“… the rules must apply to those who lay them down and those who apply — that is, to the government as well as the governed — and that nobody has the power to grant exceptions.”
— Friedrich Hayek, Chapter 10, The Constitution of Liberty (1960)
This is the essence of the “rule of law” — that the law applies equally to unequal people, no one is exempted and no one can grant an exemption. Once exemptions are made, this automatically leads to the rule of men. The powerful and the mob are exempted from penalties for violating certain laws.
The nearly three months of protests and discontent in Hong Kong is centered over a subject related to the rule of law — the proposed Extradition bill, where suspected criminals and dissidents in Hong Kong can be extradited to China. And China, being a one-party communist government, is known for having little respect for the rule of law, little respect for the rights of suspects. It sends shivers down the spines of the people of Hong Kong to contemplate what would happen if some or many of them are extradited to China when Hong Kong has its own courts already.
There is proof behind the statement that China has little respect for the rule of law. In the World Justice Project’s annual “Rule of Law Index” (RoLI), countries and jurisdictions are scored and ranked based on their performance on eight factors and 44 sub-factors. The RoLI 2019 Report involved more than 120,000 household surveys and 3,800 expert surveys in 126 countries and jurisdictions.
China ranks low overall on RoLI, 82nd out of 126 countries; in contrast, Hong Kong ranked 16th. China scored particularly low on Factor 4: Fundamental Rights, like Freedom of opinion and expression, Freedom of belief and religion, Freedom of assembly and association, are effectively guaranteed. It is also low on Factor 8: Criminal Justice, like Criminal system is impartial, is free of improper government influence.
In property rights protection, both physical and intellectual property, again Hong Kong ranked high. We consider the annual study International Property Rights Index (IPRI) by the Property Rights Alliance (PRA), based in Washington, DC. The IPRI 2018 Report showed that Hong Kong ranked 17th while China ranked 52nd out of 126 countries and jurisdictions. In intellectual property rights (IPR) protection, the same pattern is observed (see Table).
The United Kingdom and its former colonies in Asia — Hong Kong, Singapore, and Malaysia — rank high in both RoLI and IPRI. The great minds of British classical liberal thinking like John Locke, Adam Smith, and John Stuart Mill, successfully influenced the legal and economic philosophy and practice of these countries.
Communist China in contrast, is still reeling from the influence and heavy-handed dictatorship of its founder Mao Zedong. Its tolerance for citizens’ freedom of expression is very low. Extended in foreign relations, its tolerance for international rule of law like respect of international waters at the South China Sea/west Philippine Sea is also very low.
I have great respect and admiration for the brave people of Hong Kong, especially its youth. You are fighting the lackey of the biggest dictatorial government for a noble cause.
On a related note, the UK-based Geneva Network and Minimal Government Thinkers (MGT) will launch a report on the “Importance of IPR for ASEAN” in Manila on Sept. 24. This joint report will be co-signed by the Institute for Democracy and Economic Affairs in Kuala Lumpur, Paramadina Public Policy Institute in Jakarta, Siam Intelligence Unit in Bangkok, MGT in Manila, and the Viet Nam Economic Policy Research Centre in Hanoi. The Geneva Network is coordinating the study.
The keynote speaker for the event will be Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez. Mr. Lopez is very explicit in his support for IPR protection being among the cornerstones of technological innovation and economic competitiveness for any country.
IPRI 2019 will also be launched in Manila later this year. MGT and the Foundation for Economic Freedom will be the local partners of PRA in launching this big event.
Bienvenido S. Oplas, Jr. is the president of Minimal Government Thinkers.