criminal justice analyst, and was previously the director of public prosecutions of Hong Kong.