Thursday, June 27, 2013

Snowed by Bureaucracy

By now everyone knows that Hong Kong claims that an error in the US provisional arrest warrant request led Hong Kong to let Edward Snowden leave the SAR. Hong Kong's Chief Executive C.Y. Leung insists that since Hong Kong follows the rule of law, it must also follow proper procedures (see WSJ blog story here). At the same time, Americans are incredulous; one senior US law enforcement official said, "Is this the best they got?"

There can be little doubt that politics entered into the decision-making process, and that Beijing had a hand in the decision.  Beijing's influence is not necessarily a violation of the one-country, two-systems formula. Beijing is, after all, responsible for security and diplomatic affairs for Hong Kong.

I think the excuse of improper paperwork seems a lot more believable in Hong Kong, where bureaucrats can be real sticklers for proper paperwork and procedures. I still remember my shock when we were required to produce our childrens' birth certificates to get a library card in the Shatin Public Library. I had brought our passports, but that was not good enough. Never mind that it is actually impossible to prove that the birth certificate actually belonged to my kids, while the passport has a photograph. Our university is also notoriously bureaucratic. Last year, I discovered that our Graduate School had been insisting that students spell "fulfillment" as "fulfilment" in the first page of the thesis, in statement that reads "A Thesis Submitted in Partial Fulfilment...." Students had learned not to argue with the clerk in charge, but to misspell the word in order to get the thesis accepted! The model had a typo, and the clerk just insisted that all theses have the same typo!

Thus, the notion that all the "i"s need to be dotted and "t"s crossed makes sense in Hong Kong. This must have seemed to be a perfect excuse to let Snowden leave. But it looks ridiculous to an American audience which knows that, if Beijing wanted something, it would have gotten done regardless of such bureaucratic details.

I still don't know if his name is Edward Joseph Snowden or Edward James Snowden.

1 comment:

Justin@FigFondue said...

Hahaha! This is so true. I argued with that clerk about the spelling for a good long while before finally giving up and just handing my thesis in. There are too many stories that any HKer can tell you about getting delayed because of the letter by letter bureaucracy here. To apply to hold a performance in an open air theatre in HK park, for instance, you need to sign a form to get a form to apply for the venue. Only in HK does something as ridiculous as that makes sense.