Jimmy Lai: The Last, Best Hope for Saving Democracy in Hong Kong

interview with Jimmy Lai
Tuesday, June 9, 2020

To watch the video, click here.

TRANSCRIPT ONLY

Peter Robinson: Live from Hong Kong, publisher, journalist and democracy activist, Jimmy Lai. Born in Mainland China, Jimmy Lai fled the communist regime reaching Hong Kong as a stowaway on a fishing boat at the age of 12. By his late 20s he owned a garment factory and created the international clothing brand, Giordano. And then in 1989, the massacre took place at Tiananmen Square. Mr. Lai sold Giordano to establish a public publishing house with pro-democracy titles that now include Next magazine and the Apple Daily. For participating in pro-democracy protest, Mr. Lai was arrested late this past February. He is now standing trial, and I should note, that for legal reasons, we will not be discussing his case. Welcome to this--

Jimmy Lai: Right.

Peter Robinson: Special plague-time edition of "Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson" and Jimmy, good morning to you. It's evening here but good morning to you.

Jimmy Lai: Good morning. Just one thing about me that is missing from what you said, I was forced to sell Giordano because I was participating in the June 4th massacre controversy. So, Beijing threatened to close the store, our stores in China and that's why I had to sell the stake in five days without damaging the investors value or the wealth.

Peter Robinson: I see. I see.

Jimmy Lai: Yeah.

Peter Robinson: But you were forced to sell Giordano, that I did not realize.

Jimmy Lai: I was forced, I was forced.

Peter Robinson: All right, Jimmy,

Jimmy Lai: I was.

Peter Robinson: We last spoke. We last spoke when you visited the Hoover Institution in person, this past October, that was just seven months ago. Since then, you've been arrested twice and China has made clear its intention to introduce a new security law in Hong Kong. This is what you said to me last October. I'm quoting you Jimmy, "In mainland China, the regime is facing a lot of problems. "They might give us protesters in Hong Kong, what we want. "Because they need to do something. "And I'm sure that their situation "is much worse than they pretend." Seven months ago, Jimmy, you were optimistic. What has happened since?

Jimmy Lai: Well, yes, I'm very optimistic because every entrepreneur is optimistic. But I just don't know why the situation actually in China is much worse than seven months ago, in the aftermath of the coronavirus, the economy in China, is actually a lot worse. And the situation of Xi Jinping is also a lot worse. The One Belt One Road, the tension with the U.S., everything is unraveling. Everything is in a worse situation, maybe the worst situation. The more they leak enemies from outside to unite the people inside China to face up to the outside enemy, so they forget about the problem they're facing in China. Sometimes we think the CCP is very weird because they are weird just because they see the world through a prism of a different value. They're very irrational. Maybe they really need outside enemies to unite the people, to avoid the bad situation there.

Peter Robinson: So they may be acting from weakness rather than strength, in your judgement.

Jimmy Lai: I'm sure, I'm sure.

Peter Robinson: I see. Jimmy let's come to the proposed new National Security Law. When Britain returned the colony of Hong Kong to China in 1997, China agreed that for half a century, Hong Kong would enjoy a high degree of autonomy. Those are the words in English, in the agreement.

Jimmy Lai: Right.

Peter Robinson: And that would include impartial courts and free speech. Yet this past May, China declared, the Mainland declared that it would impose a new security law on Hong Kong to become effective, almost certainly, by this coming autumn. The law would make subversion, and again, in English, that's the word they're using, subversion, illegal and permit Beijing to permanently station security police in Hong Kong, Jimmy Lai, this is you writing last month in the New York Times, quote, I'm quoting you, "After the National Security Law is enacted "we will be able to say only "what the Chinese government tolerates. Every sentence, every word will carry the risk of punishment," close quote. Now, explain that when the other side is saying, "No, no, no, it's a National Security Law. "Only when the security of the country is threatened, "will this law come into effect." And Jimmy Lai says, "Nonsense, it's every word "and every sentence." Explain, Jimmy.

Jimmy Lai: Well, the National Security Law, is a very obvious example of CCP's disrespect for law. They, by imposing the National Security Law, by passing the basic law and the Hong Kong Legislative Council, they are tearing up the basic law, in front of the world. How can we trust what they say? It's very obvious that they have totally, no respect for law. So this National Security Law will supersede the rule of law here, also, we will destroy Hong Kong as an international financial center status because we follow the rule of law, they will not. People doing business, will not have protections by the law. They will have to bribe the officials who have power over them. So Hong Kong, will turn into the same as China, plagued by corruption. And also without the rule of law, there's no mutual trust in the financial business, which transects millions, or billions of borrowers, in seconds. Without the rule of law and the destruction of the mutual trust, the financial center is totally destroyed. And as a media person, it's impossible for media to survive because whatever we say, can be sedition, can be suppression, can be anything they name it. So it's totally taking over the Hong Kong, into the Chinese system by the National Security Law. That is a death knell of Hong Kong, for sure.

Peter Robinson: So Jimmy, you argue then that this National Security Law would not only destroy your freedoms, but your prosperity.

Jimmy Lai: Right

Peter Robinson: Now, let me quote to you, I'm going to mispronounce his name because I don't speak Chinese, but I'm going to quote to you Robert Ng, the chairman of Sino Land, which is a huge development company in Hong Kong. Quote, "The legislation will protect lives, property "and public safety. "When society is stable, "there will be opportunities," close quote. So here's the argument. Jimmy, calm down, trust Beijing. Yes, they're not Democrats in Beijing, they're not liberal Democrats, they're not going to rule Hong Kong the way Britain ruled Hong Kong, but they are responsible for a period of economic growth that has lifted half a billion people out of poverty into something that the Western world would recognize as the middle class. They are intent on stability in the name of prosperity. And your fellow business tycoons in Hong Kong are saying, "Jimmy, stop this. "We need stability in order to prosper. "They know what they're doing. "They've achieved prosperity for the Mainland." And how do you respond to that argument, Jimmy?

Jimmy Lai: Well first, those tycoons, they may need to come out and pledge allegiance to the CCP so their business's best interest is protected. But on the other side, underneath it, they all are shifting their money out from Hong Kong. They're saying that properties, they're shifting their money from Hong Kong. And also, we follow the rule of law and freedom. Can prosperity and the wealth of Hong Kong people, be protected? Is China a country good enough for their prosperity and wealth to be protected? Why don't they go over there, why don't they work there? How many of the Chinese rich people are moving their money? Ask Jack Ma, ask all the big guys now has to retreat, has to retire. Why do they have to retire? Why do they have to give up the position? So it's, it's all nonsense.

Peter Robinson: It's all nonsense. Jimmy, when we spoke last October, again, when you visited the Hoover Institution in person last October, the protest movement that was taking place in Hong Kong succeeded in that Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong withdrew the proposed legislation that would've permitted Beijing to extradite people from Hong Kong to the Mainland. She withdrew that from the Hong Kong Legislative Council. The protest succeeded.

Jimmy Lai: Right.

Peter Robinson: Now, we have new protests against the national security legislation, but this is not a matter for Carrie Lam or the Hong Kong Legislative Council. It has been proposed in Beijing and it will be voted on by the National Congress in Beijing, What, in the protest, what can you, Jimmy Lai and your fellow protesters, hope to accomplish this time?

Jimmy Lai: Well, it's becoming a lot more difficult because facing PLA is a little bit different from facing the police here, but I don't think people will give up. You can see that, now, every day there are protests. But to be sure, a lot of people are being intimidated, especially the recent arrest of the 15 prominent dissidents including Martin Lee, who's 81 years old. He is our grandfather of the democratic movement. All this exercise is an intimidation to intimidate the moderate Hong Kong people who go out to demonstrate and protest, to isolate those radical young people who are more radical, confronting the police, so all they are doing, is to suppress us. Further, they never want to solve the problem, they never want to look at why people resist. The only way they know, is to suppress. So if we just surrender, we will lose the rule of law, we will lose the freedom, we will lose everything. I'm sure a lot of Hong Kong people will not give up. Of course, there are two choices for Hong Kong people now, or three choices. One is to emigrate. A lot of people are doing that and in response to this, the British government is considering to give us the right, a vote in England for almost three million people.

Peter Robinson: Three million--

Jimmy Lai: Which is, three million. This is very good. But for those who stay, some of them, like us, will have to fight. Some of them will have to give up and become subservient to the Chinese rule. So this is the fact we are facing. Whether we can succeed, will not depend on just our resistance alone. We leave the U.S., when we leave the outside world, especially U.S., to help us by sanctioning China because China, now, is at the worst of its situation during the 40 years of their opening, the economic opening, or market opening. Now is the best time to sanction China, to force China to behave better and--

Peter Robinson: Jimmy?

Jimmy Lai: To succumb to the value of the world in dealing with the outside world so the world will have peace.

Peter Robinson: Jimmy, let me ask you, we've talked about China and Hong Kong. Let me ask you to give me, as an American, an education in the correct way to think about what China is doing not only in Hong Kong, but in the rest of the world. Here are items from recent weeks. We now know that China, the government, Beijing was aware of the coronavirus before it informed the rest of the world, that it shut down internal flights from Wuhan to other places in China, but permitted flights from Wuhan to the rest of the world, international flights, permitting the virus to be carried throughout the rest of the world, item one. Item two. In recent weeks, China has sent some 10,000 troops across the disputed border into India, not just a temporary raid. They have set up bases inside territory that India claims. Item three. Chinese forces have recently buzzed the median, or dividing line, in the Taiwan Strait and they have sent fighters to fly over, very tightly, over the border of Taiwan. A final item, we could go on and on with these items, but final item, China has used the World Health Organization to suppress efforts by Taiwan, which has proven very successful in controlling the coronavirus, the World Health Organization, under pressure from China, we now know, refused to permit Taiwan to share its techniques for controlling the coronavirus with the rest of the world. So, we have China, newly aggressive, newly assertive. Again, I come to the question, why now?

Jimmy Lai: Well, I think the coronavirus, it's just the attitude of a natural hostility to the world. They don't treat the world as partners. They treat the world as enemies. Not that they have planned to destroy the world, I don't think they are so vicious, but just the instinct is not to think about the world but about the way that they conduct their business. Because deception and cover-up is a natural way of conducting their own business. I think the world should demand China to give its people the freedom of speech. So when the coronavirus was first discover by Dr. Li Wenliang it could be aired on the social media and the whole disaster of the coronavirus would be avoided. Just because of lack of freedom of speech, the world is suffering, all the lives, the job. The wealth destruction is more effective to change China's behavior, than any sanction. Points to point out. It's just a very natural reaction of Xi Jinping. The more precarious his position is, the greater he has to pose himself as a strong man to threaten the world, to show to the Chinese people how strong China is. You have to remember Xi Jinping has not achieved anything. Whether the Belt and Road the 2025, I don't remember how they call it. It's a scheme to take over the technology--

Peter Robinson: To achieve technological--

Jimmy Lai: Of the world.

Peter Robinson: Pre-eminence by 2025.

Jimmy Lai: Pre-eminence, yeah. Or to eliminate poverty by this year and the destruction of the relationship with the U.S. All he has done has failed. So, but he has to face in 1922, the People's Congress to reaffirm he's president in life. That's why he has now to show belligerence to what China, and also Hong Kong, try to have these two places in his grip as achievement to show to the People's Congress, by then. All this is the reaction of his weak position. Now you can see that he and Li Keqiang, you know, the prime minister--

Peter Robinson: Yes.

Jimmy Lai: Are open power struggle. Li Keqiang said that China, or in private, China is still a poor country because we still have 600 million earning 1,000 renminbi, which is 130, $140 a month. And also because so many people lost their job, Li Keqiang wants the idea of hawker economy, allow people to sell on the street to make ends meet in this crisis. Xi Jinping came out immediately to clamp down on it so it shows to you, I think the power struggle is surfacing, it also means that the power struggle underneath it is an epic magnitude. He's operant, he's also taking advantage of this crisis in China, try to pull him down.

Peter Robinson: I see.

Jimmy Lai: You will soon see some big changes in China.

Peter Robinson: Jimmy, let me, this is fascinating. Let me summarize this and you tell me if I have it right or if I've made a mistake. Xi Jinping has to go before the People's Congress in 2022, in two years--

Jimmy Lai: Right.

Peter Robinson: To have his position as president, for life, reaffirmed.

Jimmy Lai: Yeah.

Peter Robinson: The Belt and Road Initiative, the international initiative, is faltering, the coronavirus management was a fiasco, an embarrassment to the country, the economy is faltering, or weaker than it has been in 25 or 30 years, and for that very reason, so he's weaker than he appears to us. And your judgment is he wants to crush Hong Kong so that at least he can go to the Congress in two years with something in his hands. Is that correct?

Jimmy Lai: Right. And Taiwan.

Peter Robinson: And Taiwan or--

Jimmy Lai: And Taiwan also.

Peter Robinson: So this brings me, let's discuss China and the United States now. I asked you to give me an education as an American. Now I wanna know what you hope we do. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, late last month, certified to Congress that Hong Kong is no longer autonomous from China. As you well know, the law requires the secretary of state to re-certify Hong Kong's independence from China. This year, he could not do so. I'm quoting Secretary of State Pompeo. "This decision gives me no pleasure, "but sound policy-making requires a recognition of reality," close quote. All right. Under American law, that was the first step. Secretary of State Pompeo tells Congress, Hong Kong is no longer autonomous from China. President Trump now faces a number of options, including revoking special trade arrangements with Hong Kong. Now, let me quote you writing again in the New York Times last month, "There are other ways to retaliate against China." You hope, as I take it, I'd like to ask you to explain this, you hope the president does not revoke the special trade arrangements with Hong Kong. Explain that Jimmy, please.

Jimmy Lai: Well, not yet, because we have to keep the residual value of Hong Kong so at least the Chinese is totally hopeless about Hong Kong and just destroy it. I think the U.S. should sanction China, should punish China before that's hopeless. If China doesn't keep up on the National Security Law, Hong Kong is destroyed anyway. To revoke the Hong Kong act or the Hong Kong special status, anything, go ahead because it's meaningless anyway; Hong Kong is destroyed. The U.S., especially Donald Trump, President Trump, using sanctions and punishment in stages in his reelection campaign to punish China, use action to relieve the American's pain and anger that they suffer during the coronavirus which was brought over by the Chinese. I think this is much more effective. If President Trump can have a strategy, of a series of sanctions and punishments in stages in his campaign to impose on China so the people respond to him and support him. Also, at the same time, China will have to retreat, the position of belligerence. If China doesn't care and go ahead, Hong Kong is finished anyway.

Peter Robinson: You wrote in the New York Times, so the last thing we should do, again, I'm summarizing, correct me if I've got it wrong, the last thing the United States should do is eliminate the special trade arrangements with Hong Kong. You need those to remain distinct from China, yourselves.

Jimmy Lai: Exactly, right.

Peter Robinson: If the National Security Law goes through, then it doesn't matter what we do because Hong Kong will be lost. All right.

Jimmy Lai: Yeah.

Peter Robinson: You wrote the intermediate sanctions, staged sanctions, you wrote in the New York Times, revoking student visas for children of both Chinese Communist Party, the CCP, and Hong Kong officials. We have more than 300,000 Chinese students studying in this country.

Jimmy Lai: Right.

Peter Robinson: So your argument is that really matters to the Chinese Communist Party to have their children study here. We know who those officials are. We should send their kids home, back to China. Is that correct?

Jimmy Lai: Right. Right, But also this is only the initial stage. I think America should also freeze the bank account of those corrupt officials in the U.S. and universe. There are a lot of money in those bank accounts. And I think those who are involved in this oppression should personally feel the pain of their action.

Peter Robinson: All right, so your argument, you said a moment ago, that your fellow tycoons in Hong Kong are moving money out.

Jimmy Lai: Right.

Peter Robinson: They're not the only ones. Also senior communist officials from the Mainland have money in this country.

Jimmy Lai: They have more money.

Peter Robinson: We know who they are--

Jimmy Lai: And in the West--

Peter Robinson: We have frozen accounts of Russian officials, we've frozen accounts of Iranians, and Jimmy Lai is saying, "Freeze the Chinese communist accounts as well." Is that correct?

Jimmy Lai: Exactly, exactly. This will have a great effect. Let them personally feel the pain of their actions.

Peter Robinson: All right. And then Jimmy, you also write that just as Britain is now considering, effectively, inviting three million of you to live in Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson wrote a piece in a prominent British newspaper in which he spoke of granting three million people, visas that would lead, ultimately, to citizenship. It's a breathtaking gesture. Well, it's more than a gesture, he's serious about it. You would like to see this country do that as well?

Jimmy Lai: Well, I think this country, because the BNO holders of Hong Kong are mostly old people like us, born before the British left, but most of the young people who were born after the British left are those who are fighting in the street, they are the priority that we should help and save. I think what the American government can do is to give the permit for these young people to go to the U.S. to study and to have a Green Card. I was saying the same thing to the British government. I think the U.S. can help a lot if you allow the visa to those young people to stay in the U.S., who are not the BNO holders.

Peter Robinson: BNO is the British, I don't honestly, I don't remember--

Jimmy Lai: National, yeah, the British National--

Peter Robinson: They have some rights because they were born before the British left.

Jimmy Lai: Yeah.

Peter Robinson: That's essentially what it means.

Jimmy Lai: Exactly, yeah.

Peter Robinson: All right. So Jimmy, I wanna go back to this. The way the press has covered it in this country, honestly, reading about this, it looked to me as though the new National Security Law was already done. You're saying, no.

Jimmy Lai: Exactly.

Peter Robinson: The situation is still fluid. Xi Jinping is under pressure from the party itself. There are power struggles taking place. If the United States acts with a certain degree of resolve and a certain degree of speed, this can still be undone. You truly believe that?

Jimmy Lai: Well, maybe they impose it, but they don't execute it. If anything happens in China, things will change in Hong Kong. I'm sure a lot of the Chinese top officials are not in agreement with Xi Jinping's protocols. I don't think that this is the right thing for China also at this troubled time. Hong Kong is actually appraised that can facilitate the financial and trading to the world, to facilitate the recovery of China's recovery.

Peter Robinson: So to put it crudely, you and Hong Kong still have cards to play. China's economy is weak. If Xi Jinping crushes Hong Kong, he'll be harming the Mainland too. Is that correct?

Jimmy Lai: Yeah. Because Hong Kong is the place that can have like a channel outside to the world financially, and in the trade-wise. So now China is in such a critical position. Why do you want to kill Hong Kong which is laying golden eggs, which is a goose laying golden eggs?

Peter Robinson: Right.

Jimmy Lai: Why this time? You need a Hong Kong the most. Why they want to kill Hong Kong now? I just can't understand this.

Peter Robinson: I see. Jimmy, one more--

Jimmy Lai: If the world sanctions China Hong Kong is the only way China can have access to the world finance and trade.

Peter Robinson: I see. Jimmy, one more question about Hong Kong and the United States, specifically. In this country, we've had, as you know very well, in the last couple of weeks, we've had protests and riots, destruction, here in the United States. Chinese state media has promoted coverage of these protests and riots with hashtags, such as U.S. riots. And these have received something like one point more than 1.5 billion views on Chinese social media. And here in the United States, the Chinese have been arguing that if American police have the right to deal with American protestors, then surely, China has the right to deal with protestors in Hong Kong. What effect is this, these protests, this unrest, this destruction that we've seen in this country over the last couple of weeks, going to have on morale in Hong Kong?

Jimmy Lai: Nothing.

Peter Robinson: Really?

Jimmy Lai: Yeah, nothing. The police here, the police while here, are being praised by China. The police, while in there in the U.S. the police who manslaughter Mr. Floyd are being persecuted. Even those three other policemen, together with him, are being persecuted. And the Hong Kong young people did not loot the shops, burn the cars. We were--

Peter Robinson: In other words, the Chinese, the Chinese propaganda in Hong Kong, Chinese propaganda misrepresenting what is taking place in this country, in Hong Kong--

Jimmy Lai: Definitely.

Peter Robinson: It has no effect.

Jimmy Lai: No, no effect because Hong Kong people know that that's rubbish.

Peter Robinson: All right, all right.

Jimmy Lai: Because even your president cannot send troops to suppress the riot, constitutionally he's allowed to do so.

Peter Robinson: Right.

Jimmy Lai: You have the rule of law and those who loot the shops and burn the cars are not the protestors, those are criminals.

Peter Robinson: Right.

Jimmy Lai: The Hong Kong people understand that.

Peter Robinson: All right. That's , this is all reassuring, Jimmy. Jimmy, I have three, three more questions, if I may.

Jimmy Lai: Thank you.

Peter Robinson: You have a company to run and a democracy movement to encourage so I don't want to take your entire morning in Hong Kong.

Jimmy Lai: No, no, it's okay.

Peter Robinson: You wrote, not long ago, "It didn't have to be this way." How could it be? What is the hope? If everything went just the way Jimmy Lai, when he closes his eyes and hopes for the best, what would it look like, what would Hong Kong look like and what role would China have in the world if things went well instead of badly?

Jimmy Lai: Well, if China, accept the value of the world and become a partner of the world community, China definitely is going to be the greatest country and the most power country in the world. Now, Xi Jinping destroyed it. Xi Jinping once said that, "Anybody "who is friendly with America, "has become prosperous." And what China did in the last 30-something years, friendly with the U.S., has also prospered. But Xi Jinping just did not take this advice and tried to dominate the world, therefore, destroyed the position and the relationship with the world, especially with America. America's reaction to China is actually the reaction to China's imposing its value, its opposing value, to the world, more than just trade problems. They just don't follow the rules. If they don't follow the rules, the world will not have peace considering how big and powerful China is. So I think the problem is with Xi Jinping now. If now, China is never in such a problem, such a big, a really critical situation is the economy while the last quarter is 6.8% minus growth, which should be more. The coming year should be worse because China hasn't spent much money to support the enterprises and employ. So the situation can only get worse, not better. This is the time--

Peter Robinson: Jimmy?

Jimmy Lai: to force China to change when they are at their worse.

Peter Robinson: Jimmy, you wrote on Twitter last month, actually, you said it yourself a moment ago here, "Under the clamp down, Hong Kong people "have two choices. "Emigrate or stay to fight to the end."

Jimmy Lai: Right

Peter Robinson: Jimmy, the regime has put pressure on your business, they've forced advertisers to pull back, your house has been fire bombed, your family has been threatened, you're under arrest and standing trial. Why doesn't Jimmy Lai just accept Boris Johnson's offer, buy yourself a nice house in Knightsbridge or Kensington, and leave? The world would honor you for what you've already done. What's next for Jimmy Lai?

Jimmy Lai: Fight on, fight on. Now's the time, not the time for safety. This is a time for sacrifice. I came here with one daughter, all I have, wonderful family, a Mrs., with good health. All this, this place gave me. I can't leave. I will have to fight to the last day. I'm not afraid.

Peter Robinson: Last question. Once again, this is something you wrote last month in the New York Times, "Fighting for Hong Kong "is about bringing stability to the world "so that the West can protect its own free way of life "and the rest of us can have a fighting chance "at that. too."

Jimmy Lai: Right.

Peter Robinson: Last question. We've talked about what you hope the administration in this country does.

Jimmy Lai: Right.

Peter Robinson: What would you like to say to the American people?

Jimmy Lai: I think the American people are the most important. If the American people recognize how dangerous China is and voice your support for Hong Kong and your opposition to China, your politician will react by saving Hong Kong which is the beach-head of your value, you're saving the value of the free world. Without our insistent on safeguarding the value of the free world, China will take over the peace of this world and destroy the lifestyle, the life that we all share.

Peter Robinson: Jimmy Lai, thank you.

Jimmy Lai: Thank you, Peter.

Peter Robinson: For Uncommon Knowledge, the Hoover Institution and Fox Nation. I'm Peter Robinson.