A Way Forward for Hong Kong CEO Carrie Lam
Paradoxically, Carrie Lam, the leader who created the crisis, is now in the strongest position to defuse the chaos on the streets. Beijing threw her under the bus when she was summoned to Shenzhen and told to back off the Extradition Bill. Lam was used as the scapegoat. She has no reason anymore not to do the right thing by Hong Kong.
Support was withdrawn not because Beijing didn’t want the Extradition Bill passed, but to avoid embarrassment to the president at the G20 summit in Osaka, and to prevent Tsai Ing-wen gaining political advantage in the upcoming Taiwan elections. The timing was just inopportune. Lam was sacrificed to a higher political need.
Lead to heal
Having lost all credibility with Hong Kong society, and having been dropped like a hot potato by her bosses, Lam has nothing more to lose. She can shake off her Liaison Office minders and step forward boldly as the leader of Hong Kong to resolve the crisis. Not anymore a puppet.
The central authorities are steering clear while Lam “cleans up her own mess.” Pro-Beijing comrades and the alarmist foreign press are goading the CCP to deploy PLA soldiers to end the chaos. Given the global crisis of trade and hostility facing it, China will resist that option. The consequences in global opprobrium are not worth it for the rising superpower.
Beijing would be hugely relieved if Lam can restore order and reset the city. They will give her all the space she needs to pacify Hong Kong society. The time has come for Lam to finally show leadership. The options open to her are clear. Obstinacy is not one of them. She must compromise. Arrogance will get her nowhere. It has ruined her already.
Lam can call for civil society and student representatives to join her for a consensus to restore calm. She can affirm the withdrawal of the extradition measure, agree to an independent commission of inquiry and grant general amnesty to the students and riot police involved in the violence.
Hong Kong has the quality of mercy in its exercise of the law. That spirit of justice makes it fair, measured, and respected. Its judges balance the spirit and letter of the law, which is a whole different regime from using the law to terrorize citizens. It is the rule of law, not rule by law. That distinction is not understood by mainland officials who complain that HK judges are lenient.
Unfortunately, Carrie Lam is a walled-in personality who is tightly puritanical in her mindset. All issues are black or white. There are no shades of grey. She does her homework. Decisions are binary.
The harsh reality is that human affairs are never so neat. Society does not compute in binary data. Feelings and emotions, trust and distrust, mix in a highly volatile cocktail.
Lam has no political radar. She will need a few people-centered, respected elders by her side. Even her own civil service chiefs find Lam difficult to dialogue with. She doesn’t engage or listen. She knows it all. This handbag madam takes orders readily from her bosses. She is a loyal and reliable subordinate but no political visionary. She does not inspire.
Advisors to avoid
Tung Chee-hwa is past his use-by date. The toxic Regina Ip, Maria Tam, Rita Fan, or DAB wannabes are out. Lam will do well to consider Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, the founding chairman of the DAB, and former president of the legislature. He outpolled all his political peers in Hong Kong University’s Public Opinion Program (POP) for 13 years of his public service from 2004-2016.
The protesting students have huge respect for Jasper Tsang. When the militant vanguard trashed the Legislative Council, tearing down portraits of speakers whom they regarded as traitors to Hong Kong, Rita Fan’s photo was stamped upon. But they left Tsang’s on the wall. Having Tsang by Lam’s side to meet the students, will change the dynamics positively.
Jasper to the rescue
Beijing would be wise to consider Tsang Yok-sing as Carrie Lam’s successor, before the next CE election cycle. He understands Beijing perfectly without being obsequious. He is accepted by the protest students. He was fair and even-handed in conducting affairs of politics as LegCo president. Come to think of it, he will even be welcomed by the pan-democrats.
That is exactly what Hong Kong needs at this point in its shocking societal collapse. Meanwhile, the egregious workings of the Underground Front need to be exposed and rooted out of academe, police, civil service, youth bodies, chambers of business, religious organizations and wherever else they inject poison into Hong Kong. Who can do that?
Even being wholly in charge for 22 years since 1997, the CCP can’t outgrow its fundamental distrust of its own people. It uses hydra-headed tentacles of infiltration, subversion, overt and covert pressure, on all organs of society compulsively. This October will be the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China. The rulers still believe only state terror can keep the CCP from being pitchforked out. It now harnesses technology as a super-surveillance state.
The writer is a former Hong Kong businessman who asks to remain unnamed.