Following is the full text of the speech by the Secretary for Security, Mrs Regina Ip, at the Rotary Club of Kowloon Golden Mile:
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region: In Search Of A New Equilibrium
Mr Lam, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me begin by thanking your Club for inviting me to speak at your luncheon meeting. This is indeed the first time I speak publicly on my policy area since I took over as Secretary for Security about two years ago. The timing cannot be more appropriate, being a little three years after the Reunification, and after I have had sufficient time to reflect on the issues I have dealt with as Secretary for Security.
Human Rights and Law and Order
From time to time people have asked me what is the toughest part of my job. Contrary to beliefs in some quarters that my greatest difficulty might lie in providing leadership in a traditionally male-dominated area, one of the greatest challenges of my job is surely striking a balance between protecting individual rights and freedoms and maintaining law and order. Our disciplined services face this challenge practically everyday, being constantly on the frontline in apprehending criminals, pressing charges, confronting angry petitioners or enforcing the law in one potentially antagonistic way or another. It should come as no surprise to the public that controversies never cease to dog our path, as we - both myself and my departments - navigate a painfully difficult course between the Scylla and Charybdis of upholding the law on the one hand and protecting individual rights and freedoms on the other.
T S Elliot once said that 'April is the cruellest month'. For us in the law-enforcement business, hardly a month goes by without one security incident or another. The last two months, in particular, are marked by a series of security events of diverse nature, ranging from the Hei Ling Chau prison riot; to the Police's use of pepper foam in handling the scuffle with demonstrators on 26th June; the subsequent enquiry into the role played by students; the hostage incident at the Hong Kong International Airport staged by a lone 'gunman'; and, of course, the suspected arson attack at Immigration Department on 2nd August. In the typical, loquacious Hong Kong style, commentaries poured in as to what should have been done; how things could have been better handled and who should be held responsible. Not surprisingly, accusations also abounded that the Government had been too tough, or too soft. Criticisms alternate that the Government have trodden too hard on human rights, or failed to take decisive action. The question inevitably arises just where does the truth lie?
Struggling To Achieve A Balance
Against this background, it is interesting to note that in a report card on how Asia is governed recently compiled by a regional magazine, Hong Kong's human rights performance is given a 'B+', which is amongst the highest in Asia. For us, this positive rating came as no surprise, given the painstaking efforts we have made over the years to achieve a balance between law-enforcement and respecting individual rights and freedoms. At the heart of this policy is our commitment to abide by the Basic Law, Article 39 of which provides that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights shall remain in force and shall be implemented through the laws of the HKSAR. It also provides that the rights and freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong residents shall not be restricted unless as prescribed by law. Whether before or after the Reunification, we have taken the commitment to abide by international covenants applicable to Hong Kong as gospel truth. Following the Reunification, compliance with the Basic Law, including Article 39 regarding the primacy of protecting rights and freedoms, has underlined all of our policy decisions.
A good example is our approach towards the handling of protests and demonstrations. In criticising the disciplined services for being too heavy-handed, or not sufficiently alert, few people realise that the disciplined services have been reminded time and again that in dealing with petitions and protests, they should 'presume that demonstrators are doing no more than exercising their freedom of expression unless specific and reliable information indicates otherwise'. The above directive has in fact been written into police orders setting out the law and principles governing the assessment and policing of public order events, after a review of Police methods in handling public demonstrations was carried out after the so-called 'megaphone incident' on 1st July 1997. Other disciplined services, including the Immigration Department, are fully aware of this principle. That is why the Director of Immigration said, in response to criticisms of laxity after the suspected arson attack, that his staff could not treat petitioners, however troublesome they might have been, as though they were thieves! Our Police Force, which have to handle regularly public protests and demonstrations, are fully imbued with this doctrine and have carefully calibrated the degree of force they employ in maintaining public order in response to the degree of violence displayed by demonstrators and any other evidence available.
The Community Can Benefit From A More Balanced Approach
In my opinion, not just the Government but the community as a whole can benefit from a more balanced approach in reacting to events and controversies thundering all around us, no matter how bizarre they might appear at first sight. In recent years, our community, including the mass media, have become too prone to take things at face value; to jump to conclusion and to pass judgment without an objective inquiry into where the truth lies. A disturbing development that runs counter to the rational, 'tell truth from facts' tradition that has helped Hong Kong to thrive. For example, in accusing the relevant authorities of laxity in the wake of recent security incidents at the airport, critics have overlooked the fact that we need to strike a balance between security and facilitation. Our airport being what it is, recently voted the finest in Asia, we have to keep it user-friendly and cannot turn it into a fortress by over-arming our security guards or by over-building 'fire walls' to segregate different security zones. Take another example the recent arson incident, a local magazine more or less suggested that the government could have prevented the attack by eavesdropping on the abode seekers or adopting military methods in dealing with petitioners. It even suggested that to pre-empt such incidents, the security chief should be someone with military or intelligence background! How ironic these remarks do seem to me, a couple of months after a few Legislative Councillors concluded the last legislative session by castigating the Government for turning Hong Kong into a 'Police society' and giving the Police too much power. One former Legislative Councillor is of course well known for his obsession with alleged unauthorised government wire-tapping, and suggestions from time to time of being followed or wire-tapped by the Government.
The Legislative Council Can Make A Better Impact By Being More Balanced
Likewise, the Legislative Council can in my view make a greater impact in exercising their oversight function on executive actions if they adopt a more impartial, balanced approach. I am not suggesting that all legislators are biased or inherently adversarial towards the Government. But judging from the performance of a few Legislators at certain panel meetings - for example the Security Panel meeting on 30th June, the last meeting of the last legislative session - some of them did seem to be more interested in seeing heads roll rather than establishing the facts. To those at the receiving end of their attack, it would appear as though all they want is 'blood'; to pin down culprits in the absence of a thorough investigation. Such an approach is a sad departure from the fundamental tenets of the Rule of Law that Legislators have vowed to uphold, namely, presumption of innocence and respect for due process. I sincerely hope that when the new LegCo returns, Legislative Councillors can adopt a more objective and balanced approach so that we can work together in a more positive, open-minded spirit to ascertain the truth.
Students Cannot Put Themselves Above The Law
To the students involved in the demonstration at the Central Government Offices on 26th June, I wish to assure them that there is no linkage between the recent arson incident at Immigration Department and Police enquiries into their involvement in the above demonstration. I wish to stress also that there is no question of 'political persecution' of students. While it is easy enough to resort to such headline-snatching epithets, I sincerely hope that students, and other members of our community, will look at all dimensions of any given problem rather than think in terms of labels and stereotypes. What the Police are doing is no more than following the due process in making enquiries into possible criminal offences: no decision has been taken to prosecute and much will depend on the evidence available. In due course, the case will be referred to the Justice Department for a decision.
But as I have said at the LegCo Security Panel meeting on 30th June, students, or for that matter any other group, cannot put themselves above the law and forever expect to be exempted from prosecution. It is impossible for the Government to condone such open, repeated flouting of the Rule of Law. To do so would set a very bad precedent by giving a special group preferential treatment, contrary to the cardinal principle that all men (and women) are equal before the law. Quite apart from the fact that the Public Order Ordinance has worked well and protests have flourished after the Reunification, if students are unhappy with the law governing public meetings and processions they should seek legislative amendments through proper, legal channels. Students should also remember that as student leaders and as grown-ups, they should have the courage to face up to the consequences of their actions.
I should stress also that a level playing field does exist in the law and order arena. Police enquiries into alleged assault on demonstrators by Police officers at the 26th June demonstration are continuing. Prosecution, as in all other cases, will depend on legal advice and the evidence available. The appropriateness of Police actions in handling the incident on 26th June will ultimately be reviewed not just by me but also by the Independent Police Complaints Council.
Freedoms Are Not Absolute
Critics of existing law on public meetings and processions often cite the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as the legal authority for the unqualified right to demonstrate their feelings. Yet a careful study of the ICCPR will show that the freedoms protected thereunder are not absolute. Paragraph 3 of Article 19 which provides for the right to freedom of expression specifically states that -
'The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:
(a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others;
(b) For the protection of national security or of public order (order public) or of public health or morals'.
Our law regulating public meetings and processions are entirely consistent with the principles enshrined in the ICCPR. Advocates of the unfettered right to demonstrate do themselves, and the community, a disservice by ignoring the rights or reputation of others, or the authorities' need to protect national security or public order.
Disturbing Use of Violence
As I said earlier, the multiplication of public meetings and processions since the Reunification provides ample evidence that individual rights and freedoms are going strong in the HKSAR. But I am concerned about the disturbing use of violence in two demonstrations during the past year, namely the protest at the clearance operation at Shek Wu San Tsuen last November and the protest staged by abode seekers at the Central Government Offices last December. Quite apart from the fact that any outbreaks of violence are in themselves unacceptable, such outbreaks could have potentially catastrophic consequences if not handled properly. Fortunately, of the thousands of public meetings and processions which have taken place since the Reunification, only two are found to have involved excessive use of violence. The community have by their unanimous condemnation of such violent acts voiced their opposition to actions that threaten to undermine the tranquillity and reputation of our territory. I appeal to all would-be demonstrators to think twice before taking any action that could break the law or give rise to violence. Examples abound of how 'freedom fighters' undermine their cause by abusing their freedom and thereby giving the pursuit of freedom a bad name.
Implementing 'One Country, Two Systems'
Another major challenge I face is undoubtedly the implementation of 'One Country, Two Systems' in the law and order area, where two radically different legal and judicial systems, one based on the Civil Law and the other based on the Common Law, co-exist under one country. In the past two years, a multitude of cross-boundary issues, ranging from rendition of fugitive offenders to providing assistance to Hong Kong residents under detention in the Mainland, have occupied the centre-stage of public attention. In dealing with these issues, I find myself caught again between calls for action from two extremes: stepping up co-operation with Mainland authorities to resolve practical problems on the one hand and 'defending' Hong Kong's jurisdiction in criminal matters so as to cement the separateness of our systems on the other.
Given the fundamental differences between the Mainland's legal and judicial systems and ours, the difficulty, whether in building bridges to the Mainland authorities, or in maintaining Hong Kong's separate systems, should not be belittled. Recently, controversies such as the Hong Kong University's inquiry into Dr Robert Chung's allegation of interference with academic freedom have unleashed a wave of intense doubts and scepticism about the SAR Government's ability to maintain the autonomy and freedoms guaranteed by the Basic law. However, despite the feverish probings and the virtually endless questioning and finger-pointing, the SAR Government can justifiably boast of an incredibly successful record in protecting human rights and defending its separate systems.
In many respects the SAR Government has achieved what many doom-sayers regarded as the impossible before the Reunification. In late 1996, when I happened to be in Canberra when a well known local politician was also there on a speaking tour, I remember there were newspaper reports of his remarks to the effect that 'I hope there will be no bloodshed after the handover, but I do not rule out becoming a martyr'. I remember also that another local politician expressed concerns that after the handover, he might not be allowed to return to Hong Kong once he left. Both gentlemen are of course alive and well in Hong Kong, not afraid to speak up or pull punches at whatever they regard as supine acts or undue interference. Candlelight vigils to commemorate June 4th continue to take place every year, making Hong Kong the only part of China where such practices are allowed; while Falungong followers are free to practise their religion provided that they abide by the law. To the surprise of self-declared Mainland dissidents, the right of abode was recently granted to Mr LU Siqing, who is engaged, according to his own description, in activities which are regarded as 'subversive' on the Mainland.
The Chief Executive's Leadership In Implementing 'One Country, Two Systems'
One can of course shrug off these achievements as examples of how things should be run under 'One Country, Two Systems', or simply the Rule of Law in operation. But it is precisely the successful implementation of the 'One Country, Two Systems' concept in tantalising areas such as what I just described which doubters and sceptics before the Reunification have regarded as well nigh impossible. After all, the greatest challenge posed by the Reunification is turning the 'One Country, Two Systems' concept into a reality. And now, as the facts do speak loudly for themselves, 'One Country, two Systems' is a reality, and this arrangement has provided stability and prosperity to 6.7 million Hong Kong residents, an oasis of peace and freedom upon which we can build our future. I sincerely believe that we have the Chief executive to thank for the successful translation of 'One Country, Two Systems' into reality, particularly in the seminal years of the establishment of the HKSAR. Although these achievements are not what the Chief Executive himself talks about everyday, the difficulty in upholding practices so dynamically different from those obtaining on the Mainland should not be under-estimated. We truly have the Chief Executive to thank for standing up for the freedoms of Hong Kong people, not by eloquent, self-serving expositions, but by quiet deeds emanating from an unswerving commitment to uphold the Basic Law.
Three years after the Reunification, it should now be clear to the people of Hong Kong that the 'One Country, Two Systems' concept which has guaranteed the continuation of our separate systems and lifestyle for the next forty-seven years cannot possibly succeed without the unwavering commitment of the Central People's Government, apart from that of our Chief Executive, to the faithful implementation of the Basic Law. Mutual trust, understanding, respect and a common purpose in taking Hong Kong forward under this unprecedented arrangement is of paramount importance. From my experience of working with the Chief Executive in the past three years, there cannot be a better candidate than Mr C H TUNG, at this point in time and in the foreseeable future, to carry out this unparalleled task, the foundation of our continued success in the years to come. I do realise that at times it might appear to some that
'Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold .....
The best lack all conviction, while the worst .....
Are full of passionate intensity'.
But we are well advised to drive away such monster in our thought, which preys on our ability to summon up vital sources of energy and inventiveness to face the many and varied challenges of the 21st century.
The last thing we should do is, like Othello (who out of jealousy murdered his beautiful wife a matter of days after their marriage),
'Of one that loved not wisely, but too well;
Of one not easily jealous, but, being wrought,
Perplexed in the extreme; of one whose hand,
Like the base Indian, threw a pearl away
Richer than all his tribe.'
We have much to treasure in the 'One Country, Two Systems' guaranteed by the Basic law, and in the unfailing commitment of our leaders to the principles enshrined therein. All we need is, in Winston Churchill's words, 'time, calm, industry and vigilance, and also time to let things grow and prove themselves by experience'. In spite of all the hullabaloo about the perceived problems around us, nothing of crisis proportion has really shaken our underlying strength and foundation. Again to paraphrase Churchill at the end of the Second World War, we have "nothing to fear for the future", provided we show a bit more balance in all we think and do.
Thank you very much for bearing with this long speech.
End/Wednesday, August 23, 2000