James Cleverly’s sleight of hand won’t work

Given that London has chosen to be Washington’s sidekick in the latter’s all-around anti-China crusade, James Cleverly, having taken up the United Kingdom’s top diplomatic job as foreign minister, might be obliged to lambast China whenever he has a chance.

It was unsurprising that he bad-mouthed the National Security Law enacted by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress and promulgated by the Hong Kong Special Administrative government for implementation in the SAR when he spoke at the United Nations Human Rights Council on Monday.

But were Cleverly to value integrity and decency as every professional, self-respecting diplomat does, he would not have come up with twisted facts.

He claimed that “the right to freedom of speech and assembly guaranteed in Hong Kong’s Basic Law has been eroded”, citing the arrest of journalists and newspaper publisher Jimmy Lai Chee-ying and the shutdown of “independent media outlets” after the implementation of the National Security Law for Hong Kong (NSL).

Cleverly was wrong to think that he could, by playing a clumsy sleight of hand, pull the wool over the eyes of his audience, who are learned diplomats and the international community as a whole.

Lai was arrested for and charged with conspiracies to attract foreign sanctions or blockades against Hong Kong and Chinese mainland officials. And a couple of media outlets in Hong Kong decided to shut down because the operators realized they could no longer promote their anti-China political agendas and missions through those platforms. Dozens of media outlets, including major international media outlets such as The Wall Street Journal, The Economist, The New York Times, Bloomberg News and Reuters, remain accessible to any Hong Kong reader who cares to read them; and they are free to dispatch journalists to the city; they can cover whatever events they want; and they still criticize, or even slander, Beijing and the Hong Kong SAR government in the way they previously did.

Cleverly demonstrated ridiculously faulty logic when he equated the arrests of Lai and his several executives to erosion of “freedom of speech” just because they were in the media sector. He was suggesting, in effect, that certain occupations or professions are immune to legal liability, and that the universal principle of “equality before the law” does not apply to the media sector.

It is open contempt for Hong Kong’s judicial independence and blatant interference in China’s internal affairs that Cleverly openly challenged the cases against Lai and his lieutenants, particularly given that the relevant legal proceedings had started, and that six former executives of Lai’s now-defunct Apple Daily had indicated their intention to plead guilty to conspiracy to collude with foreign forces.

The NSL only outlaws subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces, and terrorist acts. Such acts are never part of the rights or freedoms recognized by the international community, and they are criminalized in the UK as well as in the jurisdictions of all of its allies under various laws. Yet, Hong Kong’s National Security Law has been the bete noire of the United States and its allies ever since the law was promulgated in June 2020 in response to the “black-clad” riots in 2019, which were part of a de facto “color revolution” supported by external forces. The anti-China crusade reeks of hypocrisy and double standards.

Cleverly mentioned the Sino-British Joint Declaration, as have other like-minded British officials and politicians when meddling in Hong Kong’s affairs, to justify his behavior. The truth is, the Joint Declaration is a pair of linked statements by China and the UK, the former declaring China’s decision to resume exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong on July 1, 1997; and the latter declaring that the UK will restore Hong Kong to China with effect from that date. The handover of Hong Kong on July 1, 1997, was the rightful end to a severe injustice the UK had placed on China. British politicians are deluded when they claim China is in some way accountable to them in managing Hong Kong. They are telling the world they subscribe to the notion that the looters, or robbers, have a say on how their loot should be disposed of even after those properties have been returned to the lawful owner(s).

The author is a current affairs commentator. 

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.