June 2019 has been a joyless month for Hong Kong and Beijing. Street anger boiled over three times: On June 5, after the Tiananmen vigil the previous evening; the Sunday, June 9 march of a million-people; and the June 16 mega defiance of two million – all against the bad-faith Extradition Bill.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam apologized and suspended passage. An overwhelming majority of Hong Kong citizens want it scrapped, and their leader dumped with it.
Lam is widely regarded as a competent administrator. She served the British crown and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) with dutiful obeisance. She is a reliable chief clerk and a loyal servant to any boss. Her need to prove even greater loyalty to the CCP, made her overreach with the extradition bill. She had the votes to pass it, and so hoped to earn brownie points for a second term. Hong Kong citizens, despite lacking representation, decided NO.
She, not us
Both Beijing and the Liaison Office commissars hastily distanced themselves from the measure, giving Lam full credit for it – after seeing the tsunami of disgust live on TV – which their compatriots are denied. Both vouch full support for Lam backing down in the face of the emphatic public rejection. The Quisling sadly learned how even her bosses desert her when the shit hit the fan. That is politics. She is expected to fall on her sword and save face for Beijing at a time of their choosing.
Two Executive Council (Exco) loyalists rushed to her defense, seeking sympathy and forgiveness from the public – who Lam stood ready to sacrifice. Exco convener Bernard Chan called up her “vast achievements and hard work,” pleading a second chance. Others stayed silent.
Lam was not alone in the scheme. Her policy advisers in Exco include the ambitious Regina Ip, and the lawyer who ‘saw the light’ on the road to Beijing, Ronnie Tong.
Exco excludes opposition representatives. Were Lam and her like-minded cabinet so seduced by the easy majority in the legislature, they rushed a half-baked legal document, without ironclad safeguards? But are safeguards enough? The Basic Law is dishonored anyway by Beijing. The wisdom of the masses prevailed: prevention is better than cure. They snapped its passage. They will not let go till it is killed.
Loyalists in disarray
Lam’s audacious ploy to channel the mainland’s judicial reach into Hong Kong was vigorously supported by the misnamed Democratic Alliance for the Betterment & Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), which is proxy for the CCP. The CCP remains illegal in Hong Kong. That is a red flag the party has been dodging since 1997, because the territory “is not ready for it.”
The DAB and its pro-Beijing allies dominate the District Councils with 327 of a total 458 directly elected seats. They are richly funded by their sponsors to open offices wherever there are votes to be got. Fresh elections are due in November. This call to account by Hong Kong voters, after the massive street protests, has the DAB spooked. They blame Carrie Lam for their predicament. Some trashed her openly when the Liaison Office met with its routed proxies to strategize.
The District Council elections are crucial. If voters punish the pro-Beijing candidates, the pan-democrats stand to gain 117 seats of district council sub-sectors’ representation on the committee of 1,200, which selects the next Chief Executive. That may force a restart of the aborted election reform process of 2015, for the CE and Legislative Council.
The Legislative Council elections are due September 2020. Unwittingly, chief executive Carrie Lam could have triggered a voting reversal ahead for the pro-Beijing factions this year and next. Compatriots would be surfing hurricane-force winds with no credible answers to voters to the question of why they betrayed Hong Kong.
Taiwan also rejects
The street protests here boosted national election prospects next year, for Taiwan’s Tsai Ing-wen and her Democratic Progressive Party, whose fortunes were waning till the extradition bill fiasco. Tsai used it astutely to denounce Beijing’s “One country, two systems” formula as unworkable. “We don’t want to be an accomplice to an evil bill” said Tsai, refusing to cooperate in the extradition of the confessed murderer from Hong Kong.
This unexpected twist in Taiwan’s political jostling must have alarmed the CCP as much as the sustained defiance on the streets of Hong Kong. That could have irked the central government to rein in its own hotheads, Carrie Lam and the police. All sound contrite and conciliatory now. No more aggressive woofing. The master has cracked the whip.
Anson Chan, the respected former chief secretary, summed it up well when she said China fails to understand what makes Hong Kong tick. They are obsessed with control, when the energy of Hong Kong and its core values could be harnessed to enrich both the territory and the mainland.
No second term
Lam is neither leader nor politician. She was appointed by the CCP to follow orders. She performed well, disqualifying elected legislators, denying candidates the right to stand for election and jailing Occupy advocates. She earned rare praise from President Xi for her annual work reports.
It is unthinkable that loyal servant Lam would have dared table such a fraught bill without the nod from her masters. It begs the question why the Liaison Office wheeled-out CCP grandees to lecture residents for the bill to be speedily passed into law? Lam could have been the historic first CE to complete two full terms, if she hadn’t botched it so badly.
The first chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, was let go after an attempt to pass a public security bill with a sedition provision brought half a million people to the street in the 2003 debacle. Donald Tsang took over mid-way and completed another full term before he was charged with corruption and jailed. The least popular chief executive, CY Leung, completed one term but was not renewed for a second. He had a disturbing HK$50 million question mark of undeclared payment which triggered an anti-corruption probe, mysteriously squashed. Carrie Lam replaced him, promising a more consultative style. She has three more years of her current term.
After-life for HK officials
The first chief executive who was forced out in his second term was made a vice-chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) which meets yearly, coinciding with the plenary sessions of the National People's Congress (NPC). Tung Chee-hwa also runs a think-tank of tycoons called Our Hong Kong Foundation.
Despite his wretched record, CY Leung was rewarded with the grandiose role of vice-chairman of the same body. He is actively promoting the Greater-Bay-Area (GBA) connectivity of the 11 cities of South China, the Southern Sea Corridor with Singapore, and leveraging commercial opportunities. He has long been close to mainland provincial and national leaders, even before he was made chief executive. He is the only one to have taken his oath of office in Mandarin, the Cantonese dialect being Hong Kong’s lingua franca.
Similarly, other approved former officials of the HKSAR have been co-opted into the CPPCC. The former police commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung was elevated to deputy director of China’s national Anti-Drugs body. He has now been nominated by China as executive director to the United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime. It was under Tsang’s watch that police fired tear gas and pepper-sprayed peaceful crowds at Occupy 2014, provoking an avalanche of outraged citizenry, who rushed to protect their youngsters.
Carrie Lam can expect similar honorific reward after she is chopped. It is all pragmatic United-Front strategy, to neutralize and co-opt key Hong Kong figures into the CCP machinery. None will be left behind to squeal.