When Robert Anders, member of Canadian Parliament and an avid supporter of China’s democratization, flew to Hong Kong to attend the "Future of China Forum" on September 29, 2005, he thought it would be a trip just like the one he made to the Press Club in Washington, D.C. two months earlier. Everything went as planned until the taxi that was supposed to take him to the Conrad, the premier Hong Kong hotel where the forum was supposed to take place, instead changed directions and brought him to a nearby public park. He was told that, at the last minute, the hotel reneged on the contract it had signed with the forum organizers.
"The Future of China" is an international forum planned by The Epoch Times Hong Kong Branch to discuss the Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party, a series of articles published by The Epoch Times newspaper back in November of 2004. The Nine Commentaries systematically exposed the crimes that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) committed against the Chinese people from the time of its rise to power to the present.
The articles have so irked the CCP that, inside China, the Nine Commentaries has been listed as the number one forbidden book. Anyone caught talking about it, spreading information about it, or handing the book to another person, will face severe punishment. Lu Xuesong, a teacher at Jilin Academy of Art, told her class about the Nine Commentaries website and the massive resignations from the CCP. As a result, without any explanation, the Academy suspended her from her teaching position. When the school refused to give her an explanation, she posted her situation on the Internet. The school then told her the reason. Her case has become well known and is discussed widely on Chinese websites. Zhang Lin, a dissident writer, published two articles supporting the Nine Commentaries on the Communist Party. He was arrested on January 29, 2005. On August 2, he was sentenced to five years in prison for the "crime of encouraging people to overthrow the state power."
"The Future of China" forum was the first public discussion in the English language of the Nine Commentaries in this Special Administrative Region. In addition to Mr. Anders, guest speakers included Ming Chu-Cheng, Professor of Political Science at National Taiwan University, and Szeto Wah, former Member of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council.
On September 29, the day before the event was scheduled to take place at the Conrad’s Hennessy Room, the hotel’s management notified The Epoch Times that the room had "serious flooding" and asked that the forum be transferred to another place.
The newspaper staff then made an onsite visit. Not only was there no evidence of flooding—the room in fact had a function going on during the inspection.
Considering the confusion that would arise if the forum were moved at the last minute, the organizers told hotel management that they found the room’s condition perfectly acceptable and assured management that they would accept any risk associated with using the room in the condition they found it.
At around 7 a.m. on September 30, the Conrad Hotel staff removed the sign advertising the forum from outside the hotel. When the newspaper contacted the Conrad Hotel to inquire, they were told that the hotel had unilaterally cancelled the contract.
The forum was scheduled to start at 2 p.m. The Conrad’s last-minute decision left the organizers only with the option of moving the forum to the public park, which they were able to do thanks to the favorable weather condition and permission granted by the police department. The forum finally began at 2:30 p.m. in an open area in nearby Hong Kong Park and had a good turnout. According to the organizers, a considerable number of consulates sent congratulatory letters and representatives to the forum. Legislators, lawyers, and scholars also attended.
The incident may not have been a surprise to those who are familiar with the current political climate in Hong Kong, but it caught Mr. Anders off guard nonetheless. After all, Hong Kong has been a democratic society and should enjoy full freedom like any Western society. Beijing’s influence in Hong Kong’s affairs has increased since it was taken over by the mainland in 1997. Many believe that the hotel revoking its contract with The Epoch Times is evidence of that increasing influence.
The change of location was a relatively minor tribulation for another speaker, Professor Ming Chu-Cheng. Initially, Hong Kong’s Immigration Department rejected his visa application, which had never happened to him before. When he was finally granted the visa and arrived at Hong Kong International airport, officials from the Immigration Department interrogated him for nearly two hours.
Nor was this Mr. Anders’ first encounter with Chinese interference. He had the following to say about being physically assaulted by Chinese diplomats in February 2000:
"I wore [a T-shirt that talked about Falun Gong] out to a function that was being hosted by the People’s Republic’s Embassy here, in this building [Parliament in Canada]. I stood at the back of the room, and then all of a sudden I had four or five men surround me and start to harass me, and point fingers, and jostle me physically, saying that I had to leave, that I wasn’t welcome, go home, you know, cowboy, you don’t know what you’re doing… and what crossed my mind immediately was four or five people that comprise a gang on behalf of the People’s Republic of China think they can get away with doing that to me as a Member of Parliament, on Canadian soil, in my place of work, in the House of Commons—can you imagine what they’re doing to people back home in their own country? It was absolutely over the top! And then when a media reporter came over with his camera, they started to grab his camera, they tried to force it down to the ground, they told him to go away… They were issuing orders to a member of the free press here in Canada. … It was absolutely outrageous. And it just proved what Falun Dafa is up against. … We’re at a very critical moment. If we don’t take a stand now, history will look back at us and sigh."
The incident in Hong Kong adds to Mr. Anders’ firsthand experience of CCP interference and gave him a glimpse of how Hong Kong’s freedom of speech is eroding. Commenting on the event, he said that his Hong Kong trip would definitely influence his future China policy in Parliament.