Kapok | The variable geometry of the ‘one country’

Eric Sautedé

The fact that Macao immigration has been barring some Hong Kong residents from entering the territory of the Macao SAR is widely acknowledged and documented. It is neither a daily occurrence, nor an open secret, but the very fact that it has become duly admitted and vindicated by the Macao authorities, including Secretary for Security Wong Sio Chak, testifies to a worrying trend in which a discretionary power has transformed into an accepted norm and a routine practice.

Suffice it to say that it is “in accordance with the law” for the audience to accept it matter-of-factly, as if for a high official to invoke the law and the compliance with that law were good enough to ease all doubts and worries. This is exactly what happened with the rejection of Hong Kong legislator Kwok Ka Ki on July 15th on the grounds that he was a “threat to stability” (威脅穩定). As Mr Kwok is strongly contesting the decision, Secretary Wong has been mildly challenged by (too few) local media and has been arguing that this kind of decision was indeed absolutely in line with existing laws regarding the security of the territory — which ones, no one really knows — and that it was not unique to the SAR but that many other jurisdictions — he reportedly quoted the examples of Portugal and the European Union — have similar legal provisions.

Mr Kwok was well aware that such a practice existed in Macao — and even the other way round as the recent Scott Chiang case proves — and he is now arguing that he never participated in any politically-related activity in the second SAR, merely visiting for holidays as this was the case that day when he was supposed to celebrate his 30th wedding anniversary together with his wife. He has now lodged a complaint with Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and has sent a similar letter to the Macao Chief Executive, Fernando Chui, asking for the justification for his entry refusal.

There was a time when such rebuttals would create a stir. That was especially true in March 2009 when then-Dean of Law from the University of Hong Kong Johannes Chan was prevented from entering Macao over the same motives. This caused an embarrassment for both the Macao government and the inviting party, the University of Macao, as Professor Chan was supposed to be in the SAR for just a few hours to deliver a short lecture on the right to a fair trial — a purely academic endeavour. But that was a few days after the passage of the Article 23 national security law in our SAR, and yet it led not only to a public outcry — including, quite ironically, a vibrant declaration by former Hong Kong Secretary for Security Regina Ip that this was “tightening the freedom” of Hong Kong residents — but also to an informal discussion in Beijing between then-Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang and his Macao counterpart, Edmund Ho. Only Stanley Ho at the time had the bad taste of justifying the unjustifiable in coarse language.

What is truly problematic is that these “stability concerns” appear to be much more politically motivated than security-prompted, then and now. In that respect the practice reminds us of the disgraceful 1952 McCarran-Walter Act that allowed for many Nobel Prizes to be barred from entering the United States based on individual beliefs only — an act that was repealed in 1990 with the revision of the American immigration law. Are ideas and beliefs being treated the same as the likelihood of committing acts of espionage, sabotage or other dangerous unlawful activities in Macao?

And then a few other questions remain. Is the nature of the relationship between Hong Kong and Macao the same as one between two autonomous nation-states? How come residents from the same country but coming from separate entities can be considered as “foreign”? And if this is a marker of the “high degree of autonomy”, why is it so different when it comes to other political and institutional matters?

Categories Opinion