Monthly Archives: August 2015

China needs to learn from Hong Kong

As usual journalist Frank Ching is spot on in his analysis.

When Hong Kong was handed over to China, people were saying Beijing could learn from Hong Kong how to enter the modern world of finance and politics. But there are lessons Beijing just does not seem to want to learn.

For example, when a major issue dominates the public’s concern, the Hong Kong government sets up commissions to investigate and report back to the people.

Such commissions are part of Hong Kong’s tradition. The British colonial government, between 1966 and the handover to China in 1997, set up commissions of inquiry 12 times to look into such issues as the cause of riots, a fire on a floating restaurant that claimed 34 lives, and the flight from Hong Kong of a police chief superintendent wanted on corruption charges. The strength of such inquiries is that they are conducted by individuals of standing in the community who, while appointed by the government, act independently. Often, such inquiries are headed by judges.

The latest issue is the discovery of lead in the Hong Kong drinking water. The pro-Beijing government in Hong Kong reacted in a way that does credit to the recent history of Hong Kong. They set up a commission.

[T]he commission is headed by Justice Andrew Chan, a high court judge. The commission’s terms of reference are to ascertain the causes of excess lead found in drinking water in public rental-housing developments; to review and evaluate the adequacy of the present regulatory and monitory system in respect of drinking-water supply in Hong Kong; and to make recommendations with regard to the safety of drinking water in Hong Kong.

Frank also points out that the people of Hong Kong know what the local standard is and how it compares to the World Health Organization standard. BTW, 10 micrograms per liter for both.

Now take the explosion at Tianjin — as Frank did — as an example of how not to investigate a major incident that have people concerned for their health and safety.

Premier Li Keqiang promised to “release information to society in an open and transparent manner.” But the Communist Party’s propaganda apparatus has moved in as usual and demanded: “Use only copy from Xinhua and authoritative departments and media…. Do not make live broadcasts.”

Cyanide has been detected in the soil near the blast sites, but a Chinese official, Tian Weiyong, director of the environmental emergency centre of the Ministry of Environmental Protection, was quoted as saying that the level does not exceed the national standard. However, we are not told what the Chinese standard is and how it compares with WHO guidelines.

And just as a side note, Frank points out that even if China revealed the “Chinese standard,” it would probably not be of much comfort to the people. In the case of the Hong Kong lead-in-the-water situation, it would never come up as an issue in China. While the readings in Hong Kong exceeded WHO standards by four times, they would have been within Chinese standards of 50 micrograms of lead per liter of water, or five times that of the WHO.

Frank’s bottom line is something a lot of us have argued for years. When the Chinese people know the information they are getting has been carefully sifted and purified, they reject the official statements and turn to rumors for information. Rumors cause panic. And yet, the Chinese leadership says controlling information is necessary to preserve social stability. They really don’t seem to see how their actions are actually adding to instability. (Or at least they are acting as if they don’t see the connection between media control and social instability.)

Independent commissions to investigate disasters and access to the commission reports have provided stability to Hong Kong society. People may not like the results of the studies, but at least the process is public and the public knows how and why the conclusions were reached.

Frank points out

China can learn from the outside world is the creation of an independent body, such as a commission of inquiry, to show its determination to uncover the truth, regardless of where it leads. Such commissions are used around the world, including by the United Nations.

Setting up such a commission lifts a huge burden from the government’s shoulders. The trouble is that, in China, the Communist Party won’t let anyone else investigate.

He adds another problem finding individuals trusted by the people to serve on the commission. “After all, there is no independent judiciary,” he wrote, “no Independent Commission Against Corruption and no Office of the Ombudsman where people of integrity may flourish.”

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Filed under Censorship, China, Freedom of Information, Hong Kong

Thai authorities arrest Hong Kong journalist for having body armor

The BBC reports Hong Kong photojournalist Anthony Kwan Hok-chun was arrested for carrying body armor and a helmet as he was ready to board a flight back to Hong Kong.

Seems Kwan brought the equipment with him to cover the recent bombing of the Erawan Shrine a couple of weeks ago. And it seems having military type equipment is against the law.

The Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand issued a statement calling for Kwan’s release. The FCCT made the following points to the Thai government:

  • Hong Kongers were among the dead in the bombing
  • Protective gear is standard issue for reporters covering violent events.
  • The vest and helmet are not weapons
  • Journalists openly worn body armor during recent political turmoil without any action being taken government
  • Te deaths of two foreign journalists in Bangkok from gunfire during the political unrest in 2010 underscores the need for this kind of protection.

As the FCCT pointed out, it is not unusual for journalists to wear protective gear when reporting from dangerous areas. The Committee to Protect Journalists gives a rundown of the types of equipment to wear in different troubled areas:

  • Choose a vest rated to stop high-velocity bullets fired by military rifles.
  • Helmets are also recommended for journalists covering war zones.
  • Wear body armor whenever you are embedded with military forces

The CPJ also offers  tips about using protective gear in civil disturbance situations:

  • Protective gear  that is lightweight and relatively thin can provide protection against knife attacks, rubber bullets, and other hazards.
  • Baseball-style caps with metal plates are also available.
  • Armor may not be recommended for covering criminal matters because it may cause a journalist to be mistaken for a law enforcement agent.
  • Gas masks may also be worn, although in doing so journalists incur the risk that they could be mistaken for either riot police or demonstrators.

Kwan’s employer, Initium Media, hired a lawyer to contest the charges.

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Filed under Asia, Harassment