How does the South China Morning Post get sanctions so wrong?|Kevin Carrico

Published (HKT): 2020.08.28 10:10

Nowadays, I always keep my expectations low when someone forwards me a South China Morning Post opinion piece. However, this week, as I read Yonden Lhatoo’s piece, entitled “Is the US encouraging murderers and rapists to hide in Hong Kong by suspending extradition treaty” , I realized that sometimes even my already low expectations are still a bit too high.

Lhatoo’s aim in this article is twofold: (1) a muddled critique of the United States’ sanctions on twelve officials, and (2) a hissy fit about the cancelation of the United States’ extradition treaty with Hong Kong. These are generally uninteresting takes that I could easily read in China Daily or Wen Wei Po if I wanted: no paywalls there, for good reason. Yet the sheer amount of misinterpretations and misrepresentations in which Lhatoo engages, inside a newspaper that I used to eagerly read, in the short span of less than 800 words, is a truly impressive feat.

Lhatoo begins by critiquing the sanctions, which he describes as “opposing and blatantly interfering in a sovereign nation’s right to protect itself.” He proceeds to call Washington hypocritical for having its own “national security laws” while criticizing Hong Kong’s National Security Law. Finally, bemoaning the inclusion of officials’ passport numbers and personal addresses, Lhatoo even accuses the United States of “state-sanctioned doxing.”

Where to begin? In the interest of seeing fewer horrible takes on this topic, I would like to share a few words of friendly advice with Hong Kong officials and their defenders and enablers on this topic.

First, get some coherent messaging on whether the sanctions matter. At first both Carrie Lam and Luo Huning mocked the sanctions as meaningless, even offering to send President Trump $100 to freeze. Yet soon thereafter, the Hong Kong government issued a statement criticizing the “so-called sanctions” as “blatant and barbaric interference,” claims which Lhatoo echoes. I fully understand that the mixed messaging between haughty dismissal and enraged hyperventilation may be a product of suddenly realizing you can’t even use a Visa card anymore, but do try to be a little more consistent as your vacillations are all on public record.

Second, referring to the sanctions as “so-called sanctions” makes them no less real. This is yet another manifestation of the accelerating Peking-ization of Hong Kong government rhetoric: the CCP has a notable fondness for using “so-called” and scare quotes to bracket off realities that do not fit into its ideological worldview, such as rendering Taiwanese independence as “so-called Taiwanese independence.”

Unfortunately for Carrie and company, though, no matter how many scare quotes you use, the “so-called sanctions” are still real sanctions and I regret to inform you that you are going to have “trouble” opening a “so-called bank account.”

Third, the fact that the United States has national security related legislation does not mean that its government cannot criticize the National Security Law that the city’s colonizers forced on Hong Kong. If this National Security Law teaches us anything, it is that not all national security legislation is created equal: when the United States starts arresting teens for Facebook posts and searching newsrooms without a warrant, give me a call, Yonden! Until then, you are just engaging in false equivalences and whataboutism.

Fourth, about “doxing,” anyone who takes a moment to look at Treasury Department sanctions lists will see that the inclusion of identifying information, such as date of birth, address, and identification numbers, is standard operating procedure. Such identifying information is provided to help the public abide by the sanctions: to provide concerned companies and individuals with identifying information so that they can ensure that they are not doing business with the abusers sanctioned.

If you work in a newsroom, use a little Google or Baidu or whatever you prefer to gain some familiarity with the topic you are discussing.

If you are an official, you don’t get to oversee systematic human rights abuses and the destruction of a city’s political and legal systems to the point that you are the target of sanctions, and then suddenly turn around and expect honest people to feel sorry for you because the global sanctions announcement included your identifying information.

If Yonden is genuinely concerned about state-sanctioned doxing, might I recommend that he look at the politicized stalking, intimidation, and harassment done by Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao in Hong Kong? For some reason I don’t remember him being terribly concerned about state-sanction doxing when Wen Wei Po “journalists” somehow managed to camp out in my Mongkok hotel lobby.

Having engaged in unprecedented fits of illogic in his discussion of sanctions, Lhatoo proceeds to up his hyperbole game by suggesting that the cancellation of the extradition agreement between the United States and Hong Kong is intended to allow “murderers and rapists to find refuge in this city.” If I was a gambler, Yonden, I’d bet that was probably not the reason.

As I said in last week’s column, since Hong Kong is part of China, having an extradition agreement with Hong Kong but not with China is essentially Hong Kong independence advocacy, which is now illegal. As such, having an extradition agreement with Hong Kong could be grounds for extradition to Hong Kong under the National Security Law.

All joking aside, however, for a news editor to be unaware of ad hoc extradition arrangements for serious cases in the absence of a formal agreement again raises serious questions about his basic understanding of extradition, which has sort of been a prominent topic in Hong Kong news the past eighteen months.

If Yonden really does not want Hong Kong to provide safe haven to murderers, he could focus his energies on pressuring Carrie Lam and Teresa Cheng to work out an extradition arrangement with Taiwan to see Chan Tong-kai face justice. The Taiwanese presidential elections have come and gone, yet Chan is still living in Hong Kong. For some reason, the case that was once a matter of great urgency for Carrie Lam and the blue ribbons has completely dropped off everyone’s radar: it’s almost as if they were only using the case as a pretext? I think there might be a story there for a paper, just perhaps not the South China Morning Post.

The cancellation of the United States’ extradition agreement is not some conspiracy to facilitate murderers and rapists settling in Hong Kong. It is recognition that the once sound legal system of Hong Kong has been manipulated and politicized to the point that governments around the world that embrace the rule of law, freedom of speech and conscience, and the right to a fair trial simply can no longer trust the Hong Kong government on legal matters.

The fact that Lhatoo refuses to see this basic fact, choosing instead to ascribe ulterior motives to a government that (unlike the Hong Kong government) is concerned about the city’s autonomy and freedom, suggests that in this process some English language media have also been manipulated and politicized to the point that people in Hong Kong and around the world who treasure freedom of speech and thought can no longer place their trust in it.

(Kevin Carrico is Senior Lecturer in Chinese Studies at Monash University)

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