Financial Times journalist Victor Mallet’s work visa might have been denied because of a lack of respect for the Basic Law, Executive Councilor Ronny Tong Ka-wah said.
The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government rejected the FT’s application to renew Mallet’s work permit last week.
Tong, who is also a senior counsel, told China Daily in an exclusive interview that he believes there is no other reason for this than the invitation of pro-independence activist Andy Chan Ho-tin to talk at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club last month. The invitation was given by Mallet in August in his capacity as a vice-president of the club.
“Mallet was setting a stage for someone to spread separatism. It was more than just news reporting. If he meant to cover news, he could have interviewed the activist himself in his newspaper’s office,” Tong said.
“When a foreigner works in Hong Kong, he has to obey local laws including the Basic Law,” the senior counsel argued.
“He did not respect the Basic Law which stipulates Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China. Disrespect of the Basic Law carries no criminal liability but this does not mean there will be no other consequences,” Tong stressed.
He also rejected commentaries arguing the government had undermined freedom of the press in the city.
“The HKSAR Government has not infringed freedom of press. Many reporters have interviewed that activist before; did you see any of the interviews censored? Was the broadcast of the talk at FCC banned?”
The non-extension of visa had nothing at all to do with freedom of speech, Tong contended. He condemned the “pan-democrats” for “claiming they don’t support Hong Kong independence, yet they twist this issue into a case of violation of freedom of speech”.
A common practice
In Tong’s opinion, many other foreign jurisdictions have similar immigration rules. He also was skeptical of comments by British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt - who said Mallet’s visa denial was “politically motivated”.
He explained that usually British passport holders could stay in Hong Kong for six months without a visa.
“If his work visa is not renewed, this shows the Hong Kong Immigration Department sees him as an extraordinary person whose presence in Hong Kong is deemed undesirable for political and national security reasons,” Tong said.
“Hong Kong independence is the red line that people should not tread. The red line is always there and it has not moved,” Tong said.
“The British foreign secretary’s remark that there is a ‘political reason’ behind Mallet’s visa denial is rather childish,” he said.
The senior counsel said this situation had happened many times before, recalling that other non-residents were not allowed to enter Hong Kong. He cited former leader of Taiwan Ma Ying-jeou and deputy chairman of UK Conservative Party’s human rights committee Benedict Rogers - among others.
“The UK has also banned many people including reporters from entering without explanation. US President Donald Trump often infringes press freedom by not allowing CNN reporters to cover news in the White House and describes news unfavorable to him as ‘fake news’,” he said.
Tong said the Immigration Department had the legal authority not to renew a person’s work visa. It is not obliged to give any explanations.
Reportedly, Mallet will be transferred to Paris next month. Tong could not rule out that the SAR government chose not to extend his work visa because he is deemed “a very unwelcomed person”.
In his view, non-renewal of visa is a lenient measure. “He could be denied entry or deported but the Immigration Department needs to provide stronger facts in those circumstances,” he argued.
Tong said immigration control issues were the internal affairs of the HKSAR which the central government does not interfere with. An adverse response from foreign countries was expected. But he questioned whether this is much help because Beijing was very wary of external forces meddling in Hong Kong affairs.
“The central government authorities absolutely support the HKSAR Government’s decision not to renew Mallet’s work visa,” he added.