In this week’s edition of Opinionist, we present to you an excerpt of the speech made by Hong Kong journalist Ching Cheong made at the Society of Publishers in Asia’s awards dinner on the 19th anniversary of the June 4 incident. The senior writer of the Singapore-based Straits Times was detained by Chinese authorities in April 2005 for over 1,000 days on charges of spying for Taiwan. In this speech, Ching Cheong spoke at length about press freedom, Hong Kong’s core values and his optimism for positive changes in China. For the full speech, please click here.
AS YOU all know, I have just gone through a trying time. Through my ordeal, I have come to realise the virtues of Hong Kong, which is home to some 50 newspapers and 700 periodicals, as well as the regional headquarters for some news agencies.
Rule of law, freedom and respect for human rights are the core values of (Hong Kong) society. It is these values that distinguish Hong Kong from mainland China, and explain why this city had been so attractive to mainlanders over the last 150 years.
I believe SPH has set a very good example for media operators worldwide on how best to promote press freedom.
From my ordeal, I have also come to appreciate many beautiful things about Hong Kong. Foremost is the judicial system. Our common law tradition presumes innocence, places great emphasis on evidence, respects procedure and gives the benefit of doubt to the accused. Thanks to these principles, we are adequately protected from political persecution.
Since we are brought up in the common law tradition, we aren’t even aware of its existence.
After enjoying the rule of law for most parts of my life, I learn now that we should not take good things for granted because common law principles are not universally upheld.
Freedom is Hong Kong’s second virtue. Freedom – of thought, speech and expression – allows us to think independently and speak critically. It ensures our society has a built-in fault correction mechanism such that injustice could eventually be corrected.
Respect for human rights is the third virtue. In times of distress, it might be the only lifeline available to an individual victimised by the state.
In my case, it expressed itself in the strong public pressure for greater transparency and fair trial to prevent arbitrary actions by those in power.
Rule of law, freedom and respect for human rights are the core values of our society. It is these values that distinguish Hong Kong from mainland China, and explain why this city had been so attractive to mainlanders over the last 150 years. And it is precisely because of these values that Hong Kong is able to catalyse changes in the mainland, thus exerting a disproportionately big influence on China.
Indeed, Hong Kong has, over the last 150 years, promoted change and paradigm shifts in mainland China.
In the last three decades, its impact on China’s economic reform has been so phenomenal that the Russian writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, a Nobel laureate, once lamented the former Soviet Union was not fortunate enough to have a place like Hong Kong in its initial stages of reform.
Both Sun Yat Sen, the founding father of modern China, and Deng Xiaoping, the communist leader who transformed China, found safety and strength in Hong Kong in their younger days when they organised revolutions to save China.
In fact, Deng was an admirer of the common law tradition, which he believed could prevent atrocities from being committed.
When I was in trouble, the Hong Kong community started a citywide campaign to secure my release. This rescue operation cut across all party lines and social strata.
As veteran journalist Frank Ching wrote: ‘The phenomenon of Hong Kong standing united in support of Ching throughout the past three years – from his initial detention and through trial and sentencing on spying charges – was extraordinary.’
The reason it was so extraordinary is because, I believe, our basic core values were seen to have been trampled on. The spontaneous effort to help me was a way of saying ‘no’ to the violation of basic values.
This spontaneity also sprang from Hong Kong people’s care for China. They want China to be democratic and free, to respect human rights and the rule of law. Without this deep concern, few would be ready to confront the authority publicly at their own risk. This is patriotism as we see it.
Looking ahead, whether Hong Kong can still play its traditional role of catalysing changes in China depends on whether we are able to preserve our core values.
We should not count on lone crusaders or unwitting victims. The responsibility to protect and project our core values lies with each and every individual.
But we certainly also count on positive changes in China – in its leadership and people. In this regard, I am optimistic.
Photo from the Straits Times.