Who's next for ban - Patten?

Editorial | 13 Oct 2017

When news broke that British politician and human rights activist Benedict Rogers was refused entry at Hong Kong International Airport, I suspected our Immigration Department didn't make the decision, but carried out an order from a higher authority.

It's now perfectly clear the decision had come down from Beijing. It's simply stunning.

Rogers was quoted by an internet news website as saying the Chinese embassy back home in London had warned him via a third party, after it learned about his plan to visit the former Crown colony. The third party reportedly relayed the embassy's concern that Rogers may visit the student leaders serving jail sentences for their leading roles in protests. Later, he was told his SAR trip would impair the Sino-British relationship, so he would be denied entry.

The Foreign Ministry was straightforward about it. Yesterday, the blunt statement by a spokeswoman was basically related to two points: one, Beijing retains the authority to decide who can come to Hong Kong; and two, Rogers was barred because of fears he would intervene with the SAR's internal affairs and judicial system. In hindsight, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor's response prior to the spokeswoman's statement appeared to be redundant.

In answer to a question during a radio program and similar queries at the Legislative Council, Lam said she couldn't provide the details, but added that, under the Basic Law, Beijing is responsible for foreign affairs.

"I hope everyone can understand that," she said.

Yes, it's all understood. But nevertheless, it's also alarming.

It alarms because it would still be a case of overkill, even if Rogers - who isn't even a member of Parliament - does fall within the scope of foreign affairs that, under the mini-constitution, are outside the SAR's bailiwick.

The issue is that while the decision was made by some policymakers in Beijing, it did more harm than good to Hong Kong, because one of the SAR's greatest assets is its international reputation, which makes the place distinct from other mainland cities.

The move was like throwing rocks into waters that Hong Kong's leader is struggling to calm.

Very often, politics is about balancing the pros and cons. However, what can be the benefits of turning away the human rights activist? I can't conjure up any, for it's very unlikely that Rogers could have caused serious trouble here.

Hong Kong's former British governor Chris Patten is more famous than Rogers, and no less critical of Beijing's policies toward the SAR - not to mention the fact he was once vilified by the Chinese as "a whore of 1,000 years" and other equally colorful terms of endearment.

But did Patten's recent visit here create any serious problems? All he did was give a few speeches and interviews, autograph more copies of his books, and wolf down some of his favorite egg tarts. If Patten was considered harmless, then why fear Rogers?

In contrast, the downsides are plenty, most outstanding being the impact such an incident is bound to have on the public perception of Hong Kong.

Macau has been habitually rejecting some visitors from here - including journalists - and has never properly explained why. Does the public view Macau positively on this?

If the situation is allowed to evolve into such a state that whoever disliked is barred, it could be the moment we begin to lose our international appeal.

The Foreign Ministry statement falls short of clearing up the clouds.

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