The death in a local hospital of King George Tupou V of Tonga gets a bit of coverage in the Hong Kong press this morning – the subtext being that no-one knew the guy was ill, or happened to be in town, or (frankly) even existed. But anyone with an interest in the cosmic, fifth-dimension side of things may like to note that he will go down in history for having brought democracy to a smallish, former British colony in the Asia-Pacific.
Which leads us to the inescapable and hilarious chaos of the Hong Kong establishment civil war that has displaced what was supposed to be a neatly scripted Chief Executive quasi-election. This shambles would not and could not have happened were Beijing’s original intended appointee Henry Tang not a total klutz. The man’s ineptitude – or perhaps more accurately his advisors’ – was on full display over the weekend as people pondered his allegation during Friday’s debate that rival CY Leung mentioned the possibility of using riot police and tear gas against Article 23 demonstrators in 2003.
On the surface, this is a relatively clever little smear. It hits the Article 23 button; in local political mythology, the constitutionally required national security law is a demon that cannot be resurrected, or even mentioned. It hits the ‘CY is a creepy authoritarian’ button brilliantly; this is exactly the sort of thing we would expect the stereotype Leung, with his vague reputation for tyrannical leanings, to say. But the main result was to land Henry in the dirt for having breached the principle of the confidentiality of top government meetings.
Of course, if his advisors simply made the story up, he is not guilty of breaking the confidentiality rule – merely of lying. Several people present at Executive Council meetings at the time deny ever hearing CY say such things. Regina Ip manages to maintain that CY is innocent of the remarks but Henry is nonetheless still guilty of breaching the confidentiality principle. The logically impossible is so easy when you are fantasizing about Sunday’s CE poll producing no result, and Beijing plucking you from nowhere to win a second round.
Although it may well be that the ‘tear gas’ allegation is a fabrication, Henry obviously has to admit breaking the confidentiality rule, and he does so on grounds of public interest. But it’s not Zyklon B we’re talking about, and as Tung Chee-hwa discovered, the Hong Kong people will turf out a leader who threatens civil liberties. So: Henry as valiant whistleblower defending the right of Hongkongers to demonstrate without fear of excessive police force? Not very convincing. But nice try.
Being loyal to Beijing, Henry can hardly try to smear CY for his supposed Chinese Communist Party membership. But as luck would have it, yesterday saw the launch of a book doing just that. My spy at the event says the author, Florence Leung Mo-han, was a member of the Hok Yau Club, a United Front youth organization active back in the 60s, and provides a rather fetching photo of the lady. Eccentric and likeable loner, or superbly disguised secret Henry weapon? (It’s hard to imagine Henry’s team having the inspiration to come up with that wardrobe.)
Mainlanders are always mystified as to why the CCP is such a sensitive topic in Hong Kong. Having had carnal relations for a while with a former Party member, I can attest that they are just normal people. CY Leung is and will be CY Leung whether he secretly belongs to an underground branch or not. Still, like the ‘tear gas’ story, the red scare might chip a couple more percentage points off his opinion poll rating.
Here is a good-as-any (and admirably succinct) summary of the factional struggle in China, and the parallels with the friction between the CY and Henry camps here in the Big Lychee. In a nutshell: our local division reflects the national one, but Hong Kong is a sideshow and the big boys in Beijing aren’t too fussed about which side our eventual CE represents.
Unless Regina’s dreams about blank ballots and a second quasi-election are to come true, Beijing has just a few days to indicate its preference to all those tragic Election Committee members still unsure who they should vote for. Henry needs a revelation – of midnight sacrificial pedophile vampirism proportions – to make CY more unacceptable than a philandering, basement-building spoilt rich dimwit. And he needs it… now.