A million residents marched on June 9 to signal their rejection of the proposed Extradition Bill. They feared the loss of freedoms they have long taken for granted, even under British rule. It was the biggest mass demonstration of distrust in government in 178 years of the territory’s history. The “liberation of patriots from 150 years of shame” in 1997, now looks very much like the second colonization of Hong Kong. It is turning into a nightmare.
For 22 years under Chinese sovereignty, Hong Kong avoided an extradition treaty with the mainland, because it failed to satisfy baseline legal standards. Nothing has changed in mainland legal practice to revise that call. Things only get worse. Five Hong Kong booksellers who purveyed gossip on mainland leaders “disappeared” in 2016, to resurface on the mainland, to confess to absurd “crimes.” They were interrogated and held incommunicado for months.
How did mainland security agents enter and leave the city with their victims? The secretive abductions remain a mystery. The chief executive pleads cluelessness. The police remain mum. The Immigration authorities look blank. Arbitrary state kidnapping of Hong Kong residents does not inspire confidence in the mainland’s legal system. It entrenches distrust. Hence the depth of anger about the latest attempt to ram a flawed bill through the legislature. The Security bill was aborted in 2003, and the national education curriculum died in 2012.
The problematic Extradition Bill was first punted as urgent to send a murderer to face justice. Then it morphed to not harboring criminals evading justice elsewhere. Finally, it is touted as a matter of national duty. The hollow lies twist and turn in the wind, convincing nobody. Beijing pretends it is “supporting Hong Kong fully” and Hong Kong’s chief executive pretends she needs to plug a major legal loophole. The Liaison Office trots out mainland worthies to warn residents, and Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam (above, with Chinese officials) lines up her senior officials to parade solidarity.
Youth battle police
The protests have taken on a new life, with elements of the youth who staged the 79-day Occupy movement of 2014, surrounding the legislature and blocking off access roads. They want the bill withdrawn. They are risking pitched battles with police using rubber-bullets, pepper spray, water cannons and truncheons, to beat and cart off those they can chase down. The police will soon be given orders to clear the area.
Will anything come of it at all? The youth who so effectively shut down traffic in the business district of Central in 2014, did not have an end-game then, or now. They just hung out for 79 days in an orderly manner, believing naively that the Hong Kong government and Beijing, will relent on the Basic Law promise of universal suffrage to elect the chief executive.
They rejected the initial leadership of Benny Tai and the elder Occupy evangelists, without a strategic plan, other than to be visible and well-behaved. Ironically, the early senior Occupy leaders were charged in court and found guilty of inciting public nuisance in April. The top three were sentenced to 16 months in prison. A total of nine academics, activists and political figures, were given a range of sentences.
Frame it a riot
The police and the chief executive are now publicly calling the continuing street clashes a ‘riot.’ That has coded significance by escalating the terminology from a public demonstration. It will justify police being more forceful and aggressive in charging, pepper-spraying, beating, and arresting the youngsters. There are calls from some pro-Beijing quarters, for the 6,000 Peoples’ Liberation Army (PLA) troops garrisoned here since 1st July 1997, to intervene. That is unlikely.
Carrie Lam appeared in a tearful interview on TVB, saying she is aware of resident concerns, and assuring them all fears are unfounded. She pleaded to be trusted. By persisting with a flawed bill which alarmed even the habitually Beijing-supportive business lobby, Lam lost all credibility. She is seen as an over-eager agent of Beijing, rather than a protector of Hong Kong.
Liaison Office calls the shots
While Carrie Lam is the point person on this ill-advised, ill-intentioned, and obscenely rushed Extradition Bill, her ghost-whisperers are ensconced at the Liaison Office in the Western district. The Liaison Office advises Beijing of the “actual situation” in Hong Kong. They believe they have the pulse of the city, through their zealous ‘united front’ work of infiltration, co-option and intimidation, aside from funding and guiding political proxies, and overseeing mainland enterprises operating here.
The last time the Liaison Office misguided the central government was the aborted 2003 Article 23 security legislation, when 500,000 residents streamed out in the sweltering heat for five hours, with a depth of anger never before seen on the streets of this city. No chief executive in the 16 years since has dared to revive it, including Carrie Lam. Trial balloons float now and then. Article 23 waits on the shelf to ambush Hong Kong – perhaps sooner than people expect.
Fast forward to today: a murder committed in Taiwan in February required the Hong Kong government to draft a case-specific legal work-around to send a HK citizen for trial as it doesn’t have an extradition treaty with Taiwan. Instead, an elaborate Beijing Opera of an Extradition Bill was conjured, to clump the motherland, and its territories of Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan in a python embrace. The independent Taiwan government rejected the scheme immediately, notifying Hong Kong it will not even request extradition.
Initially directing from behind the screens since 1997, Liaison Office commissars now pop up at government functions regularly, to hector residents. There is no mistaking who calls the shots. The chief executive is the puppet who prances on-stage. The Extradition Bill will be passed by the rubber-stampers in the Legislative Council. The government has a majority of 43 in the chamber of 70, after disqualifying several elected opposition members for various infringements. It will be passed, because Beijing wants it.
Carrie Lam is cooked. Beijing dislikes minions who lose control and embarrass the president who is talking up a global leadership claim, on the Chinese model of governance.