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She doesn’t get it, does she? The problem of our embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam, epitomised in the quote lovingly plucked from her tearless apology by the Standard’s sub editors, is that she thinks this is just a little skid on the road to paradise, easily corrected by a twitch of the wheel and a lifting of the brake foot.

Here we go: “I want another chance to deliver the many initiatives that will help Hong Kong’s economy and improve the livelihood of Hong Kong people.”

This divides policy decisions into two crisp categories: economy and livelihood stuff, which she thinks she’s good at, and the political/legal stuff, which we shall carefully avoid in future.

This is a false division. The extradition bill is an economic issue. If businesspeople think that they cannot live and work in Hong Kong without the risk of a few months in gaol fighting extradition, followed by an appearance on Confessiontube and a few years in a mainland prison, then they will live and work in Singapore, and take their money and their business down there.

People have a variety of views about the merits of living in Singapore, but we can all agree that it’s an improvement on a mainland prison.

Similarly, extradition is a livelihood issue for anyone who thinks he might be on a shitlist north of the boundary. The standard of living in mainland gaols is low, and opportunities for gainful employment non-existent. You cannot even sell your own organs when you die. They are already spoken for.

And even if the safety precautions work, and your legal ordeal in Hong Kong ends with extradition being refused, you will generally spend the intervening period in custody. This is not a prospect to be taken lightly. Let me quote from an (alas) anonymous English barrister on the perils of a remand in custody:

Everything you have built over the course of a lifetime – your relationships, your family, your employment, your home – is suddenly without notice snatched away and placed on a high shelf beyond your reach…

And every day that passes is another day that your life is continuing without you in it. Your partner going about her business. Your job still needing to be done. Your children hitting their developmental milestones. Rent accumulating and bills piling up, and the consequences of their neglect – dismissal, eviction, repossession, disconnection – awaiting you upon your release or, more painfully, exacted upon your loved ones as you watch their suffering helplessly through the prison bars.”

A leader who was lining that up for some of us has no claim to confidence in her ability to improve livelihoods, and it seems to have taken her a long time to spot the economy angle.

Indeed a lot of people in the government camp seem to be having difficulty getting their heads round what has happened in the last couple of weeks. How many people have parroted that line about “the Complaints against Police Office and Independent Police Complaints Council have always been effective in handling complaints”?

This is beyond a joke. The CAPO gets about 130 complaints a month. This is what happened to them in the last period I can find detailed figures for: “In 2006 to 2008, 325 police officers were disciplined on substantiation of the complaints against them. Of these, 292 were given advice, 12 given warnings, 12 cautioned, two reprimanded, six severely reprimanded and one dismissed subsequent to criminal conviction.”

In other words, of about 3,000 complaints, more than 2,500 produced no result at all. They were “unsubstantiated,” or classified as “not pursuable”, which is the committee’s tactful way of saying that all the witnesses present were policemen who saw nothing.

Nearly 300 of the remaining complaints resulted in a police person being given “advice”. Ouch! The only person dismissed had been convicted of a criminal offence. There is no reason to suppose that the recent performance of the system has been any different.

No doubt complaints about recent events will be handled in the same “effective” way.

Another massively inappropriate response was produced by Ronnie Tong, who suggested that anyone who turned up at a protest wearing a hard hat could be charged with intention to riot. Actually a shortage of pretexts for putting people in prison is not the government’s most pressing problem at the moment, but even if it was, Mr Tong’s suggestion has the drawbacks of being illogical (do we suppose that the driver who puts on a safety belt intends to ram a bus?) and illegal. What, no presumption of innocence?

Actually the only person among the government troops who appears to realise the seriousness of what has happened is Alice Mak, who sits in Legco for the NT West constituency, where she ran on behalf the Federation of Trade Unions. Reportedly Ms Mak’s opinion of Ms Lam, as expressed in a closed-door meeting for the government’s poodles, went on for five minutes, was highly critical and included some of the Cantonese words which when translated into English contain four letters.

This is unnecessary. The traditional resort on these occasions is to reach for your Browning – the poet, not the pistol – who produced this gem for a “Lost Leader”:

Life’s night begins: let him never come back to us!
There would be doubt, hesitation, and pain,
Forced praise on our part—the glimmer of twilight,
Never glad confident morning again!

What Ms Mak realises, and Ms Lam apparently doesn’t, is that the last couple of weeks have not been a minor hiccup in the smooth flow of public administration. They have been a political earthquake. Tsunami to follow in coming elections.

Hong Kong people traditionally divided into three roughly equal groups. There were those who welcomed the handover, and liked, or for a variety of reasons pretended to like, the idea of ever-closer unification with China.

There were those, on the other hand, who thought that the preservation of the rights and freedoms to which Hongkongers were accustomed was far from certain, and could only be ensured by allowing residents of the city a greater say in their own government.

And there was a middle group, who took things from day to day, had other things to worry about, and hoped that if they did not bother politics then politics would not bother them. This group has, effectively, been kicked off the fence. Few of them are landing on Ms Lam’s side of it.

So it’s the end of the line for the happy-clappy “The more we are together the happier we shall be”, “Xi is our Dada and Carrie is our Mama”, “You don’t love Hong Kong if you don’t love China”, and all the associated rubbish which has been played ad nauseam since the Handover. Nobody is singing that stuff any more.

The government needs a new selling point, something fresh that will appeal to the disillusioned and disenchanted. May I suggest “a high degree of autonomy” and “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong”?

 

 

 

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Carrie Lam is notoriously impervious to advice. So this letter is just a sort of thought experiment.

Dear Ms Lam,

Sorry to read that you had shed tears on television last week. I did a lot of television interviewing in my time and the interviewees all emerged from the experience dry-eyed. Weeping on the tube isn’t a good look for someone who was once described as an “iron lady with a will of steel.”

Still, looking on the bright side, it was perhaps a better look than the equivalent performance in English, in which you came across like one of the robot receptionists they are reportedly deploying in Japanese capsule hotels these days.

This is not a complaint. Interesting piece in the Guardian the other day about the fact that people feel emotions less strongly when using second languages. I suggest you aim for a happy medium next time.

I am afraid there is a certain cynicism in media circles about your lachrymose melt-down. The naïve viewer watching television may erroneously suppose that he or she and you are more or less face-to-face, having a friendly chat. But of course we, and you, know better.

The interview is preceded by a negotiation phase about times and places. The interviewing organisation will give an idea of the topics to be covered.

The team arrives, or you arrive in the studio, and you are introduced to a wide range of people whose names you will instantly forget. Nothing to feel guilty about – they expect this. Then you will chat with the interviewer, who will give you a rather more specific idea of what questions to expect.

There is then a long pause, in which you can contemplate your answers. During this time the cameraman in fiddling with his camera, the lighting man is fiddling with his lights, and the sound man will interrupt your cogitations with a polite request for you to run the microphone wire down the inside front of your blouse so that he doesn’t have to put his hand in a place where it does not usually belong.

Various people will conduct tests to see if their machinery is working, and you will be asked to say a few words to check sound levels. May I recommend “manacles, barnacles, follicles, testing?” It cheers up the crew.

The point of all this is that being interviewed is at the best of times a long-winded experience, preceded by a lot of time to prepare for what is to come. It involves sitting in a highly artificial situation surrounded by strangers. An emotional reaction to a question looks fishy.

Having said which, some people still do it. According to legend the late great Australian prime minister Bob Hawke actually announced in advance that he was going to make a tearful apology on national television and got away with it. But he was popular. You, alas…

Leaving aside the tears, though, I would really like to have a word on the matter which got you going, which was the question whether you had “betrayed Hong Kong”, and your answer, which was that you had made “great sacrifices” for the city.

Logically, I fear, your answer does not really settle the matter. It is perfectly possible that both the betrayal and sacrifices are perpetrated by the same person. As Oscar Wilde put it:

“Yet each man kills the thing he loves
By each let this be heard.
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word.
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!”

This is a verse from the “Ballad of Reading Gaol”. You could usefully read the rest of it, available here. It might make your government less eager to find legal pretexts for jailing its critics.

Let us consider first the sacrifices. My problem with this argument is that your position is in many ways an enviable one, even from the position of fully paid up members of the middle classes like me.

You work in a large office. It has a private loo and a changing room. In the vicinity, but in smaller offices, is a fleet of underlings ready to undertake the parts of your job which are boring, repetitive or difficult. Your personal office space comfortably exceeds the acreage which your government considers adequate for the housing of a four-person family, or indeed for a larger one.

Your salary is not only larger than that of the president of the United States or the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. It is actually larger than both of them put together. You are income-wise a global star, second only to the Prime Minister of Singapore. And this does not take into account the fact that you can also collect a generous government pension, an amenity which your government adamantly refuses to supply for the rest of us.

When it is time to go home you go down to the ground floor (is there a personal lift, I wonder?) where your chariot awaits. The driver is on overtime, but that does not matter. You are not paying him. We are.

He whisks you to Government House, where a further fleet of cooks, cleaners, bottlewashers etc. waits to do your bidding. They are also on the taxpayer. Government House itself is a spacious palace. Frederick the Great thought 12 rooms was enough for his palace at Sans Souci. But that is not enough for you.

You have a tennis court in the garden, an unimaginable luxury even for people like Lufsig with two houses on the Peak. And if it is raining you can play tennis in your ballroom. It’s big enough.

Money and housing and servants are, I realise, not everything. Sacrifices may take other forms, like forgoing privacy, leisure, the long-awaited chance to pursue time-consuming hobbies, or to join family members in some hospitable English-speaking country with no extradition treaty with China.

Still, you are left rather in the position of the man who asked the court for a lenient sentence because, having murdered his parents, he was now an orphan. Your situation is the result of your choices.

This cannot be said of the Hongkongers who sleep in MacDonalds because they can’t afford air-conditioning, or the men who sleep under fly-overs because they can’t find a hospitable cage, or the old ladies I used to see collecting empty beer cans on Repulse Bay beach at 4 am because they had no other source of income.

Your ‘sacrifices’ have to be measured against those you imposed on other people … without, I fear, even thinking about it.

As for the matter of betrayal, how many people have to walk down Hennessy Road before you get the message?

The attraction of ‘one country, two systems’, and the reason why the handover in 1997 was not marked by a wave of emigration or suicide, was that it offered continuity. As Deng Xiaoping put it in 1984: “Hong Kong’s current social and economic systems will remain unchanged, its legal system will remain basically unchanged, its way of life and its status as a free port and an international trade and financial centre will remain unchanged…”

To put it less tactfully, the boundary between the Hong Kong SAR and the mainland is supposed to ensure that we are not subjected to mainland habits in the matters of politics, economics and law, which are respectively despotic, dirigiste and non-existent. And this happy state of affairs is supposed to persist for 50 years.

The year 2047 is not, as some of the People’s puppets repeatedly assert, the point at which we are supposed to be happily engulfed in the motherland’s caring bosom. It is the end of the period in which we were promised that important things would not change.

“Treason” is a strong word. But how else are we to characterise your importation of such habits as jailing dissidents, banning parties, deporting journalists, directing investment, and dispensing with the rule of law? If the Chief Executive of the Hong Kong SAR wants to dismantle our defences what chance do we stand?

Integration with the mainland may offer many advantages but it should not have escaped your notice that most of us do not want it. It is not your job to force it down our reluctant throats.

Bad enough to be raped, without having the person who is supposed to protect you advising “Lie back and enjoy it.”

The CPPCC needs you. Enjoy your retirement.

smooches

Tim

 

 

History always seems to repeat itself if you wait long enough, and this now seems to have happened to the hair business.

The latest thing, pioneered by a Japanese company called QB House, is a high-tech quick version. You go in, pay (Octopus is not just accepted – it is insisted on) and unless you have to wait on the bench supplied you will be done and dusted in ten minutes.

The business model excludes all the usual frills. They do not do perms, they do not do colouring, hair transplants or even shampoos. They just cut. The ten minute duration is guaranteed.

There are some ingenious innovations, like a sort of tame vacuum cleaner to make sure your hair debris doesn’t accompany you out of the shop. There is the promise that the implements are disinfected between clients, which is nice though I wouldn’t have missed it if it wasn’t there. And just so you know nobody else has used your comb they encourage the customer to keep it at the end of the performance.

I felt a bit guilty the first time. I have been going to the same, more traditional, place for a long time. They do a good job. But they do like to wash it, which I am personally happy to do myself, they take at least twice as long and charge at least twice as much.

So I have had the quicky a couple of times now. I was sitting on the bench waiting for my turn when I suddenly realised why the whole scene seemed, despite the modern design and equipment, eerily familiar.

Back in the 50s – that’s the 1950s, children – hair care was organised on gender lines. Ladies made appointments and went to hairdressers, where they spent a lot of time with chemicals, curlers and those monstrous driers which look like they’re trying to eat your head.

Men, on the other hand, went to barbers, so called because before the invention of the safety razor shaving yourself was a tricky matter and there was a lively market for shaving men, which of course had to be done far more often than haircutting.

When you went to the barber you did not make an appointment, and there was no nonsense about choosing a “stylist” either. You sat on a bench and took your turn with whoever was vacant, although in most shops there was only one practitioner, so this was not a problem.

The barber only cut your hair. He – it was always a he – had nothing to do with its colour, shape or cleanliness. And in most cases I suspect it only took about ten minutes.

The loss of the shaving business was to some extent compensated by the sex segregation. As a sideline many barbers sold items which you might not wish to discuss in mixed company, like surgical trusses and – ahem – contraceptives. The more up-market ones lurked in smart hotels or men’s clothing shops, where they could charge premium prices and did not need to sell … other things.

Now it seems the quick, cutting only, places are going to be as common as rice shops. QB House is proposing to open 100 of them in Hong Kong, and local imitations have already appeared.

The question which then arises is whether segregation by gender will return. I suspect, and I say this with the deepest respect for all concerned, that a lot of ladies rather enjoy having a long hair session, starting with a detailed discussion of how their hair should be done.

Men, on the other hand, are more likely to be happy with a ten-minute shearing starting with a choice from the QB menu, which offers short, long or medium.

My wife watched my first visit from the safety of a nearby café, and while she appeared quite happy with the results as applied to me, did not seem tempted. In fact I have never seen a woman customer in one of these places, though many of the styling artistes are ladies.

QB House is, according to reports, anxious to increase its proportion of female customers. I take this to mean that the present number is quite low.

And I fear it will stay that way. There will no doubt be some Hong Kong ladies who will be happy to have a quick no-frills cut in ten minutes, and probably some more who will go for it in emergencies when they haven’t got time for the usual marathon. Likewise some of the more exotic hairstyles you see on men these days are clearly not the products of a mere ten minutes work.

But on the whole there is a difference here between male and female views of the matter. For many ladies, having your hair done is a social ritual as much as a practical necessity. It is an enjoyable experience so cutting it short (sorry) is not a benefit.

Men, on the other hand, just want quick gratification. It is tempting to draw an analogy to matters of sex here, with ladies preferring a longer session and men annoying them with a preference for instant relief, but I shall resist the temptation.

Suffice to say that the quick barber version was fine for me and I would happily recommend it for anyone. But probably you won’t see your wife in there.

 

 

 

 

 

It is nice to see the pro-government press displaying such solicitude for Hong Kong’s reputation. Germany got a lot of stick last week when it emerged that two fugitives from what we officially still call Hong Kong justice had been allowed refugee status there.

This, according to the People’s poodles, was doing untold harm to Hong Kong’s reputation as a haven of the rule of law and other platitudes.

An important matter, no doubt. As Shakespeare said, “Good name in man or woman, dear my Lord, is the immediate jewel of their souls. Who steals my purse steals trash; ’tis something, nothing; ’twas mine, ’tis his, and has been slave to thousands; but he that filches from me my good name robs me of that which not enriches him, and makes me poor indeed.”

But the complaint is surely getting the flow of causation in the wrong direction. It is not that the disreputable pair have been accommodated and therefor Hong Kong’s reputation has been damaged. Why, after all, would the relevant German ministry wish to damage Hong Kong’s reputation?

A better explanation is that the two alleged rioters were afforded shelter because Hong Kong’s reputation had already been damaged… by other people. As a recent article in Foreign Policy put it (I must acknowledge a useful link from Hemlock here):

“Within the last three years, the Hong Kong government, which is appointed by Beijing, has taken many unprecedentedly repressive steps. It has disqualified elected lawmakers, banned young activists from running for office, prohibited a political party, jailed pro-democracy protest leaders (including a sitting lawmaker and two respected professors), expelled a senior foreign journalist, and looked the other way when Beijing kidnapped its adversaries in Hong Kong.”

This gloomy summary omits some developments which cannot be attributed directly to the government, but which reflect the atmosphere it has fostered, like the restrictions on freedom of speech in local universities, or the physical attacks on journalists from critical news outlets.

Where else in the world would a school principal, upon hearing that his pupils had organised a petition on a matter of public interest, call the police?

The upshot of all this is that Hong Kong’s reputation is not what it was. It is all very well for officials to say that on a day-to-day basis, at least on most days, we are as free as we ever were. Perhaps this is true.

But human beings, as Kahneman points out, do not judge by averages; they judge by stereotypes. The careful observer of news about Hong Kong gets the impression that it is at present somewhere between the Hungarian and Turkish phases of democratic decay, and moving in the Turkish direction.

We still get starring roles in some surveys of economic freedom, or competitiveness as it is known in business circles. But this is not the freedom which you and I would wish to enjoy. Surveys of this kind are aimed at international business and consider the freedoms which international business values: to exploit workers, fleece consumers and con investors.

We can all agree that the Hong Kong government’s efforts to preserve these economic freedoms have been exemplary. Similar solicitude would be welcome for the more traditional rights to free speech, a fair trial, fair elections, and free media.

If you believe that these have not been eroded in the past three years I have an Eiffel Tower I would like to sell you. Hong Kong’s reputation has suffered, and rightly so. Even the independent judiciary line has wilted since the Court of Appeal trod in several legal puddles in its effort to jail Joshua Wong.

Still to come there is the outcome of the Ted Hui phone-snatching case, an interesting example of using a legal sledge hammer to crush a nut. Mr Hui snatched the phone which a minor official was using to track legislators around their own building, withdrew to a gentlemen’s toilet and spent a few minutes exploring whether he was one of the models photographed. He then returned the phone.

Now consider. If you were a teacher and a pupil came up to you and claimed that one of the kids had taken her phone and kept it for 20 minutes before returning it intact, you would no doubt scold the miscreant, perhaps even send him to see the headmaster. But would you call the police? If the outcome of Mr Hui’s case is another Legco mini-purge do not expect observers elsewhere to regard this as a pristine example of the rule of law in operation.

Never mind. Aggrieved Beijing loyalists may derive some consolation from another offering from Shakespeare, who also said,  “Reputation is an idle and most false imposition; oft got without merit, and lost without deserving.”

 

This matter of extradition is getting very complicated, and I am not sure that mixing it up with the rule of law helps.

My last piece on the controversy contained an error. So many of the People’s poodles had said that Lord Patton was being inconsistent by opposing an extradition arrangement with China when the UK already had one, that I assumed this was true. It isn’t, as a kind reader gently pointed out.

The official Foreign Office line is that individual requests for extradition to China are treated on their merits. There is no extradition treaty.

This brings us to another point, which is that whether there is a treaty or not does not by itself decide whether extradition takes place or not. I am indebted on this topic to a light-hearted piece in The Guardian about which country to take refuge in if you are a wanted person in your home country.

Some countries which have extradition treaties with the UK are in practice very reluctant to extradite anyone. Some which do not have a treaty are happy to cooperate. Some have restrictions of their own which take precedence over the extradition treaty.

The best-known example of this, to people of my generation, involved Mr Ronnie Biggs, now deceased. Mr Biggs participated in the Great Train Robbery, was caught, convicted and sentenced to a long prison term.

He escaped from prison, and found his way to Brazil, where he married a local lady. This made him a Brazilian citizen and Brazilian law does not permit the extradition of its own citizens. So he lived free in Brazil for many years until he succumbed to home-sickness and shortage of money in 2001 and went home voluntarily.

The relevance of this is that it shines an unflattering light on the latest offering from Ronnie Tong, which included the complaint that the UK has extradition treaties with “many countries” with worse scores than China on the Rule of Law Index.

This index is produced by a non-government organisation called the World Justice Project, which is like the World Series – more American than you would think. Every year it produces a league table in which countries are ranked according to their adherence to the rule of law.

The immediate objection to Mr Tong’s argument flows from this. The Rule of Law Index is updated every year. Extradition treaties, on the other hand, go on for ever. The proper question is not whether the UK has extradition treaties with countries which score lower than China, but whether it would sign an extradition treaty with a country which, at that time, had a lower score than China, which is quite a different matter.

Still, let us have a look. There are according to the UN 195 countries in the world. The UN does not count the Pope or Palestine, or for that matter Taiwan. Actually it doesn’t count Hong Kong either, but the Rule of Law Index does.

The Rule of Law Index covers 113 countries. Hong Kong comes in at number 16; China at number 82. The index ignores about 80 countries. Some of them are very small (Andorra, San Marino), some may present practical difficulties (Iraq, Libya) and some might be politically tricky (Israel). On behalf of my ancestors I would like to protest at the omission of Ireland. Switzerland seems an odd one to miss, too.

The strangest thing about the Index, though, is that if you look at the map version it is very obvious that in the Caribbean no island is too small, corrupt or rum-sodden to appear in the index, while there is no Pacific island at all between New Zealand and the Americas. Maybe there is an expenses problem.

To get to Mr Tong’s point, according to the British Foreign Office the UK has extradition arrangements with 121 countries. List here. Not all of these involve separate treaties. Importantly for our purposes, former colonies were covered on a blanket basis by the Fugitive Offenders Act 1967.

Of those 121 countries with which the UK has “arrangements”, 19 have lower scores in the Rule of Law Index than China does. Moldova has the same score but comes after China in the alphabet. Tough luck. Of those 19, nine are former colonies whose “arrangement”, dates back to the 1967 Act. There are only 33 countries below China in the index. Whether ten, or 19, qualifies as “many” in this context I leave up to you.

The UK does, though seem to have a preference for countries at the top of the rule of law list. It has arrangements with 27 of the top 30, and number 11 is the UK itself.

Looking at the list of miscreants in the bottom 30, though, inspires some concerns about the index as a whole. I realise that there are serious criticisms to be made of the way government is conducted in places like Mexico, Russia, the Phillipines and Turkey. But are they really more lawless than China?

The standards being applied here, according to the World Justice Project website, go like this:

  1. Accountability: The government as well as private actors are accountable under the law.
  2. Just Laws: The laws are clear, publicized, stable, and just; are applied evenly; and protect fundamental rights, including the security of persons and property and certain core human rights.
  3. Open Government: The processes by which the laws are enacted, administered, and enforced are accessible, fair, and efficient.
  4. Accessible & Impartial Dispute Resolution: Justice is delivered timely by competent, ethical, and independent representatives and neutrals who are accessible, have adequate resources, and reflect the makeup of the communities they serve.

Reading this you wonder how on earth China got any points at all. The clue, I think, is in the methodology. The WJP is anxious to propound the view that any country can have the rule of law, no matter how undemocratic its government, or as they put it, “The Index has been designed to be applied in countries with vastly different social, cultural, economic, and political systems.”

In pursuit of this laudable objective the index is compiled by quizzing large numbers of people, and particularly people in the legal system, in the country concerned.

You can see that this might, in places like Mexico or the Phillipines, produce some pretty critical responses. Citizens of such countries have access to international news and media. They can travel. They know what the rule of law looks like. They can discuss it among themselves and read about it in local publications.

In countries where the citizens are denied access to the outside world either by visit or information, the situation is rather different. The rule of law is like a pedestal toilet – it’s very nice but if you’ve never had one you don’t really know what you’re missing. Indeed in a closed society you may be bombarded with the message that you are not missing anything. Squatting is healthier.

For many years I used to teach Hong Kong students about media law. This was easy enough, They already knew what a law was and roughly how the system worked. You just had to teach the specific media stuff.

Teaching the same subject to mainland students involved a depressing discovery. You had to spend weeks explaining what the law was and how it worked, and even then some of them didn’t get it. People were gob-smacked by the discovery that in criminal trials under Common Law systems the accused was sometimes acquitted. The conviction rate in China’s criminal “courts” is something over 99 per cent.

I don’t know what the solution to this problem is for the Rule of Law Index. Perhaps they should keep the index but change its name, or prune countries which really don’t have a rule of law worth speaking of at all, but are good at keeping their citizens on side.

The index itself rather subverts the notion that the rule of law is a national characteristic unconnected to other characteristics like the system of government, presence or absence of civil society, free speech and such like.

The fact is that all the top 30 index countries are ostensibly democracies. There are two disputable entries in this happy band: Singapore and Hong Kong. The United Arab Emirates at 32 is the highest scoring autocracy. I do wonder whether tolerance for “vastly different … systems” is going too far when it results in a good score for a country with Sharia courts and stoning as a punishment.

Still, it appears that if you want to feature in the upper reaches of the index democracy is a necessary condition, if perhaps not a sufficient one.

This leaves me wondering about Hong Kong. We are constantly told that we can still have the rule of law as a core value, even while our government is a marionette whose strings are pulled by people in Beijing who neither know nor like the idea that the law should apply to them.

This may be possible in the short term, perhaps. But for how long?

Will people please stop wheeling out the argument that Britain, France and sundry other healthy and law-abiding countries have extradition agreements with China, so why shouldn’t we have one?

This was offered in a playful spirit by Nury Vittachi in the Standard, and in full formal legal dress by Greville Cross in the China Daily. No doubt it has surfaced in other places. It is wrong, because it overlooks some vital differences.

If you are the subject of a bid by China to extradite you from the UK, the request goes first to the Home Secretary. This title is a quaint historical survival – in other jurisdictions the corresponding political person will be the Minister for Justice or the Minister for the Interior.

Whatever you call him, the Home Secretary is a political figure who is answerable to Parliament for his actions. Unlike the person in Hong Kong who will do this, if the law passes, the Home Secretary does not make two or three visits to Beijing each year to report on his doings and receive instructions. Nor does he or she have a China Liaison Office whispering in his ear and jogging his elbow.

Similarly, if the matter is passed to a court, the judge is in a rather different position in the UK from that of his Hong Kong counterpart. Judicial independence is not an on-off switch. It exists to varying degrees.

A UK judge, for whom the Chinese government is a distant litigant with no way of making him suffer if he displeases it, will find it easier to be independent than a Hong Kong judge who, no matter how hard he tries, knows that in the view of mainland officials – and presumably of some Hong Kong ones – he is part of the administrative machinery and expected to be a team player.

I expect some Hong Kong judges privately think that this view of their functions is quite wrong. Other, perhaps, take a less robust view and try not to rock the proverbial boat.

Mr Cross points out that in past extradition cases China has always played by the rules. But this does not help us at all. When dealing with independent countries like the UK or France, China has every incentive to play by the rules because any breach of them will result in extradition becoming more difficult, or possibly impossible.

Even if future requests pass the political hurdle, the proposed victim will argue in court that assurances about his treatment cannot be relied on and the extradition request should accordingly be rejected.

I fear that in Hong Kong this important incentive is lacking. Hong Kong officials are extremely reluctant to criticise, or even recognise, abuses of the law on the mainland. No doubt they would happily wink at violations of the conditions attached to extradition orders. Judges might be less tolerant. But then again they might not. People who were not prepared to turn a tactful blind eye would find their careers shorter than they expected.

Also misleading is Mr Cross’s quaint comparison with the United States, where the country’s component states do routinely extradite people to each other. If you are wanted in California and flee to Nevada, the Californian authorities will ask for you to be sent back.

But once again this is not like the situation in Hong Kong at all. The Governor of Nevada is not appointed by the Californian government. Nevadan judges do not have to worry about whether their decisions will be welcome in California.

Also in America the legal systems in different states are quite similar. This is not the case for us. Hong Kong has a legal system which conforms to international standards. China does not.

Similarly Hong Kong does not have a separate political system from the Chinese one. On the contrary it has been made very clear that we are in the last analysis ruled by Beijing. This results in a quite understandable lack of confidence in the judgements made by ostensibly impartial government figures here.

If the mainland police were after you on some totally specious basis and applied for your extradition, would you trust Carrie Lam to say ‘no’?

Of course not. Comparisons with genuinely international transactions of the same kind are misleading and unhelpful.

Many years ago I was intrigued for a while by a French writer, Roger Peyrefitte. Mr Peyrefitte is now remembered mainly for his defiant and indeed celebratory account of his own homosexual tastes, although his preferred partners seem to have been rather young by current standards.

But I was too young and innocent for this so it rather passed me by. The thing which interested me in his biographical work was the exploration of a topic rarely explored, the feelings and motivations of those who worked for the Vichy regime which ran France on the Germans’ behalf from 1940 to 1945.

There was a personal explanation for his interest in this. Mr Peyrefitte joined the French diplomatic service after leaving the relevant Ecole as the top scorer of his year, and spent a happy eight years in the Athens Embassy.

This happiness was enhanced by the fact that the Greeks were very relaxed about homosexuality, which was then still illegal in France. Unfortunately Mr Peyrefitte got into habits which were regarded as scandalous when he returned to work in the HQ in Paris. So he was persuaded to resign from the service in 1940.

In 1943 the Vichy regime invited him back, an invitation which he accepted. As a result in 1945 when that regime was overthrown and replaced he was drummed out again. This did him no serious harm; he devoted the rest of his life to literary pursuits with some success. The French are broad-minded about their literary lions.

Still, he was well placed to attempt an answer to the question: why were people willing to work for a regime which had been imposed by an invading army, was handing dissident fellow-citizens over to the Gestapo, and was sending large numbers of other fellow-citizens on train journeys to Poland from which they did not return.

He wheeled out the usual suspects. Some people wanted to continue their careers. Some had diplomatic or legal skills for which one’s own country’s government is the only plausible customer. Some, perhaps, genuinely wanted to serve the people, and believed that engagement rather than confrontation would get a better deal from the German occupiers.

After all services had to be kept up. Nobody blamed train drivers or postmen for continuing with their usual duties.

On the other hand being a government minister in an unsavoury regime still offered the same rewards in prestige and money which had attended pre-war ministers. Power can be addictive and, as Henry Kissinger observed, aphrodisiac.

This was a live issue when I first encountered Mr Peyrefitte. The Germans had invaded a wide variety of countries and rarely had any difficulty (if they tried) in finding locals who would fill government posts and do their bidding. It was suspected that this would have been true of England too if it had come to it.

After the war the individuals who had “collaborated” were disgraced and, often, shot. The plea that somebody had to keep the machinery working was rarely accepted. They should have known better.

No doubt there were arguments on both sides, and those of us who have never faced a dilemma of this kind should be wary of jumping to the conclusion that we would have identified what now seems with hindsight the right thing to do. But this issue, long forgotten in Europe, has now become an interesting question in Hong Kong, where some people now do face a choice of this kind.

In the 90s and noughties it was customary for people to explain their willingness to participate in joint activities with the Chinese government as a contribution to progress and an encouragement to the gradual transformation of a one-party dictatorship into something more tolerant and pluralistic.

Under ‘one country two systems’ Hong Kong was not required to import the well-known toxic features of public administration on the mainland, and its leaders were not to blame for abuses of power committed north of the boundary.

Unfortunately this will no longer wash. It is quite clear that the current regime in Beijing has no interest in progressing in the direction of tolerance and pluralism, still less freedom and democracy. And ‘one country two systems’ has proven a poor protection for local traditions.

So what do these people who cooperate on our behalf with the local representatives of despotism tell themselves about what they are doing? Is it possible to disregard the disappearances, the kidnappings, the shootings, the concentration camps, the censorship, the personality cult?

I understand the argument that patriotism requires citizens to support the government, whatever form that government takes, but this is a serious error. “My country right or wrong”, as G.K. Chesterton pointed out, is no better than “my mother, drunk or sober”.

No doubt many of the People’s puppets in Hong Kong are too stupid or ambitious to worry about this, and many of the others prefer not to think about it. Certainly it is not much discussed.

Enter, the other week, Mr Bernard Chan. Mr Chan is the convenor of the Executive Council, a senior post once held by C.Y. Leung. He is, though, rather a contrast with his predecessor.

Mr Chan was born with a gold chopstick in his mouth (granddad founded the Bangkok Bank) and got a real degree from an expensive but otherwise splendid liberal arts college in California. He majored in Studio Arts, an interesting choice for someone who must already have suspected that he would be expected to inherit the family insurance business.

As he did, becoming in due course the insurance industry’s Legco representative and graduating from there to the National People’s Congress and more government advisory bodies than you can shake a stick at.

Mr Chan is clearly regarded by our colonial masters as a dependable cog in the imperial machinery. Yet he shares none of the objectionable features so common among his fellow-travellers. His public utterances are rare, but neither stupid nor venomous. He has a column in The Standard, an admirable hobby, but it is not devoted to political matters. It is mostly concerned with cultural activities and things you can do with your family at weekends.

Mr Chan appears to share the view expressed by Nigel Lawson in his monumental (or if you prefer grossly over-long) memoir of his time as Chancellor of the Exchequer: a man who writes about politics is missing out all the important things in life.

So it was nice of him to agree to a TV interview which, according to The Standard’s reporter, strayed into political territory. “Defending criticism that President Xi Jinping has concentrated power in his hands, Chan said it is not easy for a Beijing leader to manage a country of 1.3 billion people.”

And so “If you let all Chinese people behave the way they want to behave, I think China would be a very different place today. So I do think you need some sort of top-down approach. For now, it’s probably the best way for China, to assert their control or a certain direction from the top.”

Happily Mr Chan did not wish to see this extended to Hong Kong. But this, of course, raises the question: if allowing Chinese people in other places “to behave the way they want to behave” does not lead to dire consequences, why should it be a bad thing in China?

Mr Chan seems to have been lucky that his explanation did not attract as much attention as a rather similar remark from Jacky Chan a few years ago. It is not for me to protest on Chinese people’s behalf, but quite a lot of them were offended by the implication that they suffered from some genetic quirk which made them unfit for self-rule.

Clearly apologists for the Xi regime need a high degree of proficiency in the art of euphemism. There are a variety of ways of describing the brutal and authoritarian way in which China is governed, and “a certain direction from the top” doesn’t really capture the flavour fully.

But you have to wonder whether this really works inside the head of the person concerned. Are there moments of doubt at night, as in this song?

This is not an issue for the civil service in general. It really concerns those at some high level, though the responsibility Plimsoll Line comes, I fear, well below the Exco level.

Civil servants further down the pyramid of power can confort themselves with the thought that after all the trains still have to be driven, the post has to be delivered, and those who fulfil such practical needs are genuinely serving the people. Which some of them do very well.

My last official encounter with the civil service followed a minor accident on a hiking trail last year. I was passed with much kindness and efficiency from the Agriculture and Fisheries Department (country park rangers) to the Fire Services (ambulance) who delivered me to the Medical and Health people (Nethersole Hospital).

I know some people have had bad experiences in our over-burdened public hospitals but mine was entirely comparable with the highest international standards. See doctor, have  X-ray, see doctor with specialist, painful but quick procedure (I had dislocated a finger), X-ray to see if procedure had worked and final discussion of same with doctor took about two hours and cost nothing.

There is usually a small charge for Accident and Emergency visits in Hong Kong but the hospital’s alert computer spotted that as the spouse of a retired civil servant I was entitled to a freebie, which surprised both of us.

So I think those who heal the sick, teach the young, sweep the streets and do other useful things have no need to be ashamed of the fact that somewhere up in the administrative stratosphere their bosses are taking orders from the Liaison Office.

What, on the other hand, are we to make of, for example, Carrie Lam’s insistence that Hong Kong’s lack of an extradition agreement with China has nothing to do with the fact that confidence in the mainland’s legal system (if you believe it has anything worth calling a legal system) is not high?

Is there an alternative explanation? Was it down to a moment of absent-mindedness, a translation glitch in the Joint Liaison Committee, a misprint? “I said China, not Ghana, you fool. Oh, never mind, It’s too late to change it now…”

Why do they keep telling us that ‘one country, two systems’ has been implemented “flawlessly”? After all even people who think that on the whole things have not gone badly would hardly put it so strongly.

It may be that this is trotted out simply on the parrot basis that it is the Beijing Foreign Office spokesman’s “line to take”.

But I suspect there is a deeper motive. If Hong Kong is still separate then those who roost in the legislative loft can still claim that what happens here has nothing to do with what happens there, and vice versa. Concentration camps? Nothing to do with us.

Which for the time being is probably OK. One must hope, though, that these people are giving some thought to where their limits are. The future is, to misquote Shakespeare, an “undiscovered country from which no traveller returns”. We do not know what is in store for us.

So it is a good idea to work out where your limits are, before you find you have been dragged over them without noticing it.

If you are still in the government’s team we must suppose you are OK with tear gas. What about live rounds? Dissidents jailed on antique legal charges? Well they’re criminals. Similar people spirited across the border to star on Confessiontube? What are you going to do if there’s blood on the street? Keep calm and Carrie on?

I felt a frisson of unease at a report in the Hong Kong Standard the other day about an accident in which a box of teargas fell out of the back of a Police Emergency Unit van. The newspaper reported that the van also contained sundry crowd control implements in case of need, including submachine guns. Machine guns?