The Chinese white paper debate has been raging for the past few days, with the executive branches of the government doing their very best to talk down the negative impact the paper has had on the perception of judicial independence (or lack thereof) in Hong Kong. The main government mouthpiece on the issue has been Rimsky Yuen, the Secretary for Justice, who has been trying, again and again, to convince everyone that the white paper does not actually say what is says. Yesterday, Yuen tried a new tactic, declaring that the white paper only repeats what is already established in law. Specifically, with reference to the white paper’s claim that judges must ‘love the country’, Yuen said yesterday:
“When judges take their oath when assuming office, it is already a legal manifestation of the ‘love the country, love Hong Kong’ concept.”
Well, let’s see whether he is right. This is the Judicial Oath that each and every judge has to swear on assuming office:
“I swear that, in the Office of a Judge of the Judiciary of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, I will uphold the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, bear allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China, serve the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region conscientiously, dutifully, in full accordance with the law, honestly and with integrity, safeguard the law and administer justice without fear or favour, self-interest or deceit.”
The only part of the oath which may have any relevance on ‘loving the country’ is the part about bearing allegiance to the HKSAR. The problem of course is that there is no mention of ‘the country’, as the oath merely pertains to the HKSAR. In this regard, it is instructive to note that Yuen himself distinguishes between ‘love the country’ and ‘love Hong Kong’.
The other problem is that even if references to the HKSAR were somehow to include ‘the country’, equating ‘allegiance’ with ‘love’ is quite a stretch – to say the least. Love is defined as ‘an intense feeling of deep affection’, whereas allegiance is defined as ‘loyalty to a group or cause’. Thus, one does not need to have a PhD in linguistics to appreciate that it is perfectly possible to bear allegiance to something without loving it.
So basically, Yuen is talking hogwash, hoping that people will somehow fail to notice or just ignore the obvious. This is the same Yuen who, in 2008, as Chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association, said this:
“[U]nless the Judiciary is truly independent, it cannot fulfill its role of ensuring the government is acting in accordance with the law.”
What it all means of course is that 17 years after 1997, ‘one country two systems’ is rapidly becoming ‘one country one system’.