Emily Lau is one of the most famous politicians in Hong Kong.
She was the leader of the Democratic Party and the first woman to be elected into Hong Kong’s legislature.
A former journalist, Emily is a passionate defender of press freedoms and free speech.
Emily joined Misha Zelinsky for a chinwag about the current mood in Hong Kong, what ‘one country, two systems’ actually means, how the Beijing crackdown is hardening the position of protestors, how young people are inspiring their fellow citizens, why western governments and businesses should stand up to CCP bullying – and what a peaceful resolution looks like.
It’s an inspiring and illuminating chat.
Misha Zelinsky: So Emily, welcome to the show. Thank you for joining us.
Emily Lau: Thank you.
Misha Zelinsky: I’ll just say for the recording, we are talking through the miracle of video conferencing technology. You are currently in Hong Kong, and I am currently in Sydney. So, welcome and thank you. I’ve thought a first place for us to start, I mean there’s so much going on at the moment in Hong Kong, I thought you might be able to give us a bit of a sense of the mood right now in Hong Kong. There’s a lot of reporting, but what’s the mood like on the ground amongst people?
Emily Lau: Well, I think the mood is still tense because people are still demanding that the administration of Carrie Lam should respond to all these legitimate demands and requests and she has exceeded to one which is withdrawing the extradition bill from the legislative council. And that happened yesterday and they see it’s taken almost five months to do that. And now, and there are other demands, but one is very critical and that is the setting up of an independent commission of inquiry to look into, not just to target the police and investigate police brutality, which the whole world has seen for over four months, but also to look into the whole saga and why did it blow up and what happened?
And of course, to find out what lessons Hong Kong can learn that a city which is so safe and so peaceful can suddenly just crumble before the world’s eye. And that’s very important. But she, Carrie Lam refused. And this legitimate request is not only supported by the pro democracy camp, the peaceful protesters and some of the radical protesters, but also supported by population at large, even those in the probation camp.
So we’re waiting for her to do that. And as we speak this morning there were peaceful demonstrations in the morning, people just march on their way to work and chanting slogans and so on. So some people are not going to stop.
Misha Zelinsky: So, and that’s fascinating. So thank you for that. And we’ll dig into the, I guess the protests and how those have played out. I’m curious, you’ve lived in Hong Kong very long time. You’ve been a very prominent politician throughout your career in Hong Kong.
Curious for historic overview about how Hong Kong has maybe changed since 1997 and given that that was the turning point from when we had British rule and now a two systems, one country rule under Chinese communist party. How has Hong Kong changed in that time? Has it changed and then what are the changes you’ve seen over that period?
Emily Lau: Well, of course Hong Kong has changed. Before ’97, we were a British colony in fact, we were a British colony for one and a half centuries. And Britain wanted to hang on, but China disagreed. So Britain had to pull out. But regrettably, when Britain pullout, Hong Kong did not have a democratic government. The people had no right to choose the government and there were very little protection of human rights.
And so it was really quite terrible. But the Hong Kong people sort of accepted it willingly because, well, most of us were ethnic Chinese and most of the people accept that Hong Kong is Chinese soil. And then China came out and reassured the Hong Kong people and say, “Don’t worry, we will not send communist carters to Hong Kong to run the place. You, Hong Kong people, will run Hong Kong.” But of course, unfortunately these Hong Kong people are not elected by us.
They have a very convoluted form of election whereby power rests with the political and the business elites who of course will always look up to Beijing. But initially it was okay in a sense that Beijing did not interfere, but then when Beijing tried to pass law to affect our freedoms and safety, people were began, you know, demonstrating. And the first big march was in 2003, the law on national security.
And because so many people march, some of the pro-business legislators then changed their mind, refused to support. So the bill had to be abandoned and then, but Beijing started getting very worried because so many people could march. So they started sending more and more of their people to Hong Kong to interfere, to find out what’s going on. And but still they would not allow us to have democratic political reform.
And then you see, as you can see in 2014 we had the umbrella movement where protestors, including myself, we occupied the central business district and in Causeway Bay and Mong Kok for 79 days, we blocked the roads. There was not that much violence, but of course it ended in us being arrested but no democracy. And now this time around, this protest almost coming up to five months of protest was triggered by an extradition bill, which Carrie Lam proposed to extradite someone who went to Taiwan with a girlfriend, killed her and came back and Taiwan wanted Hong Kong to send the man to Taiwan for trial.
But we have no extradition arrangement and Carrie Lam came up with this bill and not just to enable them to send people to Taiwan for trial, but to send to mainland China and to Macau, and to all the countries that we have no such arrangement. And people are very frightened because we, we in Hong Kong ended China’s policy of one country, two systems.
It is true that the people here, the 7 million odd people here, we do enjoy freedoms and human rights, personal safety and the rule of law, which the people in mainland China do not enjoy. And of course, some of them are envious of us and some when they come to Hong Kong they are very free. But once they go back to the mainland they are not free. So people in Hong Kong don’t want to be extradited to China for trial, because there is no legal independence, no independence of the judiciary. And I speak as a member of the board of directors of the China human rights lawyers concern group.
We formed a group here 11 years ago to support the human rights lawyers. They are very brave and some of them are in jail for many years being tortured, cannot see their families. That’s the state of affairs there. So Hong Kong people are very frightened. Then Carrie Lam refused to withdraw the bill and then they demonstrated and the police beat them up, and all that.
And now we are stuck and she still refused to set up this commission of inquiry. Of course people want democracy too, but I guess people are pragmatic enough to know that democracy will not happen next month or even next year. But to quiet things down, we need to have this commission of inquiry.
Misha Zelinsky: And so you mentioned there the extradition bill. How specifically, how would that actually work? How would that practically be applied by mainland China if a bill was implemented by Hong Kong, but under carrier Lam’s plan? What would have actually happened to somebody materially? Could they have been arrested and taken across the border?
Emily Lau: Oh yes. Well, but they say the bill says that you have to have crimes, which you know we have clients in Hong Kong and the same crime in mainland China. You can not have something there that we don’t have. Like you punish people for their political views, for religious reasons, or other things. So it has to be like that. But of course people have no confidence in mainland China.
In fact, a few years ago they came to Hong Kong to snatch somebody from the Causeway Bay bookshop because they were printing and selling books to the mainland, which upset the Chinese authorities. So people have no confidence. And in fact, for the last 22 years, ever since Hong Kong was returned to China, Hong Kong authorities have been negotiating with the mainland authorities for a deal on extradition. Or if it is within the same country, it’s called rendition. But we could not get anywhere.
So it’s not as if we have not been trying, but we try for 22 years and could not do it. And there was no big trouble. I mean, it’s not as if some people say, “Oh, Hong Kong has become a haven for fugitives.” Well, the Chinese government did say they have 300 fugitives in Hong Kong and they not only came, but they also took a lot of money to Hong Kong. But still we could not get the arrangement.
And suddenly, Carrie Lam came up with this thing triggered by the Taiwan murder case. And with no very little consultation, you know, they just gave a few weeks for public consultation. Even some law on animal cruelty, they have three months, but this one is just a few weeks. That’s why people went berserk.
Misha Zelinsky: And so what are the specific demands that the protestors have? So you mentioned that wanted to withdraw the bill, but what else specifically are they looking for?
Emily Lau: Well, of course they want a democracy. That’s number one.
Emily Lau: And they also want, because the government, the police called this whole, the protests, as riots. And of course they want them to withdraw that label. And anyway, the government said it’s not for them to decide, it’s for the court, finally. But they want them to withdraw that label. And they also, of course, wanted amnesty for all the protesters who were arrested. And some of them, of course, are very young.
And then the government again say, of course, there’s no way we can give amnesty, it is against the rule of law. But of course, in the 1970s, in the last century, we had this big row between the police and the offices of the Independent Commission Against Corruption, which of course was set up mainly to investigate corruption in the police force.
And everybody knew it at that time the police were very corrupt, and the police were very angry, and they attacked the ICAC office.
And so there was big, big friction and tension. And the then-governor, Murray MacLehose, gave an amnesty. Said, “Okay, quiet down.”
But is this going to happen? But I think we need the inquiry to look into it, and to see whether people should be just released and not charged. But anyway, we have over 2,000 people arrested, and many of them have not been charged. And many say that they were just arrested so indiscriminately, and actually they were not guilty of anything, and the police arrested them. So that aggravated the anger. So those are the things that the protesters want.
Misha Zelinsky: You’ve talked a bit there about the protesters. I’m curious, there’s been a long-going, ongoing protest, and increasingly the tensions have risen.
What are the risks that protesters are taking in continuing to demonstrate against against the actions of the CCP and Carrie lamb? What are the material risks that you’re seeing in that level of bravery that the citizenry are exhibiting?
Emily Lau: Well, actually, Hong Kong has long had a tradition of peaceful protests. Even if you have over a million people protesting, not one single bottle would be broken, and not one single shop window would be broken, and no vandalism, and all that. That’s what we’re known for.
And even this tourist guide, The Lonely Planet, they put Hong Kong in it a few years ago, and asked people to come to Hong Kong and join the protest because they are so peaceful, so colorful.
So that’s what Hong has been known for. But over this, this time round, because the police were quite brutal, and some of the protestors, I must admit, they were also ready for action. They dug up the bricks in the road, and so on. So when they started clashing, it changed the whole nature of our protests.
And then, but if you joined that sort of protest, and then the police start firing teargas, and then rubber bullets, bean bags, and even live ammunition on a few occasions, and some people were critically injured. And then now they also have the water cannon, and they add some color to the water.
We don’t know what other chemicals they put in the water, and a few days ago, they spray it in a mosque. And so the imam were very, very upset. And there were people standing outside, people from the Indian community, the Indian community leaders, they were all sprayed, so they were furious. They were not protesting.
So, anybody, if you join that part of the protests, because what sometimes happen is, if there’s a peaceful protest, sometimes the protests get the police permission. Sometimes they do not get, but even without the permission, we still march. I’ve taken part in those marches.
But the first part, very peaceful. Many people. And then came to the end or something, then many people went home. But the rest stayed and then blocked the roads, and started beating things up, smashing the railway station, because they say the railway station is being used as a tool of the police, so they started smashing them.
Then, if you do that, and the police fought back, they fire all these things. Then of course it could be very dangerous. And then Indonesian journalists, a lady, a few weeks ago, was shot in the eye with a bean bag, and she has lost her eyesight. So it could be very dangerous.
And then more and more of the protesters, young people, very young, as young as 12 years old. And they’re so galvanized. And the reason, one of the reason is the social media, the telegram and all these things. They go to the apps, they go to to find out what is the proposal for action today, tonight. And they join, and then they see their peers. There’s people in the same school, they join too, they also go, especially they see their friends getting injured or arrested.
They get very angry, and they say, “Okay, let’s go.” So it is really… And some of the schools, they can do nothing about it. And the parents, the parents are also very worried if their kids go out like that.
Some parents go and follow them to ensure they are safe. But because there are people who are against this, so the society, the community is completely split asunder. Friends have split up, even families split up, because once you start talking about this, if you have different views, you started arguing, you started shouting at each other. And in the end you say, “Oh, come on, forget it. I never see you again.” So it is very, very sad.
Misha Zelinsky: Well, when you talk about that division across society, one of the things you think about is the leadership involved in this. You’ve talked a bit about Carrie Lam. How has she handled this, in your opinion, the way this is escalated, and the back down very late in the piece, and letting it continue to build and build and build, and the use of police and other things.
How do you think that her leadership stacks up in this context?
Emily Lau: Well, I think she has no leadership. She disappeared, disappeared for a number of weeks when the thing first broke out.
And then later, when she met with some businesspeople, and those are the people she would talk to, the rich and the powerful. She talked to those businesspeople and she said, “Oh, some people thought I’m dead. Well, I’m still alive.”
I mean, really crazy. So she had no leadership whatsoever, and she made a bloody mistake. When we marched, there were several marches before, but they were not very big. So I guess that gave her the confidence that, oh, it’s nothing, no big deal.
And she also of course survive other crisis in the past, like the disqualification of legislators, disqualification of candidates standing for election, and a still no big blow up, no big marches.
And also the co-location of Chinese immigration and customs facilities in Hong Kong, which is, against, it’s one country, two systems, because they are not supposed to implement their laws here. But all these, she survived.
So, as some people said, “Oh, she probably thought she could walk on water.”
So when this thing came along, she thought she would survive again. And also, the pro-Beijing politicians in the legislative council, which is our parliament, they have a majority, and they support it. So she thinks, “Well, I have enough votes.”
So, on the 9th of June, there was a march, because a few days later the legislative council was going to vote on it without the scrutiny of a committee. So already very tense.
So, on Sunday they march, and there was supposed to be the vote the following Wednesday. One million people marched. Very peaceful. No, nothing happened. Just marched. Before the demonstrators went home, got home that night, government issue a statement. “We know the city has different views on this. We’re going to go ahead with the vote on Wednesday.”
Isn’t it crazy? One million. And then, on Wednesday, of course, some of the protestors, young ones, older ones, were very mad. They went to the legislative council complex, surrounded it, and then would not let some of the politicians in to attend the meeting.
And started the clashes. How stupid. And then, a few days later, she came out and said, “Okay, I will suspend the bill.”
But the people say, “No. We want you to withdraw it. It’s a proper procedure. You cannot just suspend. What does it mean?”
And then, a few weeks later she said, “Oh, the bill is dead.”
People said, “What is that? There’s no such terminology in parliamentary language.”
But as I told you, they formally withdrew the bill yesterday in the council. So it’s taken more than four months to just withdraw the bloody thing. I mean, she is hopeless. And they were reports saying she offered to resign, she offered to Beijing, and Beijing said no.
Just this morning, on a phone-in program here, someone said, “She is so awful.” And the person is right.
She said the whole society of Hong Kong has to suffer just because of the mistake of one person. And of course he’s not absolutely right. It’s not just her mistake. It’s also the mistake of those people in parliament who supported her, and also her advisors.
And you know, all the pro-Beijing camp supported her, the businesspeople supported her. Although the businesspeople were very upset with the bill, because they feel they are the first to be hit, because they go to mainland China to do business all the time. And they say, “If you do business there, you have to be corrupt. If there is no corruption, you can’t do business, so we’re going to be caught.”
And so they were very upset. And then Carrie Lam took out a few offenses, and they were forced to support it, but they had no guts. They should’ve come out. And they are the people that Beijing and Carrie Lam will listen to. But in the end, when Beijing said, “Yeah, support her.”
So they all shut up and support her. I mean, they are so despicable.
Misha Zelinsky: And so there is, you know, Carrie Lam, there are some upcoming elections. Maybe you can explain, firstly, how democracy, as it currently structured, works in Hong Kong, and how those elections work. And then, what do you think is likely to happen, because there’s talk about them being deferred or delayed. And so maybe you could explain a little bit about that.
Emily Lau: Yes. Well, as I said, Hong Kong has no democracy. Carrie Lam was chosen by a committee of 1,200 business and political elites. And the people who had a right to choose this committee of 1,200 is about a quarter of a million. But they are mainly the business and political elites.
And then in the parliament legislature, 70 members, half are chosen by the people, half by these elites, called functional constituencies.
And next month we will have election to the district councils. Hong Kong has 18 district councils. Together there are 400-odd members, and most of the members are elected by constituencies.
But now, one thing that people are concerned about is whether one of the candidates, Mr. Joshua Wong, who is a young leader, whether his qualification will be will be taken away, whether he will be disqualified. And because I think Beijing and the authorities regard him as too close to America, and they are inviting for an interference, and they say they support self-determination, which Mr. Wong said they don’t. They support everything within the one country, two systems policy, and also, they do not support independence. But still they have not yet announced whether he can be qualified to stand. So that’s one thing.
And then yesterday the government said that they have set up a committee, a sort of a crisis committee, to decide whether there will be a crisis next month, and whether the election of the district councilors will be postponed. And it can postpone it for within a period of two weeks, because if they see there are too many protests, and safe, and so on.
So the situation is very tense. And of course, one reason why they think of postponing is that the pro-Beijing parties fear that they will lose many seats in the election. Right now they have a majority in many of them, but they fear that this time round the situation could change, and they could lose their majority in many of the district councils.
And to make matters even more sensitive, the 400-odd district councilors have the right to elect 117 members of the committee, which choose the chief executive, the 1,200 member committee.
So whoever has a majority in the district councils, the winner, if you have more than half of the seats, you can automatically get the right to elect 117 members to the election committee for chief executive.
So it will not just affect the district councils, which have no real power, but of course they still represent the people. They can speak out on district issues. But it will affect the election of the chief executive, which should take place in 2022. And so of course Beijing is very concerned, because Beijing doesn’t want the right to elect the chief executive to be usurped right now, although it’s 1,200 people who elect, but they listen to Beijing. And only candidates that Beijing like will come forward to stand.
All these things are linked. But if they cancel the election, or postpone the election without good reason, I think it will cause a huge international uproar. And I hope you people in Australia, the media, the politicians, the government, will speak out.
How can you just cancel the election? If you come to Hong Kong now, it’s very calm, although they are periodic demonstrations. They just had any election in Afghanistan. If they can do it there, and also in Bolivia, where they’re clashing.
Of course I want people to calm down. Don’t get me wrong. I think the situation should dial down, should deescalate. And I have already told you what needs to be done to deescalate. And I think we should have a calm environment for election, but the government should not use some excuse to postpone, or to cancel the election.
Misha Zelinsky: You’ve said, obviously, there’s no true democracy in Hong Kong. You’re a very longstanding pro-democracy politician and activist in Hong Kong.
What realistic prospects do you think there is for democracy in Hong Kong in the longterm? And do you think that the one country, two systems approach is going to last for the duration of what it was promised?
Emily Lau: Now, you’re right. We don’t have true democracy in Hong Kong. We sound as if there is semi-democracy.
Well, actually democracy, my dear, is like pregnancy. Either you are pregnant or you’re not, and of course, we are not, and we don’t have democracy.
But there is an irony. Although no democracy here, but the level of freedoms, civil liberties, personal safety, the rule of law, independence of the judiciary that the Hong Kong people have enjoyed for decades, is much higher than many countries which have democracy.
I would not say true democracy, but they have democracy. They have periodic elections, whether it’s in Asia or elsewhere. And we can have a very long list of such countries and their people, and I think they will agree. They do not enjoy the level of freedoms and personal safety, and the rule of law, the independence of the judiciary, which is the ultimate arbiter. They don’t enjoy it. That is the irony.
Those are the things that we’ve enjoy under British rule, and under one country, two systems. And of course we think that if we can have democratic government, then we can boast of those things even more. But now, with these weeks and months of protests and demonstrations and clashes, all these things that we hold so dear to our hearts are crumbling before our very eyes. The lesson to you people in Australia and elsewhere is that certain things which are very precious, universal core values that we have taken decades to build up, can be destroyed in no time, my dear friend. In no time.
It’s very sad. But speaking as someone who’s been in this for so many decades, I’m not going to give up. Although I have left parliament, I’m no longer in the leadership of my party, but I will not give up.
I will never resign from the fight for human rights, democracy and the rule of law. But we need to work with the people, with the masses. And I certainly hope the government would listen to their demands, very legitimate, so that many of the protesters will not turn out to march anymore, and there will not be violent clashes with the police.
Otherwise, we are really going to lose everything. And then, of course, some of the protesters say, “Oh, we burn, you burn with us.”
I don’t think too many Hong Kong people want to burn. We want to return to normality. But we also want the administration to respond to our demands, which are very legitimate. It’s not as if we are fighting for independence or self-determination. Now those, I think many countries will not support. I don’t think the Australian government will support. And even look at Catalonia in Spain. I mean, many governments do not support it.
But last night we had a demonstration here supporting Catalonia. And they had one there, then two demonstrations together, supporting each other. But that was a small demonstration in Hong Kong. They said 3,000 people turned up. By our current day standard, we easily talk about hundreds of thousands every time.
But we’re not fighting for those things. We’re just fighting for one country, two systems, civil liberties, personal safety, and the rule of law. But if the government wants to crush all that, and the protestors, they’re not going to give in. So it’s going to get worse.
Misha Zelinsky: You’ve talked about Australia, but more generally, I think there’s been a lot of concern globally around the situation in Hong Kong.
What can democratic governments around the world, like the Australian government and other governments, do to support? How can we show support to the protests in Hong Kong?
Emily Lau: Well, I think, first of all, I want to thank the international community for supporting Hong Kong in the past few months.
In fact, one reason why Carrie Lam was willing to suspend the bill and all that, was due to pressure from the international community and the business community. They always just listen to the rich and the powerful. So they have spoken out, and of course, we call on them to continue to speak out.
And I fully understand, and some of them have told me, they said, “We cannot support violence.” And I say, “I fully understand, I do not support violence too. So you can call on all sides to dial down. But you should also call on the administration of Carrie Lam to accede to the demand to set up this Independent Commission of Inquiry.”
And yesterday there was a debate in the House of Lords in London, not on Brexit, although they’re very preoccupied with Brexit. But it was on Hong Kong, and some of the Lords we spoke, and two of them were former governors of Hong Kong, Lord Chris Patton, and Lord David Wilson.
And both of them support the setting up of the Independent Commission of Inquiry. And they also of course touched on the possibility of Hong Kong British citizens, because there are over two million British citizens in Hong Kong. They hold a British national overseas passport, which does not give them the right of abode in the UK.
I don’t have one. And when people ask me, “This is a BNO passport.”
I said, “Do you know what BNO stands for? It’s Britain Says No.”
It’s disgraceful. These are British citizens. So I’m glad to hear that, in the House of Lords debate, they were talking about possibility of giving these people a second home.
And then of course there were also statement issue by over a hundred parliamentarians in the UK, calling on countries of the Commonwealth, which should include Australia, to also come chip in, to offer second home to these people should there be a need.
So we are really calling on the international community to be sympathetic, to be supportive. Of course, if everything goes right, Hong Kong people are not going to flee. Why should they go out? They are not going to become Hong Kong boat people, like the Vietnamese did in the last century.
But we need people to not just tell Carrie Lam, but to tell Beijing, tell President Xi Jinping, not to keep saying this is a color revolution, the foreigners interfering, and want to make Hong Kong an independent entity, which is not true.
Misha Zelinsky: You’ve talked there about international pressure. One of the things that’s interestingly happened recently, we’ve had people speaking out against Beijing and its interference in what’s going on in Hong Kong.
For example, we’ve had the MBA now basically buckle to pressure from the CCP and Beijing when one of the coaches spoke out again in support of the people of Hong Kong.
That kind of bullying of businesses like the MBA that rely heavily on their income from the Chinese market. How disappointing is that to the people of Hong Kong, and how much does that deflate the efforts underway in protesting in Hong Kong?
Emily Lau: Well, of course that’s a big problem. And I noticed that the American Vice President, Mike Pence, just made a big speech, and he attacked the MBA.
But this problem is not just with the MBA. I think there are companies in Australia, and political parties in Australia, politicians who love money. And the Chinese, although now of course they are not as rich as we think, and their economy is not in very good shape, but they have a lot of money. And they will go to many places to buy influence.
But also, there are many companies, which want, or organizations like the MBA, which will make a lot of money if they can get access to the China market. China knows that these people value money so much, so they use that to say, “Ah, if you do or say the wrong thing, we will punish you, and you will not get access to the China market, and you will lose billions of dollars.”
People are so keen. Then of course they will say, “Oh, okay, I’m a bad boy. I will shut up. Sorry, I will never do it again. And also, I will encourage others not to do it.”
So it is something that many countries, not just America MBA. You in Australia, your companies, your political parties, you’ve had cases of members of parliament, members of political party, who have to resign because it’s been shown that they have received Chinese money.
And so it is something that everybody has to be aware of. I mean, I am in favor of free trade, but you have to do it in a clean and accountable way, a very transparent way. And also, you should demand reciprocity. Now, you go to China to trade. You have scholars going there, politicians, journalists going there. But you don’t get access to many things, because that is not an open society.
But when they come to your country, which is open, they’re academics, they’re politicians, they’re government officials. They get open access to everything. So why can’t you demand reciprocity? If you are free, open country, and China is not, say, “Hey, when our people come to your place, you give us the same treatment.”
But many do not get the same treatment, and they don’t say anything. Why? Because they get money. Money will cover their mouth up. And that’s the sad thing. People are willing to sell their souls because just they want to get money, and China knows it.
And not just in Australia, but in many other countries, even free and democratic countries, because they are so crazy about the China market. Billions of dollars.
Misha Zelinsky: We talked a lot about financial pressure there. One of the things that we’ve seen a bit from the backlash from Beijing against the protests has been… We’ve seen the PLA amassing on the border of Hong Kong. We’ve obviously had lots of arrests, but one of the things I’d be curious to hear about is this question of face masks and the banning of face masks, and why protesters are wearing them, and what they’re concerned about. Can you explain a little bit about that?
Emily Lau: Now, first of all, you’ve got the word wrong. It’s not border, my friend. We are part of China.
Misha Zelinsky: Sure.
Emily Lau: So it’s a boundary.
Misha Zelinsky: I’m sorry. Okay. Yup.
Emily Lau: It’s a boundary. And the face mask thing is, you know, again, it was a demand by the pro-Beijing politicians here in Hong Kong.
They have been demanding it for quite a while, and Carrie Lam kept resisting because she should know, everybody should know. It’s counterproductive. If people will go out to protest, to fight with the police, they are not afraid of getting arrested, getting tortured and all that.
Are they going to be afraid of just being arrested with the face mask on? They’re crazy. So, once the thing was passed, and it was passed not by ordinary procedure in the legislative council. They invoked the emergency regulations ordinance, which was enacted in the 1920s, the last century. And the last time it was used was in 1967 during the riots, which was triggered by the cultural revolution in mainland China, so that’s a historical relic.
I actually moved to have that bill, that ordinance, repealed, when I was in the council in 1996. But of course, I lost. So they retained that historical relic after the change of sovereignty.
Of course they had foresight, they knew one day they would need it. And of course now they used it, but it is no use. The people are not going to be afraid, not going to be stopped by this law. It’s crazy.
And then of course they say, “Oh, you foreign countries, you are hypocrites because you have face mask laws in your country too. And now when we try to have it, and then you criticize us.”
But our remark is, well, like what you just said, we don’t have true democracy. These countries which pass the face mask laws, they have a democratically elected parliament, and they pass it. But we don’t.
And also we will say, “People are not going to be intimidated. So forget it.”
In fact, people would be provoked even more. You see our demonstrations, our marches now. Most of them are wearing the mask. What good is the law?
Misha Zelinsky: And the reason for wearing the mask, is that also partly about the concerns about facial recognition technology and surveillance?
Emily Lau: Of course, of course. They don’t want to be recognized by the police. They don’t want to be arrested, but they are not afraid. Many have been arrested. And the police, the police also wear things that make them unrecognizable.
They’re supposed to have their identity known so that if people want to lodge a complaint, they can say, “I’m complaining against a police officer, blah blah blah.”
But no, they are all covered up. So people say, “Oh, you are covered up, and you don’t allow us to be cover up.”
Oh, it’s really terrible.
Misha Zelinsky: Well, well I know they tell you you’ve got a very busy day ahead of you, and very grateful for your time. So there’s one last question that I always ask, and it’s been very inspiring, and as I always say, very clunky segue to this question, and particularly on this occasion, but foreign guests on the show, I always ask them what three Australians would come to a barbecue at Emily Lau’s place? Who would those people be and why?
Emily Lau: Well, my dear friend, actually, I don’t know too many Australians, but I met several recently because they came to Hong Kong to interview me.
And I think I would like to barbecue with them to discussing more. One of them is the senior, or the foreign correspondent, of 60 Minutes, Liam Bartlett. And the other one is the ABC Australia journalist, Hamish MacDonald. The third one is, I’ve not met him, but I’ve read about it. It’s Tim Norton, he’s the chair of Digital Rights Watch, talking about attacks on press freedom in Australia, and the many attempts by the government to raid journalists’ home and offices, and also to get access to their metadata.
And of course press freedom is very close to my heart. I also understand that many Australians are not happy with the media, but that’s no reason to just allow the government to run riot, because once we lose press freedom, we lose freedom of expression, we lose… many other freedoms will be at stake.
Why? Because if there’s no press to report, and if you cannot put things on the social media, the people in power can do anything, and many things, and nobody would get to know about it.
One reason why the Hong Kong protests have got such international attention and support is we still have press freedom. Any journalists here or from all over the world, they land in Hong Kong, they can immediately go to the site, scene, and have closeups of the protesters, and closeup of the police offices.
All these scenes are very riveting. Just imagine if there’s no press freedom. We will be like, you know, in Xinjiang, they say a million or more Uyghurs are being locked up. Have you seen wall-to-wall coverage of that? No. Why not? Because there are no pictures. Pictures are very powerful, and the journalists help to bring us the pictures. So I hope you in Australia will defend your press freedom. I would like to meet Tim.
Misha Zelinsky: Well, that is a very prescient and important point to end on, so thank you so much for your time. Good luck in your struggles, and good luck to the people of Hong Kong. Thank you very much.
Emily Lau: Thank you. Bye-bye.
Misha Zelinsky: Bye-bye.