The Hong Kong School Debate Championships

The finals of the Hong Kong secondary school debates were held on Monday evening at Queen Elizabeth Sports Stadium in Wanchai.  The event was sponsored by The Standard and Sing Tao Daily, and this is the twentieth year for this classical event.  Its popularity is proven by the fact that more than 2,000 people showed up to watch.

I will recount the Chinese-language section of the final, contested between Diocesan Boys' School and The Church of Christ in China Ming Yin College as reported in Sing Tao.  The topic of the debate is of current interest, because the title was: "The United Nations should admit Japan as a permanent member of the Security Council."  Ming Yin was on the pro- side while DBS was on the against- side.  Here are the respective arguments offered by each side, alternately presenting their positions.

Ming Yin#1:  We have to put aside nationalistic emotions for this discussion.  Based upon Japan's current economic status, as well as the earnest efforts that it has exerted at the Security Council in recent years, Japan is definitely qualified and capable of becoming a permanent member of the Security Council.

DBS #1: The United Nations has four principles; specifically, the United Nations live by justice and public trust.  When I consider whether Japan should be admitted, I believe that the decision ought to based upon its decision-making ability as well as its general acceptance by members.  But Japan has been unwilling to apologize for its war crimes during WWII, and it also ignored international opinion to support the United States to send troops to Iraq.  This proves that Japan makes poor diplomatic decisions.  And since China, South Korea, North Korea and other Asian countries object to Japan's admission, this shows that the acceptance of Japan is not universal.

Ming Yin#2:  In response to the charges about the role of Japan on international affairs, Japan has sent troops on eight occasions in recent years to assist in United Nations peacekeeping missions and on five occasions in humanitarian events.

DBS #2:  The pro-side has argued for Japan to be admitted as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, but without veto power.  What does that mean?  Does it mean that the pro- side does not trust Japan?  To reiterate the point, a permanent member of the Security Council must be able to represent its neighboring countries and balance various interests.  However, Japan has not been able to resolve the many problems that were left behind from WWII.

Ming Yin #3:  The against- side is embracing moralism.  In truth, no country is perfect.  Many European countries have revised their own colonialist histories.  So it is unfair to point only to Japan.  Even if Japan does not admit its mistakes and does not apologize, it is still possible to pursue those issues even after Japan is admitted into the Security Council as a permanent member.  Japan is like a capable worker who "ought to be promoted," even if it is like a "bad student."  The teacher supervisor ought to let this student join the student council from which he can learn self-discipline.

DBS #3: On the matter of other countries revising their own histories, I should point out that the five permanent members of the Security Council had made tremendous contributions during WWII and that was how they achieved their international standing today.  To say that Japan made the "same kind of errors" as these other permanent members and therefore should enjoy the "same treatment" is quite illogical.  The Japanese should not be admitted this time for the "historical reason" that it has not seriously apologized to the Asian countries that it invaded during WWII and reflected on it.  Although it lacks the decision-making ability as well as acceptance by others, Japan still wants to be admitted.  The sole bases are therefore military, financial and influence.  Therefore, I object to Japan being accepted, and I hope that the permanent seat at the UN Security Council does not become a trophy won by Japan's financial might.

After the six presentations, there was some time allocated for some questions from others as well as free debate.  Then it was time for the summations:

DBS #1 (voted the top individual debater afterwards): I will use the example from the Korean serial drama Jewel of the Palace.  My colleagues on the other side support Japan's admission as a permanent member of the Security Council.  This is like Lord Min asking the Emperor to bring in Cheung-King into the palace with a honored title.  Cheung-King not only had the qualifications, but she also had the support of The Palace Secretary and The Royal Hospital.  Today, Japan does not have the support of either North or South Korea.  The first colleague on the other side is like Official Chui, who is insisting that Japan be admitted solely because this is appropriate to its status.  If they insist that Japan is a contributor to peace and a righteous country, then why is Japan so isolated?  Why is a truly capable and accepted country so isolated?  The second colleague on the other side is like Official Cheng, who says that Japan's sending out troops for peacekeeping and humanitarian projects are the reasons.  Yet these are normal duties for all UN members, so it is improper to confuse the responsibilities of permanent members of the Security Council with those of the other regular members.  The third colleague on the other side is like Doctor Ah Li, who was in disagreement with Official Chui (the first colleague).  Thus, the first colleague argues for putting aside nationalistic emotions, but the third colleague says that it will still be possible to pursue redress with Japan afterwards.  They contradicted each other.  Finally, let me summarize: Japan's decision-making has been questionable and it lacks sufficient support from others.

Ming Yin #1:  Japan has the qualifications to become a permanent member of the Security Council.  Afterwards, we can use international opinion to forced Japan to admit fault and apologize.  As for the hostility between Japan and China/Koreas (such as the Diaoyutai Islets dispute), each side has its own reasons and therefore this should not be influenced by subjective nationalism.  Actually, Japan has suffered a lot; if it admits fault, its people will have to pay compensation for the deeds done by two or three generations ago.  This is virtually like Cheung-king forcing Official Chui to go into exile; it is virtually the death penalty!

Afterwards, the judges awarded the victory to DBS, and the decision was popular with the audience.

There are several points that I want to make.  First of all, this is an illustration of the general concern about Japan in Hong Kong.  Whereas the western media may imagine anti-Japanese sentiments were cooked up inside China by its government for nefarious purposes, things are different in Hong Kong.  If the Chinese government wants to stir up 'patriotic sentiments' in Hong Kong, it is guaranteed to bomb.  In fact, it is guaranteed to bring about resistance and contempt.  But anti-Japanese sentiments exist in Hong Kong in abundance through its own history (see, for example, Hong Kong Poll Results About Japan).  China cannot be fingered for fanning passions there.  By extrapolation, therefore, one can infer that the anti-Japanese sentiments in China were not totally the results of government manipluation.  Those sentiments could not exist at their present levels unless something existed there all along.

Secondly, it is a reflection of the freedom of speech in Hong Kong that secondary school students are encouraged to speak their minds on a sensitive subject such as this one.  It is still an unresolved issue, but that is precisely why it is debatable.  However, I will note this does not mean that anything goes.  A topic such as "The Chinese Government must apologize for the June 4 1989 Tienanmen incident" is still unthinkable in this setting.  But it won't be because the police will charge in to arrest everyone for sedition, or the government will close down the sponsoring newspapers.  Most likely, there would be louding booing from sections of the audience on each statement, there may be garbage thrown on stage and there may be fistfights among audience members in the stadium because it is a divisive subject among the people themselves.  And that would be quite unfair to the students who only wish to participate in a debate competition.  There are also other controversial and volatile subjects such as "The Catholic Church Covered Up The Activities Of Child-Molesting Priests" or "Democratic Legislative Councilors Only Want To Bring Chaos To Hong Kong" that would also be unthinkable in this type of debate setting as well.

Thirdly, I want to cover the judges' remarks.  One of the debate judges was Article 45 Concern Group member and Legislative Councilor Audrey Eu.  After praising the students for being even better debaters than the Legislative Councilors, she pointed out that this was the topic "The United Nations should admit Japan as a permanent member of the Security Council" was stirring enough in today's environment that the judges had wondered if it was necessary to show some "special consideration" for the pro- side because they were likely to be running against popular opinion.  However, after listening to the speeches, she felt that the sides were evenly matched.  Eu emphasized that self-assurance in debates is very important; one must be convinced in what one says first, and then one can be convincing.

Another judge pointed out it would be better if the students had presented their case beginning with the purpose of the United Nations, the need for reforms and the function of the Security Council in order to lead to the qualifications for entry as a permanent member.  That would have been more logical.  Instead, some students used poor analogies, such as the example of the "bad student."  He also pointed out that the comparison with the immensely popular Jewel of the Palace might seem to be a good tactical move, except most of the judges had not watched this show and had to rely on audience response.

Another judge reminded students that in debates, one is supposed to respond to the points made by the other side.  Instead, the third member of the Ming Yin side brought up the subject of moralism when the other side did not mention it at all.  Therefore, that seemed quite unfair to accuse the other side over something that they did not say.  There were also some improper presentation of facts, such as taking Kofi Annan's individual proposal to represent the opinion of the United Nations as a whole.

Finally, I would be enthralled if all Hong Kong students are bright and articulate like these debaters.  The truth is that they are not.  The debate finalists are the elite of the elite, and I would have been quite upset if they had not come through.